First-Year Students: Adaptive Strategies

Jenn and I have been reading a recent report published by Project Information Literacy titled Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Research Once They Enter College.  I think we both have taken ideas away from this report, and here are some thoughts from the perspective of a librarian.

For me, this report makes me see that I have underestimated the degree to which first-year students struggle to make that transition from high school to college.  When it comes to college level research, most freshmen — and particularly freshmen in their first semesters — are not prepared for the demands of college level research.  The report lists the areas that cause most issues for freshmen:


Many students report that they could successfully complete research at the high school level simply by relying on Google and Wikipedia.   While some continue taking that approach unaltered in college, many look to add to their “research toolkit” to meet the expectations of their college professors.

Indeed, the report was able to identify what it calls “adaptive strategies” that freshmen undertook to adjust to the higher expectations of college research.  Those of us far removed from the first-year experience may take these strategies for granted, but for the uninitiated they represent critical steps forward and they are sometimes difficult to discover and implement.



Looking over this list, it becomes apparent to me that there are strategies we can employ in the library (and the classroom) to direct freshmen toward these adaptive strategies and help them build this new toolkit quicker and more effectively.

And building on the advice of our Provision colleagues from last year, I am working on making one small change to improve the effectiveness of instruction.  I have been fortunate to be working with Jenn and her ENG 105 class.  She has created a flipped classroom (one big change!) and I will be playing a small part by creating a video series to address point #4 above.  We will try to push this competency into the first semester for her students, and we will work in the classroom to give them practice working with a bibliography and locating cited sources.

Learning the Ropes points toward many areas where we can intervene and address challenges faced by our first-year students.  Next up: one more small change!

Documents referred to in this post: 

Head, Alison J., Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once They Enter College (December 5, 2013). Available at SSRN: or



Provisions Fellows Introduction

As the Provisions Fellows for 2014-2015, we invite you along on our journey of thinking, inquiry, and discovery through our blog posts, which will be published here (at least) weekly.  The theme for this year’s Provisions’ Fellowship is “First Year Students,” and we hope that our students will follow us in the processes of thinking, inquiry, and discovery that we will undertake through this fellowship.  Our blogging here will act a resource for readers, but also a space for us to learn more, through the act of writing, about our research, theory, and classroom practices.  Please read along and let us know what you think in the comments section.

Below you will find highlights from our Provisions Fellowship applications, as well as plans for what we’d like to experiment with and research this coming year.

Jennifer Marlow, Assistant Professor of English

I can think of few things more crucial to the long-term success of college students than their experience as a first-year student, including the foundational experience of ENG105 Expository Writing, Oral Communication, and Research Techniques, and their knowledge of the writing process. As a specialist in rhetoric and composition, I treat first-year writing as an opportunity to provide a curricular space for welcoming students to the college and as an indispensable introduction to writing and thinking skills that will support their entire college careers and beyond.

This semester in my ENG105 class I am interested in employing the concept of the “flipped classroom” and also pursuing questions of transfer between first-year writing and writing in other college courses.  Transfer refers to the ability to apply skills learned in one context to different disciplinary and professional contexts. The flipped classroom involves moving the work traditionally done inside the classroom (lectures, slideshows, videos, etc.) out of it and moving the work historically done outside the classroom (activities, problem solving, writing, research, etc.) into it, creating a more active and engaged classroom experience. In a first-year writing classroom, this would mean dedicating substantial class time to the act of writing.

In particular I am interested in any potential causal relationship (though, since this project isn’t — for now — longitudinal, I won’t be able to make any concrete conclusions) between additional time-on-task devoted to writing, as well as additional metacognitive exercises completed, in the “flipped” writing classroom and transfer of skills to other college classes or writing situations.  I am pursuing the question: Does a flipped writing classroom help facilitate transferable knowledge of the writing process?

