All Text Matters – Even the “Text Light” Sources


Later this week, I will be heading off to Chicago for the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting.  As I prepare for my group’s presentation on developing a framework for assessing multimodal text, I find myself digging back into the English Langauge Arts Common Core Standards.  Every time I step back into this document I am amazed by both its existence, as well as its contradictions.  For those of us who are passionate about digital text and a generation of students leaving our schools who can actually critically think, these standards are a giant step forward from the current content standards in many states.  For example, in the introduction to the grade level standards (pg. 7) there is a section describing a portrait college and career ready students who meet the content standards.  Two of the sections particularly resonate with me:

In terms of technology use, digital writing is no longer an extra…

“They use technology and digital media strategically and capably. Students employ technology thoughtfully to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use. They tailor their searches online to acquire useful information efficiently, and they integrate what they learn using technology with what they learn offline. They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.”

And our students must be also critical readers…

“They comprehend as well as critique. Students are engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers and listeners. They work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying, but they also question an author’s or speaker’s assumptions and premises and assess the veracity of claims and the soundness of reasoning.”

However, as I was scanning the research behind the Common Core Standards (Appendix A pg.4), I stumbled across this gem…

“Being able to read complex text independently and proficiently is essential for high achievement in college and the workplace and important in numerous life tasks. Moreover, current trends suggest that if students cannot read challenging texts with understanding—if they have not developed the skill, concentration, and stamina to read such texts—they will read less in general. In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text to gain information,they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets. These sources, while not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breadth of ideas developed through complex text.

When I read that final line it didn’t make me angry.  It made me laugh – a pathetic laugh at whichever committee member wrote it.  Its completely biased. The idea that the medium in which a text is written automatically infers its complexity is extremely short-sided.  Our students must be able to read, critically analyze, and write all forms of digital and analog text.  They should be able to comprend complex print-based text, as well as complex movies, podcasts…and yes tweets.

Last night I happened to watch the documentary Miss Representation.  During the thought-provoking look at how media portrays women and how our culture is shaped by this influence I was reminded that often the most complex texts are the ones we take for granted.  The ones that with subtle message we most quickly consume and assimilate without any critical thought.  Those are the texts when our students need to be the most discerning, regardless of their format.  If you are curious where digital text is explicitly mentioned in the ELA Common Core Standards, you might check out this document.  Its been around Twitter & Facebook, but never posted here.


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