Common Core Corner

My Classroom View from the Core

Rigorous Thinkers: I continue to be surprised by the sophistication with which my fifth graders can talk about text.  Just recently we were discussing the differences in writing styles of the authors of our two most recent class books The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.  With past literacy standards we might have only talked about the plot events or how we connected to the story.  The new Common Core literacy standards state that students must support any assertions with evidence from the text, and this practice is bleeding over into our class discussions.  Now when my students talk about the text, they always add evidence to back up their statements.

For example, one student claimed that he thinks Speare described her settings using only short sentences because she was describing the sparseness of the landscape.  He followed this claim with several sentences from the book.  This caused the other students to dive into both books to look for sentences to describe the landscape to compare the two texts and see if his claim was true.   Many CC dissenters state that this kind of text exploration is too difficult for students, but I have not found this to be true.  With appropriate modeling and scaffolding, students are very capable of achieving the increased rigor.  I have found that the goals for the standards are rigorous and worthy of instruction.

Core Strengths

Instructional Protein and Vegetables: One of the biggest advantages that I have found with the Common Core is the fact that teachers across the nation now have these standardsin common.  Have you ever seen one of those celebrity cooking competition shows where chefs are given an ingredient and they get to come up with an amazing dish for that ingredient?  To me, the Common Core standards are like instructional protein and vegetables.  We want to insure that all students across our nation get that basic nutrition, but teachers get to decide how to creatively cook it up, what side dishes and dessert to add, and how to plate and serve that meal for students.  

By Teachers, for Teachers: Now that we have standards in common, teachers are able to share ideas for how to present the standards through a variety of shared sites   This fact has provided teachers with the opportunity to crowd-source using modern communication resources such as internet chat rooms, lesson share sites, and social media sites (see the resources section at the bottom of the blog.)

Core Challenges

Rumors Wild and Wide-Ranging: The Common Core standards only address ELA and Math, not Science, Social Studies, or other content area instruction.  In ELA Appendix B, there are outlines on how to support students’ literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects, but this is NOT curriculum in these areas.  Appendix B also includes text exemplars and sample performance tasks for how to integrate ELA with History, Science, and Technical Subjects.  The rumors for what teachers are supposed to teach with common core are wild and wide-ranging.  I was shocked when I heard a teacher falsely claim that the CCSS force elementary teachers to teach sex education to second graders.  This is outrageous and NOT TRUE.    

I have also followed some of the loudest opposition to the CCSS, and find it very interesting that nine out the then ten articles I viewed recently were from two authors.  Upon further research, those two authors were not teachers.  Although one was a former teacher, he never taught Language Arts or Math; the two areas of CC standards.  The other person was not an educator at all.

Standards, NOT Curriculum: The Common Core covers only English Language Arts and Math, and they are simply standards, NOT a curriculum. “The standards do not require nor do they endorse particular instructional strategies, programs, interventions, or assessments.  Teachers may teach the standards using a variety of approaches and a variety of materials.  Teachers are free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the standards.” (Valencia & Wixson, 2013.)

Standards, NOT Standardization: The Common Core are a set of ELA and Math standards.  They do NOT dictate that every teacher in a building or a district teach the same content using the same materials on the same day.  The teacher as the professional decision maker who knows her students and has a deep knowledge of her subject matter is the expert who should decide how best to present the CC standards to her students.  Educators are now inundated with materials and professional development “mandates” aimed at the standards, but again, the teacher should be the one to decide what works best in her classroom.  There are intentionally no set curriculum programs assigned to the Common Core so that the teacher can decide how best to teach the standards to her students.

Standards, NOT Assessment: The Common Core ELA and Math standards are simply standards for instruction.    Assessment methods for the standards were not built into the CC design.   Assessment tools by PARCC and Smarter Balanced are being developed to assess the standards, but are separate from the goals for instruction set by the standards. 

Cool Core Resources

One of my biggest frustrations early in the CC implementation was the lack of grade appropriate, short, complex, nonfiction articles for my students, and I wasn’t the only one.  Due to the fact that most of us now have a shared curriculum, more and more quality, free resources are being developed for teachers by teachers.  Here are some of my favorites.

1. Learnzillion  Videos and lesson plans built by educators

2. Britannica Online for Kids  Short, nonfiction articles at various reading levels so that you can all discuss one topic but modify your instruction for the various reading levels in your classroom

3. Teaching Channel   Videos of lessons for teachers

4. (the standards from the source)

5. (PD modules, the shifts in detail, classroom resources, and more

6. Arkansas Department of Education

7. (released test items)

8.  videos of common core lessons in action

Valencia, Sheila, and Karen Wixson. “CCSS- ELA Sugggestions and Cautions for Implementing the Reading Standards.”Reading Teacher 67.3 (2013): 181-85. Print.

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About the Author: Kathy Powers is a National Board Certified reading and language arts teacher at Carl Stuart Middle School in Conway, Arkansas. She has over 20 years of teaching experience in elementary school, middle school, and college, and in almost every subject. Powers has authored articles in education journals, presented at several conferences including the International Reading Association conference, and has been awarded multiple educational grants. In 2011, she was named the Arkansas Teacher of the Year.  In August of 2012, Powers was named a National America Achieves Fellow.