Friday, April 26, 2013

Defending Reader Response from the Common Core



The Common Core's "deep reading" approach to literacy and language arts is desperately needed, and will give students… the tools to be prepared for college, career, and life--tools they currently lack. I know because I see these unprepared students in my college classroom.
Prior, Karen Swallow. Why I Support the Common Corps Reading Standards. The Atlantic, April 24, 2013
Sounds great doesn’t it. The writers of the Common Core Reading Standards have provided us with the panacea. These standards will “give” our students the skills they need. Surely we want our students to be deep readers, i.e., to read beyond the surface level, to be able to deeply understand what the author is trying to convey through a thoroughgoing and thoughtful analysis. But to think that stating these goals in a document like the CCCS is going to make it happen is, to quote Janet Emig on a different topic, “to engage in magical thinking.”

Swallow is critical of the “reader response” approach to reading comprehension, as a soft approach that does not ask the students to go beyond a personal connection to the text and ends with surface understandings and miscomprehension of text. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Louise Rosenblatt’s reader response theory would know that reader response is merely a first step toward a deeper understanding of text. Teachers use reader response to get students engaged in the reading so that deeper discussion of the text has a basis in student connections to the text.

No doubt many teachers do not take students much beyond this initial understanding, but that is a flaw in instruction and not in theory. If the standards hold teachers more accountable for following up on reader response, so much the better, but let us not throw out a powerful teaching tool because we think the Common Core demands it.

In fact this is just the point. The Common Core is mute on how to achieve the “deep reading” it requires. It is left to the teachers to determine how this will happen. The Common Core will not “give” the student anything – good teaching will. And good teaching includes having students make personal connections to the text as a basis for deeper understanding.