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Reading Group Issues Guidance for Common Core

While teachers need to be thinking about assigning more complex texts to students under the common standards, they don't have to choose more complex reading for every single text, or assign tougher readings for kindergartners and 1st graders, according to new guidance from the International Reading Association.

That advice, and more, is contained in the new guidance issued by the IRA issued today. The organization hopes the four-page document will clear up confusion about key areas of the Common Core State Standards and help teachers incorporate them into practice, according to Brenda Overturf and Timothy Shanahan, the co-chairs of the committee that wrote it.

Taking on the much-talked-about expectation of more complex text, the guidance says that the standards call for students to read more complex texts only in grades 2 through 12. In kindergarten and 1st grade, it's best for encounters with complex text to come from reading aloud, the guidance says.

Teachers will have to create an "ambitious itinerary" of readings for students in order to help them master the level of complexity in reading envisioned by the standards by the end of each school year, the guidance says. But in doing so, some texts must be sufficiently complex to ensure that goal, while others can be "easier than the standards specify," the document says.

"There is reason to believe that this shift could help students reach more advanced literacy achievement levels," the guidance says. "But, research also shows this to be a complex instructional issue and one that will not likely be accomplished successfully without a nuanced and thoughtful approach. Merely adding more challenging texts to the curriculum will not be a sufficient or effective response to this requirement."

The guidelines touch on one of the areas that is causing great concern: how best to help students at a variety of skill levels master readings more difficult than they're used to. In one of its more pointedly phrased sections, the committee notes the need for recognition of exactly what this will require.

"These new standards are more honest about what we need to teach if students are to leave school ready to work and to learn," the guidance says. "We need to be just as forthright about the resources and adjustments that will be needed to ensure that all children—struggling learners, gifted students, dual-language learners—reach these goals."

The committee suggested that teachers vary the types and amount of instruction according to student need, and noted that there will be "great differences among children and in what it will take to get them to achieve these goals." It also noted that teachers will need support and learning opportunities of their own.

"[Common core] guidelines on text complexity encourage teachers to engage students in reading at least some texts they are likely to struggle with in terms of fluency and reading comprehension," it says.

"This represents a major shift in instructional approach. To ensure that the interactions with such texts lead to maximum student learning, teachers must provide significantly greater and more skillful instructional scaffolding—employing rereading, explanation, encouragement, and other supports within lessons. To accomplish this shift successfully, teachers must have access to appropriate instructional resources and professional learning opportunities that support them in providing such scaffolding."

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