Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction, also known as CORI, is a curricular framework. It is a framework for teaching reading skills, text structures, and student motivations to read, etc., in a more coherent construct. The development of CORI, by Dr. John Guthrie, culminated in 1993 and was accomplished with the collaboration of elementary school teachers and graduate students and the University of Maryland.
A couple of years ago, I was thinking of ways to take my science instruction to the next level. I was struggling with how to motivate my students to inherently become self-directed learners and problem solvers. Fortunately for me, the school where I teach needed a new principal and hired Mrs. Emily Swan who introduced the teachers to CORI… she had actually written a book about it.
Unbeknownst to me at that time, this instructional framework was exactly what I was looking for and primarily needed. CORI answered some questions I had about how to structure my science instruction more efficiently and teach more effectively. It also enabled me to better understand how to develop self-learners. Also, it enlightened me on a myriad of other components of the learning process. I previously knew about and taught these concepts, but never fully understood them at a deep enough level to benefit my students.
Also, I never had my students consistently practice them to create a synergy of reading and writing skill-sets. I learned that repeated practice, on a daily basis, of these reading and writing skills and strategies–coupled with keywords, terms, and phrases–is necessary to realize my desire to develop these types of students more fully.
Although I’ve been using this framework for the past two years with my science instruction, having read the book from cover-to-cover three times to include a close read, I only now feel knowledgeable enough to comment on it and comfortable enough to implement it under the constraints of the leveling structure our school operates under. The components, principles, and phases of CORI are more useful when carried out in a setting where a teacher has the same students all day for instruction rather than at periodic times throughout the day or even week.
In conclusion, CORI is an instructional framework that all teachers in grade levels 3-8 should seriously consider. By successfully incorporating it into science and social studies instruction, conceptual learning will take place. It could work with math instruction because I’ve successfully implemented it for a short time. However, it’s hard to do when you don’t have the same students in literacy or science class to consistently reinforce the strategies learned necessary to transfer to other subjects. For those teachers who do have the same students all day, CORI is a powerful and effective system to take students past surface-level instruction to a deeper understanding of a concept(s) and then the transference of the newly acquired knowledge which is the end-goal of teaching a new concept to students.
There are a few drawbacks to CORI. First, to plan and prepare a CORI unit is very time-intensive. Especially compared to using a basal textbook with pre-planned lessons. Second, numerous reading resources need to be purchased; this can be quite expensive. Third, CORI makes some assumptions about what teachers should already know about literacy instruction; such as the difference between direct vs. explicit instruction and reading skills vs. reading strategies. Or, how to actually teach these concepts at a level conducive to the enduring benefit of the students, etc.
Also, unless the teacher has an extensive depth of knowledge and experience teaching literacy, the book Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction can become confusing and be overwhelming very quickly. Also, I learned first-hand, that it’s hard to teach all of the reading strategies and other skills students need, at a deep level, in the same calendar year… it is too much new information for students to assimilate and actually use at the elementary level.
As always, when I write a post on a book I have read and included in my reading log, I will add my ten favorite quotes from that book and make a comment on each quote for educational purposes to comply with Section 107 of the Fair Use Clause of the United States copyright code.
My ten favorite quotes from Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction by Emily Anderson Swan, (2003) are:
Quotes cited from “Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction” follow this format: (Page Number).
1. When students in a classroom are engaged, they are learning just for the sake of learning. Their goal is to gain knowledge about something they are interested in. Engaged readers have interests and questions about the world. They are socially interactive: they want to talk about what they read… Engaged readers:
- Are active learners.
- Set goals for learning.
- Ask questions.
- Read for more information.
- Find answers.
- Gain information from others.
- Share information with others.
- Use strategies for learning.
The process of engagement is active. (1,2)
Comment: What exactly is active engagement? Active engagement begins with explicit instruction; which is more than just lecturing to the students about the skills or concepts taught. The teacher then needs to help students make connections to their experiences. Making connections help build a scaffold to process new information and strengthen their understanding. An effective way to engage students is by teaching in chunks that only last from 10 to 15 minutes. Then, follow that lesson up with a processing activity such as writing a summary, creating an outline, designing a concept map, etc. When students are actively engaged in learning, processing, and retaining information at a deeper level takes place. Besides, learning becomes more relevant and even fun.
