R.CCR.2 — or, in regular people's language, the second College/Career Readiness anchor standard within the Reading strand of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA/Literacy — reads as follows:
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas
Within this standard, I see several skills. So, what does R.CCR.2 entail? Here are my two cents.
1. Figure out what a text is mainly about
Today, I gave my students a short story in which the narrator recounts anecdotes from his youth and from his adulthood, but he uses these events to illustrate that his grandfather and he share a unique trait. The story was mainly about this trait — how it showed itself in his family while the narrator was growing up, and how it now shows itself in him as an adult — but the student who wasn't proficient in the skills of R.CCR.2 might say that the text was mainly about the narrator's life (too general) or it was about the time he built a basketball court with his grandpa (too specific).
For another example, take an article from the news today about a 16-year old in Germany who solved a math problem that Sir Isaac Newton deemed unsolvable more than a quarter of a millennium ago. For this text, the central idea is what I stated in the previous sentence, and the central theme might be that humankind is still making progress in math and that progress is not the sole property of ivory tower tenants. For this task, the central idea is easy — it's a brief, factual article — while the theme is only a bit harder to reach.
As a final example, take George Orwell's Animal Farm. When determining what the central ideas/themes are, this longer complex text requires a greater knack for R.CCR.2, but it also allows for greater growth in this skill (and in others) because declaring a central idea for a text of this length most certainly requires textual evidence to back it up. In order for students to claim that the central idea of Animal Farm is that power inevitably corrupts, or that true equality is impossible within human society, they have to show how Orwell builds this idea over the course of the text.
2. Figure out what details and ideas support the text's central ideas/themes
R.CCR.2 is a clean standard because what I see as its second main component weaves nicely into its first. It's one thing to know what a text is mainly about; it's a greater thing to know how an author develops the central ideas/themes of a piece of writing.
In the short story example given above, students should be able to say that the reason they know the story is about the narrator discovering that he, too, has the family trait is because each anecdote contains reflection on the trait as it appeared in his relatives and appears in himself.
In the article example, students should be able to say that the “unexpected sources of progress” theme is developed through the inclusion of details such as the math whiz's young age, his Indian-turned-German past, or how his dad began teaching him calculus at the age of six.
And in the Animal Farm example, students should be able to say that the “power corrupts” idea is developed by Jones' drunkenness at the beginning of the book, the pigs' quick transition from revolutionaries to protectors of the status quo, and the eventual return of the name “Manor Farm.”