One controversial component of the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS FOR ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & LITERACY IN HISTORY/SOCIAL STUDIES, SCIENCE, AND TECHNICAL SUBJECTS has been the Language Strand. The Language Strand consists of the following for each grade level: Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3), and Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6).
The main point of contention, of course, has been the inclusion of Language as a separate strand with grammar, usage, and conventions divorced from writing instruction and vocabulary divorced from reading instruction.
In fact, the writers of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) go out of their away to alleviate the fears of writing-based and literature-based devotees with the following disclaimer: “The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts (51).” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf
A second issue has received far less attention than the aforementioned point of contention in curricular mapping committees and ELA forums, but has created more rumblings in the educational publishing world. This second issue will perhaps have a greater impact than the first on classroom instruction.
In the Language Strand, at the end of both the K-5 (p. 30) and 6-12 (p. 56) Language Standards is a document titled “Language Progressive Skills, by Grade” with this subheading: “The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) in Language standards 1–3, are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.”
CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards
- 3.1f. Ensure subject-verb and pronoun-antecedent agreement.
- 3.a. Choose words and phrases for effect.
- 3.3a. Produce complete sentences, recognizing and correcting inappropriate fragments and run-ons.
- 4.1g. Correctly use frequently confused words (e.g., to/too/two; there/their)
- 4.3a. Choose words and phrases to convey ideas precisely.
- 4.3b. Choose punctuation for effect.
- 5.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense.
- 5.2a. Use punctuation to separate items in a series.†
- 6.1c. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun number and person.
- 6.1d. Recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).
- 6.1e. Recognize variations from standard English in their own and others’ writing and speaking, and identify and use strategies to improve expression in conventional language.
- 6.2a. Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
- 6.3a. Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.‡
- 6.3b. Maintain consistency in style and tone.
- 7.1c. Place phrases and clauses within a sentence, recognizing and correcting misplaced and dangling modifiers.
- 7.3a. Choose language that expresses ideas precisely and concisely, recognizing and eliminating wordiness and redundancy.
- 8.1d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood.
- 9–10.1a. Use parallel structure.
Analysis and Implications of the CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards
No Vocabulary Acquisition and Use (Standards 4, 5, & 6) are included-only Conventions of Standard English (Standards 1 & 2), Knowledge and Use (Standard 3). In other words, grammar, usage, and conventions warrant this second document. Compared to previous state standard documents, the CCSS sees these components as specific building blocks to literacy, and not just incidental outcomes learned by some mysterious form of academic osmosis.
Of the 18 CCSS Language Progressive Skills Standards, 14 are Grade 3-6 Standards. Clearly the writers of the CCSS have chosen to notch up the rigor of previous state standards by devolving most of the heavy instructional lifting of grammar, usage, and conventions skills to elementary teachers.
The CCSS defines grammar, usage, and conventions as “skills.” Skills are to be applied to the writing craft. National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, and Writing Process advocates have been loath to accept this skills/craft instructional distinction.
Tacit acknowledgement is made that these grammar, usage, and conventions skills must be reviewed at each grade level. In other words, the cyclical nature of skills acquisition is affirmed. Unlike many previous state standards documents, the CCSS writers seem to get the fact that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The examples in Appendix A of the CCSS document are helpful in this regard.
Although the writers of the CCSS document have been careful to leave methodological autonomy to teachers, the inclusion of a separate language strand, the labeling of grammar, usage, and conventions as “skills,” and the review component of the 18 Language Progressive Skills Standards certainly promote some means of both direct and differentiated instruction in the Standards themselves.
The grammar, usage, and conventions skills require deep instruction, not just review practice, as with Daily Oral Language or Daily Language Review methodologies. And that means intensive, direct instruction and guided practice following an instructional sequence that includes the review components as scaffolding to build onto with new skills. Periodic “mini-lessons” are just not going to cut it. Each of the 18 Language Progressive Skills Standards cries out for diagnostic assessments and differentiated instruction for the sake of instructional efficiency and individual mastery.
The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics lessons. The lessons include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.
Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out PREVIEW THE TEACHER’S GUIDE AND STUDENT WORKBOOK to see samples of these comprehensive instructional components.
The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).