“Where are our reading strategies?” This was the reaction of a group of K‒5 educators in North Dakota I was working with in 2010 as we reviewed the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Some widely used strategies, such as summarizing and inferencing, were easily found in the new standards, while others—like text-to-self connections, making predictions, and pre-reading—were not. During the review process, it became clear that the role of reading strategies had shifted: They were no longer primary objectives for student reading, as they had been in previous state standards, curriculums, and reading programs.
The Common Core instead places the text and student understanding front and center. Rather than
focus on reading strategies and how students read, the CCSS focuses on the text and what knowledge students gain from their reading. The new standards stress comprehension and analysis of complex texts and the synthesis of ideas across texts to build knowledge. Reading strategies are largely sidelined as techniques for scaffolding instruction with individual students. As David Coleman, a lead author of the CCSS and current president of the College Board, said in a presentation at the New York State Education Department, “We lavish so much attention on these strategies in the place of reading, I would urge us to instead read” (“Bringing the Common Core to Life,” p. 17).
We know, however, that many children don’t understand what they read, and that they benefit from instruction on how to apply research-based reading strategies. It is not surprising, then, that many teachers plan their reading curriculum around them. How can we align strategy-based curriculums with text-based standards? There is a sensible balance to be found.
Complex texts, by the very nature of their complexity, often require teachers to support students’ reading. Teachers should continue to teach students how to apply certain reading strategies when they need them, but strategies should not be applied for their own sakes. Strategies should be carefully selected to support the aspects of a given text that are complex. For example, texts that have a high readability score on the quantitative measure of the CCSS text complexity model often have challenging vocabulary and sentence structures, aspects that teachers should support through targeted reading strategies.
Research-based reading strategies still play an important role in teaching reading comprehension. However, teachers should seek out a complex text that provides the information or ideas that students need to learn, and then provide opportunities for students to practice using a strategy suited to that specific text, rather than seek out a text that “fits” a certain reading strategy dictated by the curriculum.
A former English language arts teacher, Susan Ryan is a curriculum services consultant at McREL and co-author of Common Core quick-start guides published by ASCD on English language arts and mathematics standards at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.