Category Archives: Common Core Standards

Common Core requires increasingly complex texts

One of the goals of the Common Core Standards that is receiving flak across the country is the push for students to understand increasingly complex texts.

Discouraged child thinks there are too many words in a book she is readingYou might assume that a second grader would read more difficult books than a first grader, but according to the people who wrote the standards, there is not proof that this is happening in US schools. Their “research shows that while the complexity of reading demands for college, career, and citizenship have held steady or risen over the past half century, the complexity of texts students are exposed to has steadily decreased in that same interval.”

They believe that the texts used in middle schools and in high schools have been “dumbed down” over recent decades. To counteract the “dumbing down” of texts, the Common Core Standards want to increase the difficulty of the texts students read so that US students are well prepared for college and for work.

The Standards state that the reading complexity levels for all grades need to be made more difficult, and that what a student studies in May should be more complex than what he studied in the previous September.

How will this be measured? Three ways:

  • Qualitatively: An attentive teacher will note whether a student recognizes various levels of meaning in a work of literature, or if he recognizes that language is used in new or archaic ways, of if the reading requires background specific knowledge that the student might not have.
  • Quantitatively: Readability measures will be used to determine the difficulty level of the materials students read, and the students will be tested to see how much of the material they understand.
  • Reader-task considerations: A teacher with knowledge of her student will rate the student’s motivation, knowledge base, and experience as well as the purpose of the assigned reading, and the difficulty of the task which the teacher assigns (for example, responding to open-ended questions is more difficult than responding to multiple choice questions).
Common Core Georgia Standards

Click on picture for the entire document.

The Georgia Department of Education has created a rubric for teachers (and parents) to use to determine the text complexity of a given reading selection. When the points are totaled, texts with scores of between 80 to 100 are considered of appropriate complexity.

For more information, go to: and

How can I jump start my child’s reading comprehension

Reading comprehension—taking meaning from printed words—is the goal of all reading. Before reaching this goal, independent readers need to advance through three other stages: recognizing that the 42 sounds in English are represented by 26 letters and combinations of letters; recognizing that arranging those letters or letter pairs with other letters creates words; and being able to say the words aloud (or in the mind) in such a way that the sounds represent the way people speak English. If children can do this, then children are in a position to comprehend what they read.

Chart of 4 reading components

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

But even with all this good foundation, some children flounder when it comes to understanding what they read. There are many reasons. One of the most important, especially for ESL students and for culturally deprived children, is not understanding the vocabulary.

What can a parent or teacher do to jump start reading comprehension?

Ask the right kind of questions, according to reading expert Timothy Shanahan, a reading researcher whose views are highlighted in the February issue of Reading Rockets, an online source for excellent information about reading.  (For a link, see the end of the blog.)

According to Dr. Shanahan, three kinds of questions should be asked to guide students into understanding a text:

  • First, what are the important issues and important details raised by the reading selection? When Junie B. Jones misses the school bus, for example, the young reader should be questioned about why Junie B. didn’t want to take the school bus, not where she sat on the bus or who annoyed her. At the end of the story, why did Junie B. finally run outside to talk to the janitor? “Close reading”—the kind of reading demanded by the Common Core Standards—is not the same as trivial reading, according to Dr. Shanahan.

questions to ask when reading closely

  • Second, how has the author crafted the reading selection? These kinds of questions should be “text dependent.” That is, the child should be able to answer these questions only if the child has read the text. In Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, for example, what kind of mood is Alexander in when he wakes up? Why is that kind of mood important for the start of the story? Is Alexander the oldest child, the middle child or the youngest child? What difference does this make in the story?
  • Since a part of crafting a reading selection is choosing the vocabulary to use, children should be asked about important vocabulary words. What is Australia? Where is Australia? What is a janitor? Why is he at school when the children have gone home?
  • Third, what are the conclusions a reader can take from the story? What are the big ideas?  What has Junie B. learned?  Why are Junie B’s mother and teacher happy and not mad at the end of the story? Will Junie B. take the school bus in the future?  Why does Alexander’s mother say again and again that some days are like that, even in Australia? Why does she say Australia and not a nearby city? Why does Alexander say that too, at the very end of the book?  The purpose of these questions, according to Dr. Shanahan, is to interpret the text.

