I had the good fortune to attend a conference where Dr. Barbara Ehren (from my alma mater, the University of Central Florida!) spoke on literacy and the common core in schools. Her focus was adolescents, but her message was really applicable to all ages. As she was sharing research and her experience, it clicked for me that shifting to the language of the common core has created a kind of communication disorder in all of our kids. Stay with me here. Dr. Ehren pointed out that there are different kinds of literacy for each academic content area (particularly in middle through high school). For example, in history dates are critical information but in math it is not. Science is all about describing specific information and processes, while literature is about contextualizing language and themes. Our students have to not only be aware of the language expectations and shifts, but also fluent in these content specific skills to keep up! She compared it to us asking our students to speak French in period 1, then Spanish in period 2, Russian in period 3 and so on. No wonder middle schoolers can be so cranky!
The common thread in all academic content is language (*SLPs jumping up and down while cheering*). This visual does a much better job than I can of explaining how it is intertwined in everything we are asking students to do throughout their day from Kindergarten to college:
In considering what language encompasses, we have to think about all the pre-requisite skills that come before our kids can use language in the classroom successfully. For kids to be able to listen, speak, read and write in all academic areas, they also have to master semantics, syntax, morphology, pragmatics, phonology, cognition/executive function. Additionally they need to have the ability to manipulate and play with language to understand the nuances of words and be able think about thinking. It’s a wonder they don’t curl up into a fetal position and hide in their lockers for the day!
Even our “on level” kids are struggling in be able to show what they know with the core, never mind our kids with language impairments! So what can we do? Dr. Ehren suggested that we need to help kids understand and differentiate knowledge, skills and strategies in literacy. Knowledge is what you know + a skill is something you can do = a strategy is putting these two pieces together to figure out new information. Our role as teachers, SLPs and parents is to help our kids learn how to learn and to use strategies that are both effective and efficient. Strategies that work well for one student may not work for another, so it really is an individual learning curve. We are all in this together and need to work collaboratively to support our students. It’s not my job or your job, it’s our job. So what’s the magic ingredient for success? Get ready……we have to talk to each other and our students. I know, big reveal, but honestly we don’t do this particularly well with the ever growing to-do lists we all seem to have.
In thinking about strategies, I started looking at different blogs and websites for ideas. I love teacherspayteachers, and found this wonderful visual for the verbs of the common core.If you don’t know what words like analyze and cite mean, how are you going to know what to do? I am a big believer in using visual support for elementary students to connect a picture to word in the classroom and create a lot of materials to go along with the social studies and science units for my kids. It is interesting to me that what works well for my students with language impairments also benefits our ESOL students, our kids with weak executive function (ADD), our late readers and our kids on the spectrum who decode words without attaching any meaning to what they are reading. Want more information? Take a peek at Dr. Ehren’s presentation for great examples on supporting literacy across the core (from KSHA presentation 2012).