Pete Koonz, Faculty Librarian

Research indicates that a majority of first year college students are ill-prepared to research and write college-level papers.  While Google and Wikipedia have made it simple to find information, students are expected to navigate a much more complex information ecosystem once they enter college.  This ecosystem includes library databases, academic journals, primary sources, authoritative web site, and many discipline-specific resources as well.  Not only does this represent a much larger and more complicated universe of information to new students, it also requires new strategies and competencies if they are to successfully retrieve and use information from these unfamiliar resources.

My inquiry for Provisions targets the role librarians can play in helping first year students become progressively capable of  finding and using appropriate and authoritative information in this complex world of information sources.  I will follow the discussion happening in the library community as it reconsiders the meaning of information literacy within an evolving networked world.  The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) has drafted a new framework for information literacy, utilizing the idea of threshold concepts and metaliteracy as anchoring components.

In part, this initiative by ACRL was sparked by a variety of trends and realities in higher education over the past decade, including an increased emphasis on collaborative learning, increased use of non-textual media, and a willingness to test new classroom strategies, such as the flipped classroom.

Not only do Jenn and I hope to explore the research in these areas and share what we are learning and thinking in this blog, but we will attempt to figure out how to best insert library instruction and information literacy support into her flipped classroom.

The bibliography of our readings for the year can be found as as a page on this blog.

Provisions Fellows Present on Critical Thinking

Our last Provisions session of the year included presentations from this year’s Provisions fellows on the topic of Teaching Critical Thinking.  Our three fellows for the year were Stephanie Bennett, Associate Professor of Sociology, James Allen, Professor of Educational Psychology, and Amina Eladdadi, Assistant Professor of Mathematics.

Dr. Bennett began her presentation with an overview of the year-long fellowship.  The fellows met bi-weekly and provided a bibliography and other resources for faculty, which included the four common texts that all of the fellows read in addition to those that they read of their own interest.  Dr. Bennett pointed out that even after this year-long fellowship the fellows are just beginning to understand the topic and how to incorporate it into their classes.  To that tune, she provided us with the mottos that they came up with, which are “change just one thing” and “less is more.”  Dr. Bennett explained that these slogans speak to the idea that it is more worthwhile to change and integrate new strategies slowly, and that everything does not need to be revamped right away; she explained that it is best to start small, and that introducing more critical thinking strategies is not something that has to be done radically and all at once.  Additionally, they believe that “less is more” is best practice as critical thinking lends itself to more in depth learning and less base-level learning, which in turn lends itself to a stronger base for a transfer of skills.

Dr. Bennett noted that the fellows came to a few universal conclusions in regards to critical thinking: that questions are important, that a collaborative work environment is imperative, and that teachers must make skills transferrable.  After describing a personal experience from her own classroom, Dr. Bennett concluded that she found collaboration was a good start, but that she needed to begin with this earlier in the semester and institute these more transferable techniques in class more often, instead of just making it a one-time thing.

Dr. Eladdadi’s presentation focused on her experience with teaching critical thinking through problem solving, and the idea that problem solving is only one skill involved with  critical thinking.  She explained how often, critical thinking is confused with problem solving and higher-order thinking, but that critical thinking involves many skills working in conjunction with one another, including reasoning, evaluating, analyzing, decision making, and problem solving.  She discussed George Polya’s four-step model of problem solving (read & understand, devise a plan, carry out the plan, and looking back), and came to the conclusion that in her personal practice, it was the guiding questions that were the missing piece in her pedagogical strategy, and that she needed to help create that stepping stone bridge between theory and practice for her students to help direct them towards thinking more critically.  Here is a slide from Dr. Eladdadi’s PowerPoint that illustrates various guiding questions that line-up with and fit into Polya’s model:


Dr. Eladdadi then talked about how this adapted type of problem solving strategy, with guiding questions that help elicit that overlay of skills from students (as opposed to a very linear process of evaluation linked to solely problem solving), introduced and used to approach mathematical problems with real world applications, truly led to that all-important transferability of skills.  As with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Eladdadi also came to the conclusion that critical thinking is very closely linked to collaboration and that she needs to start using this adapted problem-solving method earlier in the semester.