2. Self-efficacy is powerful and influences the student’s choices of activities. The choices students make also affect their ability to persist in the face of difficulty; the amount of effort they put into an assignment, and how well they will accomplish their task. (5)
Comment: As I reflect on this idea I do recall many of my students, over the years, who had a high degree of assurance in their capabilities. I remember how they approached difficult tasks as challenges rather than tasks to be avoided. Their efficacious attitudes fostered intrinsic interest and even engrossment in the activities they were assigned. They met threatening situations with a positive attitude and a strong commitment to overcome the challenge at hand. In contrast, I recall many students who consistently doubted their academic abilities. I remember how this approach to solving problems or completing assignments kept them from performing successfully. They not only gave up quickly, in the face of difficulties but were slow to recover their sense of efficacy following these failures and setbacks.
3. Conceptual knowledge represents a deep level of processing that builds systemic or relational understanding. When students gain this deep level of understanding, they can problem solve and then transfer information to a particular domain… (6)
Comment: Even knowing I understand the difference between conceptual knowledge; ideas, relationships, connections, and procedural knowledge; facts, skills, procedures, algorithms, methods, I struggle with trying to find the time to take my teaching to the conceptual level. There are so many facts, skills, procedures, algorithms, and methods that students in 5th grade do not know. Things students need to know before trying to help them develop a conceptual understanding of the concept(s) taught. The solution is to teach less and go deeper. But, then there are “those” damned standardized tests, at the end of the year, and state mandates of what material teachers need to cover during a year… there just doesn’t seem to be time to do both and satisfy the requirements of all concerned parties.
4. The idea of coherent instruction is teaching that helps students make connections throughout their day. Coherent instruction connects reading with writing with spelling and the use of the English language. Reading and writing, in turn, connects to science, social studies, and math. These content areas, in turn, relate to students’ interests and questions, which are at the motivational hub for genuine learning. When the instruction is coherent, teachers show students how to use techniques to comprehend a variety of texts. Through [explicit] instruction students learn that cognitive strategies are readily transferable across content areas. Learning becomes easier because the same skills and strategies used to comprehend a novel also are of help in understanding issues of war or how to create a story problem in math. (10,11)
Comment: I have experienced that coherent instruction is not easy and requires a lot of preparation time, but that it is essential to assist students to gain conceptual knowledge. To develop and implement coherent instruction a teacher first needs to have a thorough knowledge of the content, an understanding of their students’ abilities, and the resources required to design an instructional plan to meet the objectives of the lesson and the diverse needs of the learners involved. Developing coherent instruction is quite likely the most critical step in delivering quality education to students as pointed out by the author repeatedly throughout her book.
5. A powerful way to motivate students to learn is to allow them to make decisions about their learning. Teachers set the boundaries for their students, but within those boundaries students have choices. (57,59)
Comment: Allowing choice in the classroom provides two advantages to teachers in facilitating the student’s learning process. First, when students have choices in structuring their assigned activities, not only do they select options that make learning easier for them, but choice also provides students a sense of autonomy which is as important to them, in the learning process, as it is to the teacher preparing the lessons. Second, educators who provide learners a particular range of choices in assignments experience fewer classroom management issues and student behavior problems. As a result, there is typically an increase in student engagement and attention span.
I believe teachers need to expand their role as the “guide on the side” vs. “sage on the stage” routine (ref. My Educational Philosophy – Mark D. Carlson) because we are at a juncture where memorizing facts in a textbook just won’t “cut it” anymore. We talk about the importance of students thinking outside of the box… well, there isn’t even a box anymore! Educators today need to instruct and teach students meta-cognitive and self-evaluative skills. These skills are important so that they may more fully become self-directed learners and problems solvers to succeed in the ever-increasingly competitive world our students find themselves.
