Learning

Common Core – Where to begin this discussion?

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

In the language and literacy course I am teaching, we are currently discussing the Common Core standards and the implications of these standards for speech-language pathologists.  It is a fascinating discussion.  It was a hot topic at the recent ASHA Schools Conference in Pittsburg, and a number of presentations on the topic will be shared at the upcoming ASHA Convention in Orlando.

I have shared SLPs’ professional interest in the Common Core standards since they were introduced.  Over the last several months, I have been hearing more and more parent perspectives, which have also been interesting, to say the least.  Where I live, the mention of Common Core elicits either positive or extremely negative comments from parents.  A few of my students were already aware of this controversy and had a lot to share in our discussion.

There are critics who are indicating that they want the Common Core “curriculum” abolished.  I have heard from some parents who are ready to pull their children from their current school and are seeking out other schools that do not implement this “curriculum.”  Relative to the reading standards, I have read various comments indicating that the standards call for bypassing the teaching of building blocks for reading, including phonics and phonological awareness, and jumping to the expectation that children read full texts as early as Kindergarten.  For mathematics, I have heard some people indicate that the standards call for bypassing the teaching of basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables, and instead moving directly to the types of problem-solving tasks that are commonly appear in social media and You Tube videos.

As an educator and as a parent with children whose education is impacted by these standards, naturally, I have been concerned by many of these claims.  However, upon hearing or reading them, I go directly to the source and re-read the standards; to my relief, I am generally unable to find evidence in the standards to support such claims.

So, what’s going on?  It seems clear that there a many misconceptions and myths out there, and we as SLPs should be aware of them so that we can understand and better support the families we serve.  Perhaps the most common misconception is that the Common Core is a curriculum that tells teachers what and how to teach.  The standards, however, clearly indicate that Common Core is not a curriculum.  Rather, they are a set of goals.  These goals can be addressed within the curriculum that teachers and schools choose to implement.   Therefore, we may be able to help parents understand the difference between the standards and a curriculum, which guides implementation.  There seem to be dramatic differences between schools’ and districts’ curricula and implementation, with schools addressing the Common Core standards in different manners.  Importantly, most of the specific examples of parents’ concerns that I am hearing point to problems with implementation and high-stakes standardized testing, not the standards themselves.

As crazy as it may seem, I recently thought about this topic while eating Brussels sprouts after having read a social media thread.  My husband usually hates them, but for whatever reason, he decided to buy them and prepare a Brussels sprout salad using a new recipe.  The salad was incredibly delicious!  I couldn’t help but think that the Brussels sprouts reminded me of the standards; healthy or not, it’s the preparation, in other words, the curriculum and implementation, that makes the Brussels sprouts palatable or not.

Indeed, we do have to figure out how to make the standards palatable, how to make them “work” for our children.  Clearly, the standards aim very high, and they will be very challenging for our students with speech-language impairments.  Upon examination of not only the reading standards, but also the math standards, you can see that successful achievement will demand strong language skills.  Therefore, I think that speech-language pathologists have a tremendous role in ensuring the standards are targeted appropriately and successfully.  I also think that educators and administrators will continue to see the importance of our role as language experts in the achievement of these standards.

It is important for us to understand parent perspectives and to help provide accurate information about the standards and what they mean for their children.  If parents still do not favor the standards after clarifying misconceptions, that’s certainly their prerogative.  It is important for us to let families know that our role is to help their children succeed and to make the standards “work” for rather than against their children.

So while there is certainly more to be said, this is where I have begun our discussion of Common Core.  I am looking forward to the ASHA Convention and learning more about the topic.  If you are unable to attend, I would like to share that I am half-way through what I am finding to be an excellent, very insightful book: Pathways to the Common Core, written by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman.  If you are looking for a good read on this topic, I am learning a great deal from this book and will share some of their insights in an upcoming post.

Pathways to the Common Core
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Halloween and Health Literacy Month

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

October is one of my kids’ favorite months, for Halloween, you know. Well, October is one of my favorite “professional” months, for Health Literacy Month. Okay, I suppose that as a person who is passionate about promoting literacy, every month is literacy month in my book. But in any case, it is so important that professionals spread information about the critical relationship between language and literacy.

We know that language learning starts at birth. Therefore, the idea that children learn to read in school needs to change to reflect the reality that both language and literacy develop from birth.

Recently, I supervised a graduate student who taught a parent to use dialogic book reading strategies with a young child who reportedly disliked sitting down to read with his parents. Dialogic reading is a concept based on the work of Dr. Grover Whitehurst and the Stony Brook Reading and Language Project. According to Dr. Whitehurst, “In dialogic reading, the adult helps the child become the teller of the story. The adult becomes the listener, the questioner, the audience for the child.” We were, of course, taking data on the child’s vocabulary and language growth, but the data simply did not capture the full impact of treatment. Watching the child sit on his parent’s lap while sharing a book, both smiling and so cozy together, it was marvelous. Dialogic reading was just one component of the broader speech and language therapy plan, but with the transformation in their interaction, it may have been the most powerful component. And although the young child had not yet formally learned to read, he was already developing a love of reading.

I talk a lot about a remarkable program called Reach Out and Read in which medical providers support healthy reading practices in the home with children as young as six months old. I have had the privilege of presenting at the Reach Out and Read-Wisconsin annual conference, and I encourage everyone to spread the word about this phenomenal program.  Check out and share this video that the founders developed, available on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRq2qDT2HHg.

Hmmm, maybe I should give out books with a piece of candy inside this year for Halloween. Now that would be a real treat!


Whitehurst, G. J. (1992). Dialogic reading: An effective way to read to preschoolers. Retrieved: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/400?theme=print

Pondering the dynamics of “what children really need”

Dr. Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

I am hearing so much discussion and debate about the impact of standardized testing that takes place in schools throughout the year. Naturally, I’ve studied this issue from an academic perspective for a long time. More recently, I’ve been exposed to family perspectives, and this makes me wonder about speech-language objectives, which I’ll come back to in a moment.

Parents want to know how their children are performing and progressing, which test scores can show very objectively, yet many are increasingly concerned with stress associated with testing and that the heavy test emphasis on two specific areas, reading and math, may be narrowing the scope of academic instruction to benefit results on paper. Therefore, to paraphrase what I am often hearing, many are concerned that kids are not learning “what they really need.” Clearly, the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in life, personally, professionally, economically, and so forth, are extremely broad.

So of course, because language is a critical foundation for success, I see parallels between the issues and concerns related to education and what we as speech-language pathologists do in language intervention. Specific goals and objectives are important for accountability and for evaluating our clients’ progress in language intervention. Yet, similarly, I wonder if the specificity of our objectives may also limit our focus on teaching the child “what they really need” to succeed. Are some kids in the therapy group kept busy by coloring for a few moments while the clinician targets a specific discrete skill with another child? I think many of us have seen that. Is a child who meets that objective of 90% accuracy on past tense –ed ready to graduate from speech-language therapy? Does marking that objective as “achieved” mean that we have “fixed” the child’s impaired language system? Are we focusing primarily on discrete skills or are we integrating skills into relevant activities such as discourse? Just as I see the benefits of discussing the dynamics of “what children really need” to learn in school, I also encourage SLPs to discuss with each other the dynamics of what language skills children really need to be successful socially and academically, and to talk about how our goals and objectives truly help “fix” an impaired language system.