Dr. Allen’s main point in his presentation was that the focus needs to be on the facilitation of critical thinking as opposed to the teaching of critical thinking.  He argues that it’s not what we “do” to students but what opportunities we give them to do things for themselves.  Dr. Allen stated that students are not learning for class, but instead they are learning for the transferability of skills in the discipline, across the discipline, and for life, both personally and professionally, which should be the goal of all education.

A main strategy linked to facilitating critical thinking that Dr. Allen pointed out is the importance of questions.  He stated that there is a lot of literature on the role of instructor generated questions, but not on student generated questions, where the latter is more beneficial for the student.  Dr. Allen discussed the Questioning Formation Technique and the Reciprocal Questioning strategy and their role in keeping students motivated and cognitively engaged, as well as how these questioning strategies can work positively when students are collaborating with their peers.  In the end, Dr. Allen concluded that facilitating critical thinking in such a way that helps students learn how to generate questions, learn how to do for themselves and how to collaborate with their peers, fosters an environment in which transferable skills will develop and in turn produce self-regulated learners.

To listen to a podcast of the session, click here!

PROVISIONS FELLOWS: Request for Proposals

Faculty are invited to apply to the new Provisions Fellows Program for the 2014-2015 year. The Provisions Fellowships are unique professional development grants in three ways:

1) The Fellowships focus on teaching and learning;

2) The Fellowships emphasize collaborative inquiry around an identified theme;

3) The Fellowships support interdisciplinary exploration rather than individual disciplinary expertise and research.

I. Objectives

Provisions Fellows will engage in a year-long collaborative project committed to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL). The Fellowship supports pedagogical research, teaching excellence, clear outcomes, and documented assessment. Each academic year will focus on a different theme. The theme for the 2014-2015 Academic year is “Teaching First Year Students.

II. Fellow Activities

  •          Create a reading list focused on “teaching first year students” in consultation withother Fellows.
  •          Meet regularly throughout the Fall 2014 semester to discuss reading. (Schedule to be determined by the Fellows.)
  •          Contribute regularly (biweekly) to the Provisions blog to document process, discussion, and progress.
  •          Develop and implement one or more innovative assignments, activities, workshops and/or lesson plans informed by the reading and discussion.
  •          Document the outcomes of innovation and produce a “toolkit” of research,pedagogical resources, sample assignments, and student examples to publish on the Provisions blog in support of faculty/staff professional development.
  •         Present at the final Provisions session of the year to celebrate and publicize results of collaborative research and innovation.

III. Fellowship Award

  •          Year long professional development opportunity for two faculty members. (Individual applicants will be selected by the Provisions Steering Committee.)
  •          Fellowship is equivalent to reassigned time for one course. The reassigned time can be taken at any time during the Fellowship (Spring or Fall) in consultation with the faculty member’s Department Chair.
  •          An additional $700 will be available to each Fellow to support attendance and/or participation in a conference or workshop germane to the common inquiry question.

 IV. Proposal Criteria and Format: (Maximum: 500 words)

  1.       Describe your interest in this year’s inquiry theme: “Teaching First Year Students.”
  2.       Identify your pedagogical questions, attempts, or challenges in regards to the theme, and provide one specific example/case that illustrates the direction of your future inquiry.
  3.       Provide evidence of past successful collaborative work in any venue. (e.g., professional, Saint Rose projects, committees, etc., or other contexts you deem relevant.) What skills or attributes will you bring to this work?
  4.       In addition, please note any other reassigned time/professional development support you’ve received for 2014-15.

