When I was in elementary school, each class had one reading book (no, it was not printed on clay tablets). By the time I became a teacher, this book-a-grade system was replaced in the primary grades with two books, one per semester (and there was a lot ink spilled over whether schools could afford this innovation). Still later, the numbers of textbooks expanded even more (what did California require, 6 texts for grade 1?). Of course, when the “whole language” wave moved across the country, lots of schools stopped using textbooks altogether, and replaced them with “class sets” of novels.
The new common core standards present several new emphases, none more important than the shift towards a multiple text perspective. However, this new educational perspective has NOTHING to do with the evolution described above.
The basic idea of the new standards is that it is important that students learn to read across text boundaries: comparing and contrasting themes, characters, styles, perspectives, and so on. It means reading bigger chunks of text, remembering text longer (can’t just read something and forget about it right away), and considering multiple views and perspectives. Students not only need to know how to analyze text from multiple sources, but they need to know how to synthesize information across texts and other sources of information.
That could mean that schools will need to buy multiple books (or perhaps multiple links to some web sources), but it could also be multiple selections housed within a single textbook or anthology. The idea of multiple texts isn’t that kids necessarily need to get their hands on more books (though that isn’t a bad idea). The real idea is that kids need to learn to read and write across the boundaries of different stories and articles.
This shift is a good one… but it won’t necessarily cost any more in terms of books than current approaches for teaching reading. It will likely cost more in professional development expenses, since generally teachers have not been prepared to help children to think across multiple texts and to weigh author's perspectives and the like. This kind of content can be pursued through some exciting lessons, but such lessons will only occur if teachers understand the depth of what is expected. I'll write more about this in a later blog.
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