The new Core Standards for English Language Arts Literacy: Implications for Computing Literacy?

June 7, 2012 at 6:30 am 6 comments

I found this fascinating discussion about the new Common Core standards efforts around English Language Arts, and it got me wondering about creating an analogy.  Are the parallels to the below for computing literacy?  “Students should read as much nonfiction as fiction.”  What does that mean in terms of the notations of computing? Students should read as many program proofs as programs?  Students should read as much code as comments?  The “coherent knowledge” part seems to connect to the kinds of ideas in the CS:Principles effort.  What is “close reading” of programming?

I’m sure that there are not one-to-one mappings from English Language Arts to Computing, but they are interesting to think about.  If this is what it means to be text literate, what does it mean to be computing literate?

Say what you will about CCSS, but there are three big ideas embedded within the English Language Arts standards that deserve to be at the very heart of literacy instruction in U.S. classrooms, with or with or without standards themselves:

1. Students should read as much nonfiction as fiction.

2. Schools should ensure all children—and especially disadvantaged children—build coherent background knowledge that is essential to mature reading comprehension.

3. Success in reading comprehension depends less on “personal response” and more on close reading of text.

via Meet the Children Where They Are…and Keep Them There « The Core Knowledge Blog.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Laurissa  |  June 7, 2012 at 7:40 am

    In rhetoric classes, we teach and encourage students to “read against the grain,” to question a text, to engage in a mental conversation with the author. We try to get them to figure out the author’s purpose, background, and intended audience, as well as the strategies the author uses to influence that audience.

    That type of “close reading” is definitely something I think can be transferred to programming–being able to recognize and articulate what makes the code “clean” or “elegantly written,” being able to discern the programmer’s intentions for doing something a certain way and questioning whether it could be done more efficiently and more clearly, and trying to understand the relationship between the programmer and his/her intended audience of users.

    One of the things that fascinates me about programming is the programmer’s comments that are embedded into the code. Unless we count footnotes or endnotes (which really aren’t the same thing), we don’t really get that kind of metadata in prose. I’m sure not all programmers can take the time to do this (and maybe it’s not necessary?)…but it adds a completely different layer of meaning to the code–something I think is extremely useful for students.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  June 7, 2012 at 8:02 am

      Hi Laurissa and Bonnie, this is an active area of interest for Briana Morrison and me: What do novices see in a program (versus what an expert sees), and how can we improve how the novices read a program? There’s a lot of literature on how novices and experts differ in how they read a program. There’s less on how to influence that. Briana is drawing on the multiple modality research of Richard Mayer to explore the use of audio and video, thinking that textual description of a textual program may be leading to cognitive overload.

  • 3. Bonnie  |  June 7, 2012 at 7:51 am

    First of all, I think the new ELA standards are going to help us in CS (if implemented well). One of the biggest problems my students have is in reading technical material, including their introductory CS textbook and even their assignments. They do not read closely. For years, I have informally noticed that one of the biggest predictors for success in CS is that ability to read CLOSELY. That, and the ability to abstract things are the two predictors for success. I do not see prior exposure to computing as having nearly that same effect.

    Secondly, I think we in CS do not spend enough time on reading code. It is an essential job skill, and also can help students learn to program better. This spring, my software engineering class did a project for which there was a large existing codebase already – they needed to adapt and extend the codebase. The students were completely unable to do that. They either tried to copy the existing code blindly, without understanding it, or they gave up and wrote from scratch. And that is sad, because the first task junior software developers are usually given in industry is some small bugfix in a large codebase.

  • 4. What’s the Big Idea? « Nick Falkner  |  June 7, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    […] was reading Mark Guzdial’s blog just before sitting down to write tonight and came across this post. Mark was musing about the parallels between the Common Core standards of English Language arts and […]

  • 5. Tom Hoffman  |  June 7, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    There is a serious mismatch between what the commentary on the ELA standards says (that is, the commentary in the official document) and the actual standards say. That is, there is no standard which requires any amount of fiction or non-fiction — just as there currently are not standards of the sort. This is not an issue which is even covered by standards.

    Similarly, the standards do not actually require the development of background knowledge. Or, to the extent they do, it isn’t clear what this means conceptually — if you only cannot meet the standard for reading in science because of a lack of science knowledge, how do you remedy that? Learn science? If so, can’t you just use the science standard to evaluate science knowledge?

  • 6. Tom Hoffman  |  June 8, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Here’s the way you should think about the Common Core standards in relationship to your work. The CC standards are ostensibly built around “college and career readiness,” but essentially it is only college readiness (e.g., there is no standard to write anything like a resume, for example). They were designed in large part based on feedback from college instructors on what incoming students needed to know and be able to do.

    So the parallel would be if K-12 computing standards were based on surveys of entry level CS, science, etc. profs, and then designed backward from that endpoint. That is exactly the CC process, explicitly.


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