Dr. Shanahan recommends asking questions in the same order as the information is presented in the reading selection. He says it is not important to ask a particular number of questions, or that the number of questions from each of the three categories be equal. Always there should be some questions from each category asked, but sometimes one kind of question needs to be more thoroughly investigated than the other two. In particular, understanding how a writer crafted a reading selection will demand closer reading and might require more questions from a parent or teacher.

To read the posting on Reading Rockets, go to While you are there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter full of good ideas about teaching reading.

Online site offers current events reading for young readers

If you have a young reader who is reading at a third grade level, a new online site offering nonfiction news articles might attract him.

Child Browsing the WebAt news stories at five different reading levels are offered. The lowest reading level is targeted for an average third grader, and the highest (the original news story) is written at a college level.  In between are three rewrites at intermediate reading levels.  Two news articles are posted daily, along with a quiz for each article.  Both the news stories and the quizzes are aligned with the Common Core standards for nonfiction literacy.

The news stories are divided into seven topics:  war and peace, science, kids, money, law, health and arts.  Articles from Feb. 6 and 7 include “CVS to stop selling cigarettes,” “Marine biologists baffled by beached whales in Florida,” and “Fourth-graders have become better readers.”

Articles are geared to younger readers by the subject matter, choice of vocabulary and the average sentence length.  I calculated the CVS article written for third graders to have about 8 words per sentence.  Paragraphs in that article ranged from one sentence to five sentences.

To the right of each article, which comes with a colored photo or graphic, are five tabs to allow the reader to choose his own reading level.  If a child finds one level too hard or too easy, he can choose another.

Jennifer Coogan, chief content officer for the website, selects the stories to feature from the AP News Service and the McClatchy-Tribune News Service.  Stories might be international, such as a story about Parliament telling Buckingham Palace to cut back on expenses and to repair its palaces.   Or they might have regional interest, such as the effects of an inch or two of snow on Atlanta.

The people who rewrite the original stories use guidelines for readability, including sentence structure, context clues, and time shifting in narratives.  Because younger readers don’t have “reading stamina,” said Coogan, the articles’ word counts are aligned to state-wide assessments.

The quizzes use multiple choice questions, but they also might ask a student to tell in which paragraph an idea is found.  In the works are questions that require short answers from student readers.  Also coming is a Spanish version of this service.

Although the primary target audience of the website is teachers, parents can sign up for their children.  The annual cost is $18 per student for an individual student; $2,000 per grade in a single school; and $6,000 for a whole school.  So far 90,000 teachers and a half million students are using the site.

In an earlier blog, I wrote how boys often prefer nonfiction reading.  Websites like this one might be a good alternative for them.  The timeliness of the articles, the daily introduction of new articles, the subjects themselves—plus reading and answering questions online—might attract boys who are not keen on reading fiction.  –Mrs. K

What does it mean to be literate?

Definitions vary:

  • Reading, writing, speaking and listening (The Common Core State Standards Initiative)
  • Understanding, using, reflecting on and engaging with written texts, in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society (The Programme for International Student Assessment)
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 2010 report, Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 Results

Here’s a video on the PISA 2009 Results.

At its most basic, literacy means the ability to read. When and where did this ability begin?

  • Scientists believe symbols representing ideas first developed around 8,000 years ago in ancient Sumer, in what we call Iraq. The symbols were used by commercial and agricultural interests to keep track of the numbers of things—chickens and eggs, for example.
  • Egyptian hieroglyphics developed about 5,300 years ago; it was the first system to include some phonetic symbols, not just pictographs.
  • Written Chinese notations began around 3200 years ago.
  • Around 3500 years ago, in Canaan, in what is now Syria, a consonant system of notations was first used.
  • Later alphabets (Phoenician, Hebrew and Aramaic) using both consonants and vowels, are thought to be based on this Canaan alphabet.
  • Beginning around 2700 years ago, the Greek alphabet derived from these others.
  • Literacy was widespread among male citizens of ancient Rome, but with the fall of the Roman Empire, literacy retreated , becoming the practice of princes and priests. Over the centuries, as trade increased, so did the need for some literate citizens. The Industrial Revolution which produced cheap paper and books became a strong force for more widespread reading, but so did educational reform which required children to learn reading, writing and arithmetic.

