Read this excellent post below. It is a brief overview of one educator’s thoughts and advice to teachers to tackle the Common Core. There is a lot of meat in this relatively short article.
What CCSS means for Teachers - By Caitlin Dooley
January 26, 2013
This is the third in a series of blogs about the Common Core Standards. This post contains advice for teachers.
What CCSS Means for Teachers
I’m sure teachers are already sick of hearing about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). By now, you’ve been told that you will switch over to these new Standards if you work in any of the 45 states that have already adopted them (see a map here of the states that have/have not adopted http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states ). So what’s a teacher to do?
1. Give Yourself Time
These Standards took more than a decade to be developed. Putting them fully into practice will take a while too. Give yourself time to learn. Find out more about the Standards, their pros and their cons (I’ve written about this in my previous blog entries.) Take time to reflect as you adjust your teaching.
2. Learn with/from Others
Seek a group of like-minded, dedicated, inquisitive teachers to learn with. Take small bits of the Standards and consider them together. Which elements do you think will be most challenging? Work together through these hard parts, share resources, identify helpful technologies, and create new units and lessons. Carve out regular time to talk—whether in the workroom at school or a nearby restaurant, really anywhere you think you’ll do it regularly.
3. Think Through the Hard Parts
I have no crystal ball, but in looking at the standards, I foresee that there will be some parts that will be a struggle for some teachers:
Teaching “complex” texts.
Text complexity is all the rage in CCSS. It’s how the developers came up with that crazy-long list of “exemplar texts” that sits at the end of the K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) Standards. Text complexity is not simply a quantitative readability score (like the Lexile scores that the CCSS use). Text complexity involves qualitative information like text genre, format and structure, vocabulary, levels of meaning (literal, figurative, etc.), and knowledge demands. While the CCSS lists text exemplars in order of increasing text complexity, your job will be to thoughtfully look beyond their list to match texts and children. While you want to push students to challenge themselves to read more complex texts, your job will be to scaffold their learning as they approach each new text. If you find that one child struggles with new vocabulary or another child struggles with a new text format, then you will know which texts to offer next as you teach about these text features.
Increasing the focus on informational texts.
As grade level increases, the CCSSs focus on informational texts increases. And the fact is, P-12 educators have a history of teaching more about narrative texts, especially in the early grades. So this might be a shift.
You will want to be sure to offer informational texts in your classroom. You will want to teach children how to approach these texts as information gatherers, synthesizers, and inquirers. You can ask your students to take these approaches by asking them to summarize, identify key points, synthesize across texts, and ask new questions. If you’re wondering how to do this, look into books offered by the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of Educators—they’ll have some great ideas.
This does not mean “look it up in the dictionary”! This means that we teachers need to teach about new words through explicit instruction. Vocabulary shouldn’t focus on high frequency words that the kids already know. The words that need to be taught are the kinds that represent abstract ideas that go across content areas (words like “justice” or “apprentice”). You’ll get the most bang for your buck when you teach these kinds of words. Also teach words that are specialized and focus on one content area (like science words), but these should only be taught in conjunction with science and social studies class (NOTE: This falls apart when you’re working with English learners because they also need that first level—the frequent words that are common to everyday language).
Getting kids to explain their thinking and nurture analytical thinking.
Discuss, discuss, discuss learning. Start each lesson by asking kids what they know and how they know. End each lesson by asking kids what they’ve learned and how they learned. Ask them routinely to consider their process for thinking and learning. Use questions like, “How do you know that?” “What makes you think that?” “Where did you get information that helped your learning?” “What questions did you have that lead you to learn more?” “What questions do you still have?” “What are you wondering?” Follow these discussions up with opportunities for kids to write about their thinking, draw about it, and create “audit trails” that trace their learning journeys. (I’ll write a blog entry about audit trails soon!)
Supporting research and writing reports.
The CCSS emphasize research and inquiry. In many classrooms, research papers are sent home as projects, but they shouldn’t be. That leaves the hard work up to the student and tilts the advantage to only those students with parents with the time and background to scaffold the process. This is a role for teachers! As you work to incorporate opportunities for inquiry into your units of study, consider finding ways to engage students in inquiry. They can create their own textbook chapters, make videos, and other products that demonstrate their learning. Your job here is to scaffold the inquiry process. Help them to hone their questions, seek information from multiple sources, synthesize that information, and create a product. Think about how you might claim this role to ensure that all students in your class have the opportunity for scaffolded help throughout the inquiry process.
Integrating meaningful technologies.
While the CCSS don’t particularly shout “TECH,” the fact is that we need to use technology to teach the CCSS well. The internet, apps, and multimodal composition tools (video, audio, print, photo, etc.) are all helpful for children as they achieve new levels of thinking and understanding. They’re not going away. And kids will have to be able to master these tools (and some yet to be invented) if they are to truly be “college and career ready.”
Your role as “assessor” has just gotten harder. Teachers can master this role by closely attending to kids talk, writing, and thinking. But they will also need to pay close attention to the kinds of assessments that are being developed for the CCSS. New tests with constructed response items will require students not only to get the right answer, but also to tell why it’s right. It’s likely that more and more tests and test-like tools will become available in the next 2-5 years. Your job will be to analyze that data to best match instruction to each learner’s needs.
4. Know the Limits of the CCSS
With all this hoopla about these new Standards, it’s easy to be misled. The CCSS threaten to over-promise, but underdeliver on academic success. No nation has ever improved learning and erased achievement “gaps” by creating national standards. The CCSS are not a panacea. They’re a framework. Your job will be to thoughtfully adapt these Standards to the needs of your students while supporting them to reach new levels of understanding.
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