27 May Jumping to Conclusions About the Common Core: limited exposure leads to limited understanding
Teachers: What are your misconceptions about the Common Core?
I recently read an article in the Washington Post written by a disgruntled teacher who just received his ”training” in the Common Core. As a Student Achievement Partners (SAP) Fellow, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the Common Core. SAP is a nonprofit working with teachers to develop an online library of resources for teaching the new standards. I have assisted with the introduction and explanation of Common Core to district leaders from across the country and have worked with the standards extensively in my own classroom.
I would like to direct my comments to Jeremiah, the teacher from the Post article and any other teacher experiencing difficulty understanding and incorporating the Common Core.
As a teacher with 9 years of experience, five of them in high-needs public schools in New Orleans, I recognize that even the best of initiatives can be foiled with poor preparation. This is my greatest fear for the implementation of Common Core.
Jeremiah, reading about your experience makes me truly sorry that the Common Core was presented to you in such a scripted and uninformative light. I would react to the training you received in the same way.
However, let’s talk through the intentions vs. actual practice. Allow me to explain the intention of the Common Core, as I understand it given my experience.
An “exemplar” is not and should not feel like a prepackaged lesson. It is a model. It is important for new teachers and veterans alike to have models and exemplars of what excellence looks like. We would never ask our students to produce mastery work without first providing them with examples. Why would we not provide the same scaffolding and support for teachers?
The exemplar is not meant to be scripted or read verbatim– it is a model of excellence that you, as an effective teacher, then modify to meet the needs of your room. Teachers understand that each child needs something different – an exemplar cannot meet all of those needs. Those are your responsibility, as the purveyor of knowledge in your classroom.
Alignment to good teaching
Common Core asks that our children to be able to access informational and rigorous literary text, analyze it and defend answers with textually-based evidence, write eloquently by making connections between these texts, and use academic vocabulary appropriate to their grade level. These requirements are directly, explicitly aligned to the needs of our children. I would never implement a set of standards that I did not feel aligned to the needs of my students and the world they will be entering.
Informational texts, such as the exemplar Jeremiah witnessed, are intended to be cornerstones to a unit – not the unit itself. It is not the intention of the Common Core to imply that other information should not be taught. We ought to remember that the activation of prior knowledge can put some children at a disadvantage, putting them at odds with the text before they even begin. Common Core does not ask that you do not teach historical context – it asks that you do not require it as a prerequisite to mastery.
Common Core emphasizes that text-to-self connections should not take precedence or be made to feel more important than connections to other texts. As a teacher, it’s my job to know my students well enough to provide the connections that are right for them, whether linking the lesson to personal experience or other literature I know they have encountered.
Literary instruction has gotten to a place where if it doesn’t connect easily to a student’s life, they believe that they do not have to care about it. Are we, as teachers, helping them ready themselves for a global business community by saying, “How does this make you feel?”
The world will not care about the ability of our students to express their opinions about informational text. It is our responsibility to prepare them for what they will have to do with these texts and the Common Core supports the development of these skills beautifully.
Policy makers: What can be done to prevent chaos when implementing the Common Core?
“The best laid schemes of mice and men…” absolutely cannot apply to the Common Core! This is a chance for our children to receive rigorous standards and an education will help them compete globally. When it comes to implementation, it’s clear there needs to better communication and better training for teachers. Here’s what I recommend:
- State policy makers should band together in developing a team of expert educators who can conduct national trainings. If possible, they should coordinate with Student Achievement Partners (SAP). This will ensure proper alignment and messaging.
- Use this educator team to vet materials being developed by textbook companies by rating them on quality and alignment.
- Use the team to train and develop state and district Common Core experts.
- Have the team develop meaningful professional development and training that is meaningful and closely linked to standards and real life classroom experience.
- Regularly evaluate this team against rigorous goals to ensure quality.
- Encourage districts to hire an expert – whose credentials have been vetted through SAP – who can support the implementation of the Common Core. This would not only ensure alignment but high quality professional development and the effective creation of materials.