Read Like a Detective. Write Like a Reporter.

In my experiences, pre-K through high school, children appreciate and will rise to the challenge of authentic learning experiences when given appropriate models and support. 

Written By smcneely

On January 11, 2021

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This post has been updated from its original 2012 publish date.

I recently stumbled across a quote that, for me, sums up so perfectly the Common Core State Standards and how they demand a more focused and rigorous classroom approach to prepare students as competitive learners at the college-level. David Conley (lead author of the CCSS) remarked that to be college-ready, a student needs to learn how to “…read like a detective and write like a reporter.”

Read that quote again. “…read like a detective and write like a reporter.”

Imagine how this would change the landscape of our classrooms and how we approach content-area instruction. Sharp detectives have to be perceptive about people and circumstances, courageous in their pursuit of evidence, and smart problem-solvers. Effective reporters must be fiercely skilled at crafting a compelling argument, curious with their questioning, and stable enough to stay cool when situations are intense. How would those mindsets and skill sets translate to our classrooms? For me it conjures up visions of wildly curious scholars who are precise with their speaking and writing and tenacious in their quest for evidence and understanding. And it makes me think back to my own classroom and wonder if and how I promoted that kind of thinking and behavior, even in a drama classroom.

I certainly used a variety of rich and complex texts with students, and we baby-stepped our way through dense language—reading and rereading—to make inferences about character subtext or motivation and to look for clues from the author that would inform our movement, speaking, and design choices.  Students were encouraged to find their voices as writers and interpreters of rigorous dramatic works, use the language of the discipline to communicate their ideas, and contribute productively as members of an ensemble. My expectation was always that when they entered the door of our classroom they were to think and respond as content experts…it was our space to practice those unique reading, writing, and speaking skills that are linked to the discipline. And it was my job to model for them how that looked.

In my experiences, pre-K through high school, children appreciate and will rise to the challenge of authentic learning experiences when given appropriate models and support.  Isn’t this what the Common Core Standards are asking of us in our schools?

Ask yourself…

  • Do I provide rigorous and transparent models of the kind of expert thinking, reading, writing and speaking that is unique to my content?
  • Do I expect students to use precise language of the discipline in their speaking and writing?
  • Do my students have strategies to tackle and grapple with rich and specific content-area text?
  • Do I provide opportunities for students to wrestle with and solve authentic, discipline-specific problems independently and in concert with others?
  • Do my students know how to effectively justify and defend their ideas with evidence?
  • Do I build experiences that develop student confidence as content experts?

So many educators came to teaching because they have a deep love for the content they teach. With a re-framed approach to creating rich, discipline-specific experiences for our students, I believe the Common Core State standards bring an authenticity to our classrooms that allow teachers to thrive as expert content models for students. I know my students appreciated the authentic lens I brought to the classroom as an actor myself, and it was my deep knowledge and vast experiences with the content that allowed me to develop their minds (and muscles) as content experts, too. The specificity that comes with looking carefully and closely at rich subject matter ideas and building our students’ fluency and confidence as deep thinkers about those ideas is the very stuff Common Core is asking us to do. I challenge you to practice your detective-like reading of those standards and re-imagine the impact they can have on our nation’s schools. Then use your most compelling voice and evidence-based reporting skills to spread the word about how a set of standards can very well change the face of college-readiness and success in America.

Photo Credit: Markus Spiske via