Is Common Core Changing Reading Instruction?

Kathryn Starke is an urban elementary school reading specialist, literacy consultant, keynote speaker, and author of a multicultural children’s book, Amy’s Travels.

In 1998, my home state of Virginia developed the Standards of Learning, much to the dismay of students, parents, and educators who had been teaching a particular unit, theme, or objectives for many years. The SOLs, as they are often referred to, are a statewide curriculum created to ensure that all students receive the same instruction in the core subjects no matter what public school you attend in the Commonwealth. At the end of every school year, students in specific grade levels take statewide assessments to show what they have learned. Reading in particular is assessed starting in the third grade and throughout elementary, middle, and high school.

I learned everything about this new curriculum in college so as a first year teacher in Richmond Public Schools, I would be fully prepared to implement the SOLs in my second grade classroom. However, this change for veteran teachers was not so easy. In fact, the SOLs have added pressure to the lives of teachers in many schools due to the fact that the end of year tests results are often used to evaluate the classroom teacher’s instruction.

Common Core Standards:
A Teacher’s Blueprint

Have our state standards changed reading instruction? Yes. Has it been effective? Sure. Do the Standards of Learning still exist? Yes, in fact they have already been revamped to make more rigorous reading instruction in Virginia. I believe a similar transformation will be seen nationally with the common core curriculum.

Think of the language arts common core standards as your blueprint, while you, the classroom teacher, is responsible for meeting this standard by selecting books and developing lessons that motivate, engage, and educate your boys and girls.

It is wonderful that all children will be exposed to the same instructional objectives throughout the nation. It is important that teachers remember to be their creative and innovative professionals by making the standards work for your students. For example, we know that an elementary school community in Miami, Florida will not look exactly like one in Lincoln, Nebraska. While both third grade teachers may be required to use more nonfiction text to initiate close reading and deeper comprehension, each teacher must select a text or topic that matches the interests and backgrounds of his or her own students.

Teaching our students the strategies behind reading and how to think about a text will certainly change reading instruction in a positive manner. Encouraging our students to make connections, predict, reflect, analyze, and form opinions before, during, and reading a text is empowering and can be done with a variety of texts and through mini lessons from kindergarten to twelfth grade. As teachers, we are the leaders in our classroom and are responsible for our students’ learning. The common core standards may create a new style of teaching and new form of learning, but it’s how we implement these standards with our twenty-something students that will determine the change.

sitepicAbout Kathryn Starke
A native of Richmond Virginia, Kathryn graduated from Longwood University with a BS degree in elementary education and a Master’s degree in Literacy and Culture. She has taught first, second, and third grade and served as a literacy specialist for a decade in inner city/Title I schools in Richmond, Virginia.

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Who is an ‘English-Language Learner’?

Staff writer Adrienne Lu, from Stateline ( has published a new article on how English-language learners are defined differently across states, and the impact a common definition across the United States will have on students, parents and teachers. 

If a U.S. student learning English were to drive across the country, he would find that in some states he would be classified an “English-language learner,” eligible to receive extra support.  In other states,  the same student would not qualify for the special designation—or the additional help.

In California, for example, English-language learners spend part of the day focused on learning English. The rest of the day, teachers help them learn the same material as native English speakers, with some modifications. For example, they might be divided into smaller groups with other limited English speakers, or receive a preview or review of the lesson in their native tongue.

The label matters, because under the federal Civil Rights Act, schools are required to provide English-language learners with additional services to ensure they master English as well as the material other students are learning.

The wide variety in policies also creates headaches for students who move from state to state, or even from one school district to another, as they may suddenly find themselves lumped into a new category.

Now that nearly all the states have agreed to adopt common standards in English and math, known as the Common Core State Standards, some states are striving for a common definition of an English-language learner. The task likely will take years, given the political and policy thickets that need to be cleared.

A common definition would help English learners to receive better educations, said Robert Linquanti, project director for English Learner Evaluation and Accountability Support at WestEd, a nonprofit education research organization based in California, and one of two co-authors of a recent report.

“If I’m a parent with a kid who’s been designated [an English learner], I want to know that the educators at the school have enough understanding about where my kid’s language proficiency is and where they’re aiming to have my child go,” Linquanti said. “If we have varying definitions…it’s much less likely my students will get a coherent set of services.”


California, which has about 1,000 school districts, has “1,000 different definitions of what’s an English learner,” Linquanti said. “A kid could be an English learner in one district, cross the road into another and be considered not an English learner. It has an effect on the quality of instruction a kid can receive.”

From the school years 2002-03 to 2009-10, the number of limited English proficient students in K-12 nationwide grew by 7 percent, to 4.65 million. California has the highest percentage of English-language learners with 23 percent of enrollment in public schools in 2010-11.

Read the full article here


3 Fun Ways to Improve Reading Fluency

Reading Fluency is an important part of English language literacy, and one of the more critical skills that educators measure when teaching reading and writing.

According to, Reading Fluency is defined as, “How quickly, accurately, automatically and expressively someone reads.”

In order to measure fluency, most standard tests include educators having students read a short passage for a minute. The teacher then makes note of word stumbling, proper pronunciation, correct pause, emphasis and overall speed of reading.

But outside of reading a paragraph, let’s look at some fun ways in which reading fluency can be improved:

  1. Play the Parrot Game: Before becoming fluent readers, students must often hear what a fluent reader sounds like. Make a game out of exact phrase, pause and emphasis imitation. First choose a suitable paragraph which has enough meat to make for lively reading. Then after each sentence, have one of your students read the same sentence imitating you as closely as possible. Don’t be surprised if they end with a SQUAWK!  As students are actively listening to your reading, they will subtly pick up pause and emphasis through repetition.
  2. Play the Shadow Game: “Oh, what’s the shadow game?”  “Oh, what’s the shadow game?” Repeat everything I say, exactly as I say it. Quite similar to choral reading, the shadow game appeals to younger children, who’ll again do their best to imitate you. This is a great way to give students reading practice. Additionally students are less shy when echoing you in a group.
  3. Domino Poems: Get your students to stand in a circle and each read a phrase in sequence. This works great with poems, which are short enough to keep the momentum going, but long enough to develop fluency. Select a suitable poem, and write each line on a numbered card. Let your students practice reading alone, then together.  They can then put on a show for you. Keep repeating until everyone gets their part right, and then reward the class as a whole for a perfect rendition.

Remember the objective is to get the student’s mind off the fact that they are reading and more on how the text should be read. Games like to above help students shed inhibitions and learn the skills to make them fluent readers.