If you teach fiction, people might be telling you to teach less of it and to switch to nonfiction. If you believe in teaching texts that are relevant to your students, you might be sensing sneers from colleagues. And if you like independent reading, well, you might be the pariah of your department.
The cause of this ruckus? It’s easy: A man named David Coleman.
David Coleman, now the president of the College Board, is the architect of the Common Core State Standards for English. Because nearly every state is moving to the Common Core in 2014, and because standardized testing will change to reflect those standards, Mr. Coleman is the guy to follow if you’re an English teacher. (Here’s a recent profile in The Atlantic.)
Some reasons why:
1. Mr. Coleman wants students to read more nonfiction.
To prepare students for college and career, the Common Core suggests that 70 percent of reading for high schoolers be “informational texts,” — in other words, nonfiction. English teachers worry that they’ll have to shoulder this shift because teachers of other disciplines often do not include reading as a major component of their curriculum.
2. Mr. Coleman wants to shift back to the canon.
Reading in high school isn’t rigorous enough, Mr. Coleman believes. Teachers don’t challenge students with complex texts and instead opt for works that students find more immediately relevant. The problem, according to Mr. Coleman, is that these texts are too simplistic and do not require adequate critical thinking. Also too easy are books that students choose themselves, so independent reading is a no-no.
3. Mr. Coleman advocates for close reading and text-based instruction.
Prereading activities serve only to offer students a way out of reading. Asking students to engage personally with a text and to make connections allow for answers not rooted in the author’s words. For Mr. Coleman, grappling with text closely is the only way to read.
4. Mr. Coleman shuns personal writing and champions argumentative writing with evidence-based support.
Imagery and figurative language and beautiful syntax are not on Mr. Coleman’s rubric for excellent writing. Neither is the ability to write a personal narrative. Rather, he insists on teaching arguments supported by text-based evidence. Don’t even think of assigning a short story or poem.
As I’m sure you notice, I find Mr. Coleman intriguing. (Here are a few more posts I’ve written about him.) He’s incredibly smart and forceful, and given my social studies background, I can see where he’s going.
At the same time, I worry about Mr. Coleman’s power. He’s just 42, and though he says the right things about teachers (you’re so important!) and kids of color (they can do it!), he comes across as slightly out of touch (and overly confident, bordering on arrogant).
English teachers, I encourage you to get to know Mr. Coleman more, listen to his speeches, and share your thoughts about him. What are your feelings about the Common Core State Standards and how they’ll change your practice?