 V. Schedule for Provision Fellows Program

  1.       Proposals are due Friday, 4/18, 4:00 p.m.You must submit a hard copy proposal as well as an e-mail attachment in Microsoft Word to Chris Miller at
  2.       Proposals will be reviewed by Provisions Steering Committee with recommendations made to the Provost/VPAA. Fellowships will be announced by the end of April.
  3.       Spring/Summer 2014: Provisions Fellows will create a common reading list identifying significant research in the Teaching of Critical Thinking.
  4.       Fall 2014. Fellows will meet regularly as a collaborative faculty learning community to research the common topic of “Teaching Critical Thinking” and develop curricular innovation ideas for implementation in Spring 2014.
  5.       Spring 2015: Curricular innovations implemented by each Fellow on an individual basis. Collaboration among Fellows will continue during this period (e.g. visiting each other’s classes; exchanging ideas; developing and consolidating ideas, research and assessment information).
  6.       Spring 2014-15 Provisions series culminates with the results of the collaborative research and innovation
  7.       Pedagogical “toolkit,” with documentation and reflection materials developed as part of the Fellowship posted to Provisions blog by end of June 2015.

Here you can download the Provisions Fellows Proposal Signature Sheet


March Provisions: Teaching [Toward] Common Core

The topic for this month’s Provisions session was “Teaching [Toward] Common Core.”  Our two presenters were Aviva Bower, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology, and Joseph Eppink, Associate Professor of Music.

Dr. Bower began the session by focusing on who created the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and, consequently, the issues that have arisen as a direct result of this group of creators.  Dr. Bower pointed out that the list of those who created the CCSS includes for profit organizations and those who will benefit financially from the tests, textbooks, and the curricular materials and “coaching” associated with the CCSS.  She noted that those who would have had the most to contribute, such as educators and families, were left out of the equation.  Dr. Bower stated that good teachers who “consider students’ emotional needs, cognitive abilities, and social development will always find a way to transform an inappropriate curriculum, but when the curriculum is tied to high-stakes testing, teachers take that scripted curriculum and subject children to what [she is] calling “the literacy of obedience.”

One of the main issues with the CCSS that Dr. Bower delved into is that they are developmentally inappropriate, where students are lacking transactional reading and writing experiences and are not being asked to draw on their own experiences and knowledge.  Dr. Bower asserted that doing what a script tells you is never going to teach children, and the way in which instruction and assessment is being boiled down to “tell me what the text says within the four walls of the page,” and “show me two details,” is sucking writing and reading dry of curiosity and passion.  Dr. Bower focused specifically on CCSS and the elementary grades, and provided examples as to how teachers are being pressured to teach using developmentally inappropriate abstractions (in an effort to reach the standards), which then leaves young students with nothing concrete to hold on to.  Essentially, Dr. Bower argues that both children and teachers suffer when testing begins to dictate pedagogical and curricular decisions.

Dr. Bower believes that one way in which teachers can help turn it around is by making what they are given developmentally appropriate and enjoyable.  You can take a look at Dr. Bower’s PowerPoint presentation here: The Common Core.

Dr. Eppink began his presentation by explaining the daunting task of trying to “do it all.”  He stressed how music education used to be more hands on, but how now, music educators are being handed new material to be covered and new goals to be reached, such as producing reading, writing, and speaking grounded in text, which has never been part of their job before.

For Dr. Eppink, the struggle lies in figuring out a way to get all of the new material covered and hit all of the new required tasks without cutting any of their existing material and activities.  To show how such a thing is possible, Dr. Eppink demonstrated the ways in which music educators could incorporate things like vocabulary into a hands on game for an elementary music class using Gene Baer’s Thump, Thump, Rat-a-Tat-Tat.  The book was used in an activity involving movement and music-makers to give the “kids” (his participants) a concrete example of the vocabulary words “crescendo” and “decrescendo.”  The group separated into two, standing apart while facing each other, and while reading the book, “students” were asked to keep a steady beat using a shaker-instrument while walking towards the other group.  Dr. Eppink asked the students to estimate the half-way point (using the book as their guide), and the activity allowed them to be able to physically hear when the sound of their instruments were approaching their loudest, at their loudest, and growing fainter, a.k.a. a hands on experience with these two aforementioned vocabulary terms.

