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Comments of the Week: Teaching literacy, history, and the arts

This week, our readers added pedagogy to the usual mix of politics and policy in their comments.

One interesting discussion opened up after we reported about educators’ efforts to incorporate the Common Core learning standards in literacy. Do the new standards, which emphasize “close reading,” mean that students should be taught there are right and wrong ways to understand texts?

Drew Golburgh wrote:

Reading for a correct answer goes against the purpose and power of art. Close readings should include open ended questions; students must be taught to support their responses with experiences and contextual evidence from the text. Every student response should be followed up with, Why? … Reading for a correct answer teaches kids that there is a right and wrong way to interpret, to understand, to think. This is the danger of our standardization.

Then, the teacher of the class we documented, Frances Olajide, added her voice. She said that while she had not told students that the poem they read could be interpreted in only one way, line-by-line textual analysis requires some precise judgments. She wrote:

I love that kids in my class take risks and think really critically. In some cases, however, there are right and wrong answers, [and] children must build the confidence to engage with inquiry, try, be wrong, try again, read, re read and then construct the correct analysis of texts. If we aren’t building this caliber of readers, we are missing the mark.

The discussions extended beyond literacy, too. After Stephen Lazar wrote in the Community section about shortcomings in the state’s proposed Common Core-aligned standards for U.S. history, economics, and government, Matt Roberts weighed in with concerns about the proposed global studies standards:

The current NYSED curriculum opens with a study of early peoples. Under the new Draft Framework, the course would begin with the Neolithic Revolution. At first glance this may seem to be a minor difference; however, the change overlooks an essential part of human history: our common origins in Africa. … A study of our shared origins provides a foundation of knowledge and skills on which students can build their understanding of human history. As educators we must help students to build this foundation.

Not all of the commentary on instruction had to do with the Common Core. Responding to a story about arts organizations uniting to ask mayoral candidates about their plans for the arts in schools, A.S. Neill wrote that arts classes help make schools places where students want to learn. He wrote:

I notice in the DOE budget that about half billion dollars is spent on teacher professional development every year (that’s about $6000 per teacher). I can’t say I’ve ever seen that kind of money spent on PD in my school, so as far as I’m concerned the DOE should just turn that money over to arts and music education.

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