The Common Core Standards: Why They Matter to Teachers and Parents of Children with Hearing Loss

By David Dolman, Ph.D.

One can hardly pick up an educational journal or attend a school-related conference today without hearing some reference to the Common Core Standards, an initiative supported by 45 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories, that will define the direction of education for many years to come (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2012a). In its annual survey of “hottest” topics for the year, the International Reading Association found that the implementation of Common Core Standards ranks near the top (Cassidy & Grote-Garcia, 2012).

These English language arts and mathematics standards represent a set of expectations for student knowledge and skills that high school graduates need to master to succeed in college and careers (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010). The Common Core Standards are redefining expectations for students at every grade level and focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures starting in early grades, thus giving teachers the time to teach core concepts and procedures while allowing students the opportunity to master them (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010).

Regardless of hearing ability, the Common Core Standards require an adjustment for all stakeholders involved: students, teachers, and parents. Parents of students with hearing loss need to work proactively with teachers in the classroom, teachers of the deaf, and listening and spoken language professionals to ensure that children with hearing loss graduate from school ready to succeed in college and in a modern workforce.

The standards increase the rigor of literacy requirements for all students. With adoption of the standards, students are now more likely to be reading directly from the texts in all subject areas instead of relying on the teacher to convey new concepts and introduce new knowledge and information. Students are reading more complex texts than has typically been the case, and writing is based less on personal opinion or personal experience and more on evidence from the pages themselves. Students are reading less fiction and increasing their reading of non-fiction, informational texts. They are answering questions which require a deep rather than a superficial reading of the text and they are learning general, academic vocabulary that will prove useful across many subject areas (Yager, Webb, Noppe, & McCaw, 2012).

What do these changes mean for parents and teachers of children who are deaf and hard of hearing?

The Common Core Standards set high expectations for literacy and call on teachers to re-think and refine their approach in conveying concepts and information to students with hearing loss (see sidebar). By looking at three areas—greater emphasis on informational texts, the requirement for close reading of the texts, and the learning of academic vocabulary—we can see how these shifts are affecting children in the classroom.

More Emphasis on Informational Texts

The Common Core recommendation is for teachers to incorporate 50 percent non-fiction texts in the elementary years (Neuman & Roskos, 2012) and 80 percent by high school (Yager et al., 2012). This represents a significant departure from the traditional focus on fiction, especially in the earlier grades. To successfully meet one of the standards for reading informational text, children in kindergarten, with prompting and support from the teacher, need to be able to identify reasons an author gives to support points in the text (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2012c). The complexity of the standard becomes more difficult with each passing grade. By fifth grade, for example, children must explain not only how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points but also identify which reasons and evidence support which points. To enable students to meet this standard, teachers need to explicitly model and practice the skill of finding evidence within a text that supports the author’s conclusion. Parents might support this goal at home and in other informal settings by engaging their children and asking them about formal texts read in class and informal texts read at home: “What did this author conclude/want to say to the reader? How do you know? Where in the book do you see that?”

As a word of caution, non-fiction books must be chosen carefully. Students must have enough background knowledge to make sense of the new information presented and be able to make personal connections in the material to their own lives (Parsons, 2012). Younger children tend to make more natural connections with fiction texts; however, biographies of sports figures or celebrities popular with children as well as non-fiction books with a sense of narrative—the  destruction of Pompeii, the building of the transcontinental railroad, the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath—can help bridge this gap.

Close Reading of the Text

The shift to greater emphasis on informational texts represents a fairly subtle modification of day-to-day teaching. A more dramatic change is the expectation that classroom instruction will become more dependent on the texts themselves and less dependent on the teacher. Traditionally, teachers of students with hearing loss may have “frontloaded” material by pre-teaching difficult concepts and vocabulary that the child is likely to encounter in reading. In contrast, under the Common Core Standards, less time is spent introducing the text and offering scaffolding support during reading, with more expectation that the students will read and understand the text on their own. Providing background knowledge and activating existing schema help make text more understandable, but they should not substitute for grappling with the written material itself.

