Archives For English Language Arts Common Core Standards

As the Connecticut State Standardized tests fade into the sunset, teachers are learning to say “Good-bye” to all those questions that ask the reader to make a personal connection to a story. The incoming  English Language Arts Common Core Standards (ELA- CCSS) are eradicating the writing of responses that begin with, “This story reminds me of…..” Those text to self, text to text, and text to world connections that students have made at each grade level are being jettisoned. The newly designed state assessment tests will tolerate no more fluff; evidence based responses only, please.

sunsetPerhaps this hard line attitude towards literacy is necessary correction. Many literacy experts had promoted connections to increase a reader’s engagement with a text. For example,

 “Tell about the connections that you made while reading the book. Tell how it reminds you of yourself, of people you know, or of something that happened in your life. It might remind you of other books, especially the characters, the events, or the setting” (Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6, Fountas and Pinnell) 

Unfortunately, the question became over-used, asked for almost every book at each grade level. Of course, many students did not have similar personal experiences to make a connection with each and every text. (Note: Given some of the dark literature-vampies, zombies- that adolescents favor, not having personal experience may be a good sign!) Other students did not have enough reading experience or the sophistication to see how the themes in one text were similar to themes in another text.  Some of the state assessment exemplars revealed how students often made limited or literal connections, for example:”The story has a dog; I have a dog.”

The requirement to make a connection to each and every story eventually led to intellectual dishonesty.  Students who were unable to call to mind an authentic connection faked a relationship or an experience. Some students claimed they were encouraged by their teachers to “pretend” they knew someone just like a character they read about. “Imagine a friend had the same problem,” they were told.   Compounding this problem was the inclusion of this connection question on the state standardized tests, the CAPT (grade 10) and the CMT (grades 3-8). So, some  students traded story for story in their responses, and they became amazingly creative in answering this question. I mentioned this in a previous post when a student told me that the sick relative he had written about in a response didn’t really exist. “Don’t worry,” he said brightly after I offered my condolences, “I made that up!”

Last week, our 9th grade students took a practice standardized test with the “make a connection question” as a prompt. They still need to practice since there is one more year of this prompt before ELA CCSS assessments are in place. The students wrote their responses to a story where the relationship between a mother and daughter is very strained. One of the students wrote about her deteriorating and very difficult relationship with her mother. I was surprised to read how this student had become so depressed and upset about her relationship with her mother. I was even more surprised that afternoon when that same mother called to discuss her daughter’s grade. I hesitated a little, but I decided to share what was written in the essay as a possible explanation. The next day, I received the following e-mail,

“I told M___that I read the practice test where she said I didn’t have time to talk and other things were more important. She just laughed and said that she had nothing in common with the girl in the story so she just made that up because she had to write something. We had a good laugh over that and I felt so relieved that she didn’t feel that way.”

After reading so many student “make a connection” essays, I should have seen that coming!

Good-bye, “Make a Connection” question. Ours was an inauthentic relationship; you were just faking it.