Ultimately, Dr. Eppink feels that when we work within the chaos, we may not have all the answers, but what we can do is begin to incorporate small parts of the new standards into our existing pedagogical practices.

Critical thinking: Who’s asking the questions?

During the last few months I have been reading a considerable amount of literature on critical thinking. Although I’ve reviewed theoretical perspectives and research on the topic to gain a deeper and broader understanding, I have focused my attention mostly on pedagogical strategies that teachers can initiate in their classrooms to promote the critical thinking skills of their students. In the article Critical thinking: Why is it so hard to teach? Willingham (2007) argues that due to lack of scientific rigor, there is not strong support for many of the critical thinking programs that have been developed to help students to be better critical thinkers. However, from my review of the literature I believe that there is good research based on sound theoretical principles of learning that support effective pedagogical strategies that focus on various ways to use questions to promote deeper critical thinking skills among students. These questioning strategies have been shown to help students become more thoughtful, reflective, motivated, and self-regulated learners. It is this last point that I want to particularly emphasize in this article, i.e., how to get students to be motivated and self-regulated learners by constructing their own questions rather than responding to teacher-generated questions. But first, a little background on the use of questioning to promote the critical thinking skills and learning of student.

Perhaps the most well known questioning strategy is the Socratic Method. I remember reading many years ago Plato’s Meno (380 B.C.E) describing how Socrates used questions to “draw out” knowledge and understanding of the world (specifically the concept of “virtue”) from his students (see More recently, and for many years, Richard Paul of The Critical Thinking Community has been encouraging teachers to use the Socratic Method during class discussions (for example, see However, the major focus of the Socratic Method is that it is the teacher who primarily constructs and asks multiple questions to students to guide their learning during a class to help them become critical thinkers.

While Paul was writing about critical thinking and the Socratic Method, J. T. Dillon (1982, 1984, 1991) at the University of California was doing extensive research and writing on the use of questions by teachers in relationship to effective and ineffective classroom discussions. Dillon’s research (and other research cited by Dillon) suggests that in many cases the use of questions by teachers to promote effective discussion is in fact questionable and often ineffective. Dillon (1984) states: “A single, well-formatted question is sufficient for an hour’s discussion. The rule of thumb during discussion is not to ask questions but to use various alternative techniques … alternatives will foster discussion processes, whereas questions will foil discussion by turning it into a recitation (see Dillon, 1978, 1981, 1984)” (p. 55). Some of the “alternative techniques” that Dillon suggests include the instructor just responding to students with statements instead of more questions and just being silent (often referred to as “wait time” – see:

The idea of not having teachers ask questions to promote critical thinking skills of students, but instead having teachers instruct students how to create, modify, and investigate their own questions, is discussed in detail by Rothstein and Santana (2012) in their book Make just one change: Teach students to ask their own questions. They discuss a questioning strategy they refer to as the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). The focus of this strategy is to help students develop their divergent, convergent and metacognitive thinking abilities.

As the name suggests, the method is very structured in its approach in teaching students how to formulate, modify, improve, and use questions to deepen their learning. There are seven basic steps of QFT where both the teacher and students work collaboratively in the process. The teacher is involved in facilitating the process by setting a “focus” for the questions, discussing with students a set of “rules” for the process of creating questions, monitoring students so that they follow the rules, and providing direction for using the questions to learn specific course content. However, it is ONLY the students who actually create questions about the content “focus,” with the teacher specifically avoiding ever posing any questions. Once a topic “focus” is provided by the teacher (usually a short phrase, such as “racial inequality” in a sociology class, or “being a self-reflective learner” in an educational psychology class), students generate as many questions as they can about the topic without editing, discussing, or responding to the questions. During this divergent thinking phase, students only generate questions and record them. In the next phase students categorize and label the questions as either closed-ended or open-ended questions, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each and change closed-ended questions to open-ended questions and open-ended questions to closed-ended ones. This helps students to develop a metacognitive awareness of types and advantages of different types of questions. The next phase has students prioritize their questions and choose the three that they believe are the most important as related to the initial “focus” and state why they think these are the most important questions to ask. Through this process, students engage in convergent thinking to be able to effectively address the “focus” of the topic in terms of learning course content. Finally, the teacher asks students to reflect on the process of generating their questions, what they found of value through the process, and how it might be used and transferred in future studies, further helping students to be metacognitive about their thinking process.

