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“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested….” --Francis Bacon
"If you cannot write well, you cannot think well, and if you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you." --George Orwell
A strong command of the language arts (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) is vital for being a successful student and ultimately a productive member of the 21st century workforce. Language skills have always been fundamental for academic and professional success. However, students in the 21st century are now facing more complex challenges in an ever-changing global society. These challenges have created the need for rigorous state standards in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Literacy – meaning the ability to construe a written, linguistic, alphabetic symbol system – is arguably the most important skill students acquire in preschool through twelfth-grade education because it makes all other forms of higher-order learning, critical thinking, and communication possible.
The study of reading, writing, and communicating is therefore essential to all other study in early childhood education, primary school, and secondary school. Such study comprises not only the fundamental knowledge and skills of language arts (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), but also the knowledge and skills of discourse (dialogue and discussion) and rhetoric (the ability to make arguments and to think critically about arguments made by others) and the knowledge and skills involved in responding to imaginative literature.
Language skills are necessary for academic success in all disciplines. The ability to integrate reading, writing, speaking, and listening effectively builds understanding across all academic subjects as well as allowing for the development of 21st century skills within the context of these subjects. Critical thinking and reasoning, information literacy, collaboration, self-direction, and innovation are vital 21st century skills.
Standards for reading, writing, and communicating in all grades must be clear and rigorous so that our public educational system gives students the skills, knowledge, and confidence they need to succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce, to be well-informed and responsible citizens, and to lead more fulfilling personal lives.
The Colorado Academic Standards in Reading, Writing, and Communicating were written for all students using the content, concepts, skills and language conventions and structures found within the English language. This does not mean students must be native English speakers, nor fluent English proficient, but by utilizing the Colorado English Language Proficiency standards (Office of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education) in tandem with the Colorado Academic Standards, qualified and well prepared educators can ensure that all English Learners receive appropriate support to ensure all students successfully meet the expectations in the standards.
- Collaborate effectively as group members or leaders who listen actively and respectfully; pose thoughtful questions, acknowledge the ideas of others; and contribute ideas to further the group’s attainment of an objective.
- Deliver effective oral presentations for varied audiences and varied purposes.
- Read a wide range of literary texts to build knowledge and to better understand the human experience.
- Read a wide range of informational texts to build knowledge and to better understand the human experience.
- Understand how language functions in different contexts, command a variety of word-learning strategies to assist comprehension, and make effective choices for meaning or style when writing and speaking.
- Craft arguments using techniques specific to the genre.
- Craft informational/explanatory texts using techniques specific to the genre.
- Craft narratives using techniques specific to the genre.
- Demonstrate mastery of their own writing process with clear, coherent, and error-free polished products.
- Gather information from a variety of sources; analyze and evaluate its quality and relevance; and use it ethically to answer complex questions.
The Colorado Academic Standards in social studies are organized by content area. The four standards of reading, writing, and communicating are:
- Oral Expression and Listening
Learning of word meanings occurs rapidly from birth through adolescence within communicative relationships. Everyday interactions with parents, teachers, peers, friends, and community members shape speech habits and knowledge of language. Language is the means to higher mental functioning, that which is a species-specific skill, unique to humans as a generative means for thinking and communication. Through linguistic oral communication, logical thinking develops and makes possible critical thinking, reasoning, development of information literacy, application of collaboration skills, self-direction, and invention.
Oral language foundation and written symbol systems concretize the way a student communicates. Thus, students in Colorado develop oral language skills in listening and speaking, and master the written language skills of reading and writing. Specifically, holding Colorado students accountable for language mastery from the perspectives of scientific research in linguistics, cognitive psychology, human information processing, brain-behavior relationships, and socio-cultural perspectives on language development will allow students to master 21st century skills and serve the state, region, and nation well.
- Reading for All Purposes
Literacy skills are essential for students to fully participate in and expand their understanding of today’s global society. Whether they are reading functional texts (voting ballots, a map, a train schedule, a driver’s test, a job application, a text message, product labels); reference materials (textbooks, technical manuals, electronic media); or print and non-print literary texts, students need reading skills to fully manage, evaluate, and use the myriad information available in their day-to-day lives.
- Writing and Composition
Writing is a fundamental component of literacy. Writing is a means of critical inquiry; it promotes problem solving and mastering new concepts. Adept writers can work through various ideas while producing informational, persuasive, and narrative or literary texts. In other words, writing can be used as a medium for reasoning and making intellectual connections. As students arrange ideas to persuade, describe, and inform, they engage in logical critique, and they are likely to gain new insights and a deeper understanding of concepts and content.
