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March 2011 | Volume 68 | Number 6
What Students Need to Learn
Schools today are about so much more than reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. Although most educators agree that these basics are important, many would add respect and responsibility to the list. Others would want to ensure that social studies, science, foreign languages, and the arts are not forgotten. Even educators who want to focus on the three Rs disagree on how much students need to learn in these areas. The authors in the March 2011 issue of Educational Leadership wrestle with all of these questions, and they come to a variety of conclusions.
The adoption of the Common Core State Standards by most U.S. states has made the question of what students need to learn especially timely. As states move to align their curriculums and assessments to the standards, they will need to consider how to ensure that their curriculums serve students well.
In "The Humanities: Why Such a Hard Sell?", David J. Ferrero notes that schools in democratic societies have historically recognized three aims of schooling: personal, economic, and civic. Although current education policy focuses on economic aims, Ferrero believes that there is room within the Common Core State Standards for the personal and civic aims.
You're unlikely to find anyone who would disagree with the notion that teaching students to read is a vital function of education. But opinions abound on how best to teach students to read or help them become better readers. Three articles in the March EL tackle this question: "What At-Risk Readers Need" by Richard L. Allington (pp. 40–45), "Worthy Texts: Who Decides?" (pp. 46–50), and "Let Strategies Serve Literature" (pp. 52–56).
What if a certain work isn't right for all students? What if it doesn't speak to their experience or background? What if students are at widely different reading levels? Why should there be an established curriculum at all?
Instead of debating which content and skills are most important, Connie M. Moss, Susan M. Brookhart, and Beverly A. Long stress the importance of making sure students know the goal of each day's lesson—what the authors call a "shared learning target." In "Knowing Your Learning Target" (pp. 66–69), they state that "no matter what we decide students need to learn, not much will happen until students understand what they are supposed to learn during a lesson and set their sights on learning it."
Copyright © 2011 by ASCD
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