In this manner, students not only become more metacognitive and self-regulated in their learning, they learn academic content more deeply, and have higher levels of engagement and motivation to learn. The major point is that these changes come about not because teachers are asking questions that students have little investment, but because students are the ones asking their questions that they generated through a thoughtful and critical analysis – they have become critical thinkers engaged in critical thinking.

As discussed briefly in a previous blog (posted on February 7, 2014), another model of helping students learn to generate and ask their own questions to obtain a deeper understanding of a subject is one developed by King (1990, 2002) known as Reciprocal Questioning. King’s model teaches students to use a set of question stems that they can use to generate questions from lectures and then use their questions to reciprocally ask one another to develop a deeper and broader understanding of the content of the lecture (or to use during out-of-class study). Some of the question stems that King suggests for students to use are:

“What is the main idea of . . . ?”

“How does . . . affect . . . ?”

“What is the meaning of . . . ?”

“Why is . . . important?”

“What is a new example of …?”

“What do you think would happen if . . . ?

“What conclusions can I draw about . . . ?”

“What is the difference between . . . and . . . ?”

“How are . . . and . . . similar?”

“How would I use . . . to . . . ?”

“What are the strengths and weaknesses of . . . ?”

“What is the best . . . and why?”

These question stems help students develop a set of higher-order questions that allow them to investigate the content of the lesson in greater depth. By reciprocally asking and answering their questions with a small group of their classmates they also obtain a broader understanding of the content through discussion of different perspectives that each individual brings to the discussion.

I have used a modified version of this strategy with my classes where I provide and review the use of the question stems during the first class session and then have students develop a set of 3 or 4 questions that they generate from the class readings for use at the next class meeting (Allen, 2010, 2012). They then bring these sets of questions to class and in small groups (usually 4 students) reciprocally ask and answer each other’s questions before I lecture on the class readings. As students discuss the readings via their self-generated questions, I monitor each group and provide clarification when asked by the students. I have found students to be much more engaged in the discussion of the readings and much more motivated to digest the readings before they come to class. Once students have worked together for a few weeks they start to rely less on the question stems and develop higher-ordered questions on their own, often ones that relate to how they might apply and transfer the knowledge they are learning to situations in their professional and personal lives. In short, they learn to become more critical thinkers about what they read, personalize their learning, as well as become more self-regulated learners as they learn course content.

Reciprocal Questioning and the Question Formulation Technique are but two ways to help students take more control of their learning and develop critical thinking skills. They help us remember that critical thinking is a cognitively engaging “process” that is best facilitated when one generates their own understanding such as learning to know how to ask their own questions.


Allen, J. (2010). The sharing of Individual and Cultural Perspectives through Reciprocal Questioning. Paper presented at the XIV World Congress of Comparative Educational Societies, Istanbul, Turkey.

Allen, J. (2012). Improving students’ learning and motivation through reciprocal questioning. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Vancouver, Canada.

Dillon, J. T. (1978). Using questions to depress student thought. School Review, 87, 50-63.

Dillon, J. T. (1982). The multidisciplinary study of questioning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74(2), 147-165.

Dillon, J. T. (1984). Research on questioning and discussion. Educational Leadership, 42, 50-56.

Dillon, J. T. (1991). Questioning the use of questions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(1), 163-164.

King, A. (1990). Enhancing peer interaction and learning in the classroom through reciprocal questioning. American Educational Research Journal, 27(4), 664-687.

King, A. (2002). Structuring peer interaction to promote high-level cognitive processing. Theory into Practice, 41(1), 33-39.

