The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language strands. The Common Core Grammar Standards are detailed in the Language Strand. It is notable that grammar and mechanics have their own strand, unlike the organization of many of the old state standards, which placed grammar and mechanics instruction solely within the confines of writing or speaking standards.
Of course, the writers of the Common Core use the ambiguous label, Language, to refer to what teachers and parents casually label as grammar and mechanics or conventions. To analyze content and educational philosophy of the Common Core State Standards Language Strand, it may be helpful to examine What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? as well as What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand? chiefly from the words of the document itself.
What’s Good about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand?
Autonomy is Maintained
The Common Core Language Strand dictates the what, but not the how of instruction. From the Common Core State Standards introduction:
“The Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf
“By emphasizing required achievements, the Standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”
Differentiated or Individualized Instruction is Validated
The Common Core Language Strand assumes that teachers will need to differentiate instruction to master both grade-level and previous grammatical standards. Again, from the Common Core State Standards introduction:
“Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.”
“The Standards set grade-specific standards but do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students who are well below or well above grade-level expectations. No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety in abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom. However, the Standards do provide clear signposts along the way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students.
It is also beyond the scope of the Standards to define the full range of supports appropriate for English language learners and for students with special needs. At the same time, all students must have the opportunity to learn and meet the same high standards if they are to access the knowledge and skills necessary in their post–high school lives.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf
Review is Emphasized
The Common Core Language Strand identifies specific standards and skills that are “particularly likely” to require review.
“The following skills, marked with an asterisk (*) are particularly likely to require continued attention in higher grades as they are applied to increasingly sophisticated writing and speaking.” http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf
A considerable number of skills are marked with the asterisks throughout the K-12 language strand. To me, this indicates a basic acknowledgement of the cyclical nature of grammar instruction and the necessity for review and differentiated instruction in grammar, mechanics, and spelling.
Many Language Standards are Specific or Detailed
Examples of Specific or Detailed Language Standards
- Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives (e.g., It was a fascinating, enjoyable movie but not He wore an old[,] green shirt). L.7.2.
- Form and use verbs in the indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional, and subjunctive mood. L.5.2.
Many Language Standards Integrate Grammar into the Writing Context
Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Application to Writing
- Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style. L.6.3.
- Maintain consistency in style and tone. L.6.3.
I find a nice balance between focusing on the correctness of usage and application to writing. The standards go out of their way to assert that grammar, mechanics, and spelling are best taught within the context of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
The Importance of Grammatical Correctness is Emphasized
“To build a foundation for college and career readiness in language, students must gain control over many conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics as well as learn other ways to use language to convey meaning effectively… 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.” http://www.corestandards.org
Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Correctness
- Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive). L.6.1.
- Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood. L.8.1.
Most Common Core Language Standards are Rigorous
Examples of Language Standards Emphasizing Rigor
- Produce and expand complete simple and compound declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences in response to prompts. L.1.1
- Form and use comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified. L.3.1.
What’s Bad about the Common Core State Standards Language Strand?
Many Language Standards Lack Specificity or Details
Examples of Vague or General Language Standards
- Spell correctly L.6.2-L.12.2.
- Use correct capitalization. L.4.2.
Some Common Core Language Standards Lack Rigor
Examples of Language Standards De-emphasizing Rigor
- Explain the function of phrases and clauses in general and their function in specific sentences. L7.1 (Clauses are not introduced until seventh grade.)
- Explain the function of verbals (gerunds, participles, infinitives) in general and their function in particular sentences. L8.1 (Verbals are not introduced until eighth grade.)
- Parallel structures are not introduced until ninth grade.
Too Much of the Instructional Burden of the Common Core Language Strand is Placed Upon Elementary Teachers
Without getting lost in the specificity, the language strand clearly places the largest burden of grammar, mechanics, and spelling instruction on primary (first, second, and third) grade teachers. At the macro level (after deleting the vocabulary components from the language strand): first, second, and third has three pages of language standards; fourth and fifth has one page; sixth, seventh, and eighth has one page; and ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth has only half of a page.
The Common Core Language Strand De-emphasizes Spelling Instruction
Most notably, spelling gets short shrift in the Common Core State Standards language strand.
After third grade, here are the spelling standards:
- Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed. L.4.2. and L.5.2.
- Spell correctly L.6.2.-L.12.2
It’s great to know that all American school children will require no spelling standards after third grade. Just wave the magic wand, I guess.
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 and 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 the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.