The new standards require that students engage in close reading. This means that students must critically examine a text—often through repeated readings—to consider such things as how the text is organized, how precise its vocabulary is, key details, arguments and inferential meanings (Fisher & Frey, 2012). Figuring out the author’s purpose, comparing and contrasting themes, pinpointing main ideas, and finding evidence from the text to support conclusions are also part of close reading (McLaughlin & Overturf, 2012). One strategy that teachers might use to foster text-dependent questions at the elementary level is the Question-Answer-Relationship (QAR) activity. With this strategy, students answer questions based on four possible scenarios: (1) the needed information is right there in the text; (2) students must think and search to come up with the answer; (3) students must use a combination of their own and the author’s ideas; or (4) students must base their response on their own experience (Raphael, Highfield, & Au, 2006).

At a more advanced level, teachers can ask three questions that help students read the text on a deeper level: (1) How does this story or passage remind you of your own life and experiences? (2) What have you read before that might connect with this story or passage? (3) How does the content of this story or passage relate to the real world around you?  (“Connecting,” n.d.). Parents can encourage this closer reading of text by asking similar questions about what the child is reading at home.

Learning Academic Vocabulary

A third change in how children with and without hearing loss will be taught under the Common Core Standards is the emphasis on academic vocabulary, also known as Tier 2 words. Tier 1 words represent everyday words, such as “swim,” “horse,” “jump,” and Tier 3 words involve vocabulary encountered only in specialized contexts, such as “carburetor” and “aorta.” Tier 2 words appear in many types of school-based texts. They include words found in a variety of informational texts such as “relative,” “vary,” and “formulate.” They also include technical words, such as “calibrate” or “periphery,” and words like “dignified” or “faltered” that are usually found in literary texts (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2012c). Understanding these kinds of Tier 2 terms is one of the keys to reading comprehension. Under the Common Core Standards, students are expected to re-read when they do not understand text, tolerate frustration when engaged with a challenging text, and have a working knowledge of Tier 2 words that they can apply to specific reading materials they encounter (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, 2012).  

To expand students’ academic vocabulary, teachers might use graphic organizers, the talk-through strategy, or academic vocabulary journals (Sibold, 2011). Graphic organizers are visual representations that show arrangements of concepts or vocabulary words. The talk-through strategy occurs during an oral reading period, in which the teacher stops to explain how one might figure out the meaning of a word in context (for example, the word “atmosphere” in a textbook excerpt dealing with the earth’s water). With an academic vocabulary journal, the teacher asks the students to guess what a new word means and then gives a formal definition. Afterwards, the students use the word in a sentence, draw a pictorial representation of the word, if possible, and then record the word in their vocabulary journals. Parents can support efforts to expand vocabulary by drawing attention to and elaborating on meanings of words that children encounter in everyday conversations and in reading, a common technique employed by auditory-verbal practice.

Attention to vocabulary is worthwhile not only for school-age children but also for children in early intervention and preschool programs. By introducing new words and concepts to help young children expand their knowledge of the world, teachers and parents provide a foundation that children can build on as they enter kindergarten.

With the widespread adoption of the Common Core Standards throughout the United States, the delivery of instruction is already beginning to look different for most teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing. Teachers are being asked to engage their students with deeper and more meaningful readings of the text, with greater use of academic vocabulary, and with non-fiction materials. The bar has been raised for all students, with and without hearing loss. Students who are deaf and hard of hearing should be given appropriate support services, and some will need additional instructional accommodations utilizing Universal Design for Learning principles in which information is presented in multiple ways with a variety of means of response (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2012b). This may mean modifications of how materials are presented—enlarging font size of an informational text, for example, or allowing a child to demonstrate knowledge of academic vocabulary through playing a game or creating a story—but the standards remain the same.

Although educational change is seldom comfortable, the implementation of the Common Core Standards by effective teachers and engaged parents will result in students with hearing loss who are better equipped to take their place in the world of work or further education after graduation from high school.

References

Cassidy, J. & Grote-Garcia, S. (2012). Defining the literacy agenda: results of the 2013 What’s Hot, What’s Not literacy survey. Reading Today, 30 (1), 9-12.

