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Sara Jennings

Gary, I agree with some of what you say. We do need to teach Social Studies and Science in the primary grades if for no other reason than to spark interest in school and in the world around them. Those concepts and skills at the primary levels are fun, and many schools have moved away from fun in this assessment focused culture we have created. As an ELA coach and teacher, I can contribute that finding the main idea of a passage is helpful in the content area class. When reading a speech or other primary source historical document, do we not need to know the author's central message? Maybe I misunderstood the comment you made about not needing to spend so much time teaching Reading skills. I don't think it is possible to teach reading skills in isolation and expect kids to be able to read. However, deciding and foundational skills are critical to learning to read. The reading and writing skills need to be taught holistically with the purpose of pulling meaning from the text. And, I think in support of the points you made, 50% of the text read by students in K-12 should be informational, which offers lots of opportunities for teaching Social Studies and Science at the lower primary grades and include the reading skills simultaneously.

Gary Houchens

Thanks for your insights, Sara! Hirsch agrees that the "informational" expectation in Common Core is actually a good thing and a way to integrate more content (and he actually says that literature can often be viewed as extremely "informative," so maybe we should ease up on the informative vs. literary dichotomy).

Gary Houchens

Regarding the "main idea," Hirsch says that complex writing often has several main ideas, and that if you understand what the writer is saying, you can naturally pick out one (or more) main ideas.

Gary Houchens

Last thing here: you can definitely use informational, content-laden texts to teach reading skills. I don't think Hirsh is opposed to that. But he wants a much more specific and intentional sequence of grade-level content in social studies, science, literature, and the arts to be the basis of that instruction. Would you agree with him that right there is little intentionality to the delivery of this content via reading instruction in the early grades?

John Stroube


I am not conversant with the intent or effectiveness of schools' emphasis on developing early reading skills. However, my arts-teacher friends sometimes report that they are compelled to spend a portion of their arts class time teaching reading. Of course, when such a thing happens, student arts time is being redirected. Some report they have been assigned for a certain portion of their day to oversee a reading session. Of course in that circumstance, an arts content specialists' time is being redirected.

There are basics to a well-rounded education that includes a fair measure of each of the disciplines, and to take a sky-is-falling reaction to what is determined to be problematic reading test scores is like overcorrecting on a slick road. That simply creates another problem where you still go off the road, just on the other side.

Kentucky lost protected time for elementary music and art with KERA, so without that constraint, predictably we see schools put their resources where the points are. ESSA calls for a well-rounded education, but at the building level the concern is over what is measurable and reportable. Kentuckians involved in non-tested areas are all anxious to see if school profiles can or will be constructed such that they report transparently about whether a well-rounded education is truly being delivered. Reading is A skill, not THE skill, and its development should not disproportionally displace subject area content, whether tested or non-tested.

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