- Research Inquiry and Design
Effective researching involves critical thinking, thoughtful inquiry, and consideration of multiple points of view on a given topic. Students will generate engaging research questions and gather data, expert testimony, and information to support their analyses and conclusions.
Individually and in collaboration with others, students will learn the skills necessary to consider biases, evaluate sources, synthesize information, and defend their positions. In addition, as students’ progress, they will consider opposing perspectives and address counterarguments to their claims and the evidence they provide in support of their argument.
The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects include a separate standard for Language. In this document, those Language expectations are integrated into the four standards above as appropriate.
Instructional Implications with the Revised Standards
The Colorado Academic Standards identify the student expectations for year-end mastery of the skills and knowledge in each discipline. As we consider these student outcomes, we need to be aware of the instructional implications inherent in the Standards. Teacher behavior precedes student behavior, so we must be deliberate in our planning and classroom practices to achieve the desired student learning outcomes.
Proportion of Informational Text to Literary Text
The proportion of literary text and expository/informational text will change throughout a student’s academic career. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggests that by 4th Grade, students read a 50/50 proportion of literary and informational texts. In addition, the What Works Clearinghouse, in its publication “Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade,” encourages teachers to use informational texts so students gain the academic language necessary to succeed across content areas (p.7). In addition, paired texts -- whether nonfiction and nonfiction; nonfiction and fiction; nonfiction and poetry – has instructional payoff as students work with texts within and across genres to explore topics and themes.
The proportion of informational text to literary text in 8th grade is approximately 55% informational and 45% literary. By 12th grade, students should be reading and studying approximately 70% of informational texts and 30% literary texts.
This progression, particularly in grades 6-12, is seen across the curriculum throughout the students’ school day and academic life. That is, English language arts teachers should maintain a robust reading list of literary works. In addition, teachers in other academic disciplines – social studies, science, the arts, computer science, health, and technical areas – should bolster their instruction with engaging and complex informational texts. The commitment to disciplinary literacy reinforces the importance to provide deliberate and intentional instruction that honors the language and types of texts found in all content areas. At year’s end, a student will have received multiple and ongoing opportunities to engage in complex texts in all academic disciplines.
Early Literacy: Kindergarten through Third Grade
The importance of developing a strong foundation in early literacy cannot be refuted.
Evidence Outcomes in Standard 1: Oral Expression and Listening and in Standard 2: Reading for all Purposes marked with an asterisk (*) are the minimum competencies identified in the READ Act. The Standards, as represented by the minimum skills competencies, move students through the foundational skills to establish the strong foundation for proficient readers in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and vocabulary. Ultimately, the end goal is for readers to be able to comprehend texts of varying levels of complexity, and in later grades, in all content areas.
Teachers of reading in elementary schools throughout Colorado should teach students academic language skills, develop awareness of the segments of sounds, teach students to decode words and analyze word parts, and ensure that each student reads connected text every day to support reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. While there is an abundance of instructional resources available to teachers, beginning with their own basal readers in their schools and districts, the What Works Clearinghouse has two very rich practice guides: Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade and Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade.
“Close Reading” Practices and Other Instructional Approaches
Instructional practice should include establishing context for the reading, setting a purpose, and frontloading vocabulary to support students working with texts of varying levels of complexity.
While “close reading” of complex texts is a valuable practice, teachers should use a range of strategies to develop strong readers in all disciplines. Developing effective question-generation strategies, writing text-dependent questions, using reciprocal teaching methods, and frontloading vocabulary are all worthy practices to engage students in reading materials in all content areas.
The Teaching of Writing
Teachers in primary and intermediate grades should pay particular attention to the skills identified in Grade Level Expectations (GLE) 3 in Writing and Composition (Standard 3). Our younger writers will benefit from direct instruction in conventions to develop a written vocabulary, command over syntactical structures and rich sentences, logical ordering of sentences in paragraphs, and effective paragraphing. Writing instruction should move back and forth between “whole to part” and “part to whole”; that is, students should understand the concept of a larger piece of writing (e.g., a book, a brochure, an essay, a narrative) and the parts that comprise the piece of writing (e.g., word choice, varied sentence lengths and structure, order of ideas presented).