Today in the U.S., the ability to read is not universal, even though some statistics show the U.S. has a 99% literacy rate.

  • One out of three fourth graders scored “below basic” on the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress Reading Test, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • More than 67 percent of all U.S. fourth graders scored “below proficient” on this same test, meaning they are not reading at grade level.
  • If a child is not reading proficiently by fourth grade, that child has a 78% chance of never catching up.

–Mrs. K

What are the Newbery and Caldecott awards?

The Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal are prizes given annually to honor two children’s or two young adults’ books published in the US during the past year.  The Newbery Medal honors an author, and the Caldecott Medal honors an illustrator.

Newbery and Caldecott MedalsThese two awards are considered the most prestigious awards in the U.S. for children’s literature.  They are awarded by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.

The Newbery award, named after an eighteenth-century British bookseller, goes “to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year.” This award is the older of the two, having been given since 1922.

The Caldecott award, named after a British illustrator of the nineteenth century, goes to “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year.”  This award has been given since 1938.

Both awards list runners-up, named Honor Books.  Once a book is honored with one of these awards, the publisher usually adds a picture of the medal to the book’s jacket to lure readers and buyers.  Most libraries with children’s sections carry recent Newbery and Caldecott winners, and sometimes they are even grouped apart from the other children’s books.

Some well-known past winners of the Newbery Medal include

  • 2004: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo
  • 2000: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • 1990: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • 1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  • 1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
  • 1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
  • 1976: The Grey King by Susan Cooper
  • 1963: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • 1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  • 1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • 1944: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

Some well-known past winners of the Caldecott Medal include

  • 1990:  Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
  • 1986:  The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburt
  • 1970:  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
  • 1964:  Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • 1963:  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Many Newbery and Caldecott winners are included in the exemplars of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.  On the other hand, some of the best loved children’s books (Dr. Seuss’ books, for example) were not Newbery and Caldecott medal winners but are included in the Common Core exemplars.

Do you have a list of good books for my kindergartener to read? Or for me to read to her?

Yes!  The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy has published lists of recommended books by grade level.  These lists do not include all good books (far from it!).  Rather the lists suggest books of the right complexity and quality for children by grade level.  The lists also suggest the wide range of subjects that a student should encounter in reading.

The Common Core Standards developers would prefer that you use these lists as guides to find appropriate reading material for you child.  One of the criticisms of the Common Core Standards is that teachers will limit themselves to only the reading material listed.

For kindergarteners and first graders, the lists include stories, poetry, read-aloud stories, read-aloud poetry, informational texts and read-aloud informational texts.  Some of the stories are classics such as Are You My Mother by P. D. Eastman and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.  Others are newer stories.

When you read these or any books with your child, pause as you read and ask the child to tell you what is happening.  If there are pictures, ask him what he learns from them.  Ask him what he thinks will happen next.  When you complete the book, ask him what it was about.   Can he name the setting (time and place) and important characters?  Pick out two or three new words and see if he remembers what they mean.

To find complete lists of recommended books for all grade levels, review the contents listing at the front of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.

Below are the books recommended for kindergarten and first grade.

kindergarten to 1st grade stories.

To enlarge the graphic, click on it.

kindergarten to 1st grade poetry.

To enlarge the graphic. click on it.

kindergarten to 1st grade informational text

To enlarge the graphic, click on it.

My child can read basic words. What kind of literature skills should s/he have for kindergarten?

Most states have adopted a common core of standards now used to teach and to assess children’s learning at each grade level and in academic subjects.  Included in these standards are ones for kindergarten reading which include understanding literature, informational texts and reading skills.  Those standards are

kindergarden literature skill standards

Go to for more on the common core of standards.

Key Ideas and Details

  • With prompting and support, the child should be able to ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
  • With prompting and support, the child should be able to retell familiar stories, including key details.
  • With prompting and support, the child should be able to identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.

Craft and Structure

  • The child should be able to ask and answer questions about unknown words in a text
  • The child should be able to recognize common types of texts (e.g., storybooks, poems).
  • The child, with prompting and support, should be able to name the author and illustrator of a story and define the role of each in telling the story.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • With prompting and support, the child should be able to describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear (e.g., what moment in a story an illustration depicts).
  • With prompting and support, the child should be able to compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in familiar stories.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

  • The child should actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding.

For more information, go to