Checklists and Rubrics
6. In Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction classrooms, the teacher provides checklists to help students monitor their progress with projects, data collection, reports, and assignments… When students are a part of the evaluation process, they can also make choices about how well they perform or how high they aim. (62)
Comment: I whole-heartily agree with this statement via personal experience. However, I do not use self-evaluation tools very consistently in my instruction and readily experience the effects of it when I neglect to do this. Students repeatedly ask the same questions about an assignment or project. Note to self; take the time and become more consistent in developing and providing checklists and rubrics for my students!
Self-esteem vs. Self-worth
7. Self-esteem is the internal perception of external control, or sense of what others think, While self-worth is the inner perception of one’s personal ability and value that comes from within. (67)
Comment: I have never really thought about or considered the difference between these two phrases before. However, now I do, and the distinction is significant. Self-esteem deals with words of praise like, “Good job!” or “You’re the best!” “You did so well.” Self-esteem, while not the same as self-efficacy, promotes self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that you have skills that you can rely on to solve problems and successfully achieve stated goals. Even though it is important to feel good about yourself, it is even more important to have opportunities to learn what our strengths are and to have faith that we can rely on those strengths to solve problems and the numerous challenges we face each day.
All Teachers Are Literacy Teachers
8. I try to convince teachers in all grade levels that they are “really” literacy teachers all day; they just read and write about different topics and subjects. (85)
Comment: I have most likely heard or read the above quote a dozen times or more, from various sources over the years, but had never made a connection to it for whatever reason. However, when I read this quote in a book entitled I Read It, But I Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani, an epiphany of its meaning and implications in my classroom pedagogy was manifest to me. The resulting deeper understanding of this one quote caused a paradigm shift in the way I view myself as a teacher and in the way, I now see, not only my pedagogy and responsibilities but the world in general. For example, the effects this endowment of knowledge has had on me is explicitly detailed in a trip to a museum to enjoy the art of Norman Rockwell.
9. Social collaboration is essential; it is a life skill… In the zone of proximal development, there is a gap between what one can do independently and what one can do with the help of a more skilled expert. This zone is where learning takes place (Vygotsky, 1978). …paradoxically, students learn more when they are working with a partner or in a group. (90,91,94-95)
Comment: It is my experience that collaboration among students to enhance their learning takes a lot of scaffolding. Effective collaboration doesn’t just magically happen by grouping students together to work on a task. A teacher needs to teach explicitly and then model listening, paraphrasing, questioning, and negotiating skills. Teachers then need to give numerous opportunities for students to practice these skill-sets on a consistent basis.
Assessment, Curriculum, and Instruction
10. One of the most important aspects of our job, as teachers, is the relationship between assessment, curriculum, and instruction. If we are not constantly evaluating our teaching about what our students are achieving, we may be wasting precious time. (103)
Comment: In my opinion, the designed curriculum must be forward-thinking. What I mean by this is that it should provide students with learning experiences that enable them to become knowledgeable, self-directed, responsible individuals able to think and become problem solvers. Also, its design should include the development of human relationships, social values, a sense of ethics, and self-worth. I also understand the importance of using assessments to improve learning opportunities for students. However, I am more and more convinced that the current emphasis on standardized testing does little to address the individual needs of students. It wastes precious time and resources that could be better utilized in the classroom. Also, I believe that relying on the results of standardized tests to determine school and teacher performance misrepresents the work of teachers and school administrators in general.
Images – Post image: Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction. Digital Image Book Cover. Amazon (Amazon.com) / Content is displayed for educational purposes in accordance with the Fair Use Clause of the United States copyright code. Web 20 May 2016. http://www.amazon.com/Concept-Oriented-Reading-Instruction-Engaging-Classrooms/dp/1572308125. Post image: Emily Swan – Director. Digital Image Bio. Wasatch Peak Academy (WasatchPeak.org). Web 23 April 2016. / Content is displayed for educational purposes in accordance with the Fair Use Clause of the United States copyright code. Web 23 April 2016. http://www.wasatchpeak.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=419831&type=u&pREC_ID=618119.
Quotes – Swan, E. (2003). Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Content is displayed for educational purposes in accordance with the Fair Use Clause of the United States copyright code. Vygotsky, I. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge., MA: Harvard University Press.