Rothstein, D. & Santana, L. (2012). Make just one change: Teach students to ask their own questions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press  (see

Willingham. D. T. (2007). Critical thinking: Why is it so hard to teach? American Educator, Summer, 8-19.

Provisions: Teaching [toward] Common Core – Next Tuesday!

Don’t forget to come and check out our next Provisions session on Tuesday, March 25th, on Teaching [toward] Common Core.  Our three presenters will be Aviva Bower, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology, Joseph Eppink, Associate Professor of Music, and Deborah Kelsh, Professor of Teacher Education.  In preparation for the session, here is a short summary of two articles, suggested by Dr. Kelsh, that highlight the current conversation of dissatisfaction with the Common Core.

In “The Problems with the Common Core,” Stan Karp claims that many supporters of the Common Core don’t sufficiently take into account how larger forces define the context in which the standards are being introduced and implemented, as well as the new teacher evaluations, higher stakes testing, and mass school closings, which seem to have come as a “package deal” with the Common Core standards.

Karp points out that too many standards projects have been efforts to move decisions about teaching and learning away from educators and schools, have often codified sanitized versions of history, politics, and culture that reinforce official myths while leaving out the voices and concerns of our students and communities, and have repeatedly been undermined by bad process, suspect political agendas, and commercial interests.

Karp claims that by very publicly measuring test results, “NCLB succeeded in creating a narrative of failure that shaped a decade of attempts to “fix” schools while blaming those who work in them,” where these scores put the spotlight on gaps among student groups, but the law used these gaps to label schools as failures without providing the resources or supports needed to eliminate them.  Karp claims that though a decade of NCLB tests showed that millions of students were not meeting existing standards, the sponsors of the Common Core decided that the solution was tougher ones.  Of the 135 people on the review panels for the Common Core, Karp notes that not a single one of them was a K–3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional, parents were entirely missing, and K–12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards.

Karp approaches the legitimacy of the standards on a number of levels, i.e. questioning whether or not the Common Core is an educational plan or a marketing campaign, and ultimately argues that there is no credible defense to be made of the high-stakes uses planned for these new tests: “Instead, the Common Core project threatens to reproduce the narrative of public school failure that just led to a decade of bad policy in the name of reform.”  He believes that as schools struggle with these new mandates, we should defend our students, our schools, and ourselves by pushing back against implementation timelines, resisting the stakes and priority attached to the tests, and exposing the truth about the commercial and political interests shaping this false cure-all for the problems our schools face.

In “Martin Luther King Jr. and the Common Core,” Daniel E. Ferguson states that proponents of the Common Core have likened the struggle to implement it to the Civil Rights Movement, yet we must consider how these standards and the related testing are threatening students’ rights to education, not upholding them.  Ferguson argues that the Common Core’s strict interpretation of “close reading of a text” dismisses the notion that students’ own thoughts and experiences, and how they connect to a text, are integral to reading. Rather, student voices are silenced in their own classrooms, and literacy is reduced to the ability to navigate standardized tests.

In terms of the Common Core, close reading involves what can only be found within the “4 corners” of the text.  Ferguson argues, however, that there should instead be a focus on critical reading, which involves a close reading of both what lies within and outside of the text.  He fights the idea that reading instruction has overemphasized personal connections to texts at the expense of understanding the author’s meaning, which is assuming the two are diametrically opposed.  He argues that reading devoid of one’s own thoughts and realities—or the broader social context—is impossible, and that understanding what you read and your own world are inextricably linked.  He claims that “a curriculum that de-emphasizes students’ worlds is one that obstructs their making sense of the word,” and is thus an act of oppression.

Ferguson argues that forcing discussion of a text to remain “text dependent” may make it easier to test, but that it also forces out its entire social and historical context.  In contrast, critical literacy argues that students’ sense of their own realities should never be treated as outside the meaning of a text, because “to do so is to infringe on their rights to literacy.” In other words, he argues that literacy is a civil and human right, and that promoting a Common Core system of close reading “promotes a system that creates outsiders of students in their own classrooms.”


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