Common Core State Standards Initiative (2012a). Adoption by state. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states.

Common Core State Standards Initiative (2012b). Application to students with disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/application-to-students-with-disabilities.pdf.

Common Core State Standards Initiative (2012c). Common core state standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social sciences, science, and technical subjects, appendix A. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf.

Connecting the New York Times to your world. (n.d.)  Retrieved from http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/blogs/learning/pdf/activities/ConnectWorld_NYTLN.pdf.

Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2012). Close reading in elementary schools. The Reading Teacher, 66 (3), 179-188.

McLaughlin, M. & Overturf, B.F. (2012). The common core: insights into the K-5 standards. The Reading Teacher, 66 (2), 153-164.

Neuman, S. B. & Roskos, K. (2012). Helping children become more knowledgeable through text. The Reading Teacher 66 (3), 207-210.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers (2010). Common Core State Standards. Washington D.C.: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards and http://www.corestandards.org/assets/ccssi-introduction.pdf.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (2012). ELA common core state standards self study: NC shifting gears session. Retrieved from http://www.livebinders.com/media/get/MzAwNzU0NQ==

Parsons, S.C. (2012). Making nonfiction accessible for young readers. Reading Today, 30 (2), 21-23.

Raphael, T.E., Highfield, K., & Au, K. H. (2006). QAR Now: A Powerful and Practical Framework That Develops Comprehension and Higher-Level Thinking in All Students. New York: Scholastic.

Sibold, C. (2011). Building English language learners’ academic vocabulary: strategies and tips.  Multicultural Education, 18 (11), 24-38.

Yager, S., Webb, C., Noppe, R. & McCaw, D. (2012). Academic game changer: common core will shift reading across the board. The Illinois School Board Journal, July/August, 1-3.

Reflections of Itinerant Teachers on the Common Core Standards

Denise Nelson, M.Ed., and Donna Klonne, M.Ed., are itinerant teachers of students who are deaf and hard of hearing in the Durham, N.C., school system. Nelson teaches students in middle school and high school and Klonne works with students at the elementary level, using both push-in and pull-out methods of service delivery, depending on student needs, providing service in inclusive settings to facilitate success with the Common Core, but also providing one-on-one or small group instruction for reinforcement, pre-preparation, or remediation. Here are their observations about adapting to the Common Core Standards:

Connection with the General Education Curriculum

The Common Core Standards have made our jobs easier from a logistics standpoint as far as collaborative instructional planning and development of materials. We can more easily connect our instruction with the general education curriculum because there is greater consistency of instructional content, vocabulary, and pacing between and among teachers and schools. Collaborative planning periods mean we can more easily connect with general education teachers regarding their instruction plans.

We are no longer as dependent on communication with individual teachers regarding current units of instruction, important concepts, and essential vocabulary that may need pre-teaching or reinforcement. In addition, materials we have developed for one student may be equally useful with another student studying the same content in another school. Students more easily learn and retain instruction when they see connections to what they know or are learning in other parts of their school day.

While emphasis is on the individuality of each student and specific IEP goals, the Common Core also allows 'pairing' of students in the same grade and in the same part of the curriculum but at different schools to help them build a bond, establish mutual experiences, and perhaps share frustrations or accomplishments.

Increased Demands on Learners

The Common Core places higher demands on learners for critical thinking and inferential understanding of instructional content. These increased expectations, while laudable, tend to require a higher level of language competence, which may be challenging for some students with hearing loss. In practice, these increased expectations often lead to a need for more pre- and post-teaching through direct instruction in a pull-out setting, as well as more inclusive instructional enrichment in the regular education setting.

The increased focus on nonfiction in English language arts in the Common Core Standards exposes the gaps in background knowledge and vocabulary that students with hearing loss often bring to the reading task, requiring increased pre-planning to prepare for roadblocks to comprehension.

Some areas of instructional focus remain the same, regardless of specific curricula. The Common Core’s attention to Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 vocabulary merely provides new labels to a familiar task for teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing—namely, to determine which vocabulary words within a unit or text should be a focus of instruction.

Source: Volta Voices July/August 2013