Common Core in a Nutshell
The advent of Common Core State Standards in California heralds many changes in the field of education. While skeptics tend to think that CCSS is simply one more pendulum swing in education, it is important to remember that this is a nationally driven (though not nationally mandated or adopted) movement. In California, the current set of curriculum standards for instruction were adopted in 1997. Arguably, the world is a vastly different place today than it was fifteen years ago. With the growth and change of our society and economy, it naturally follows that education should transition in order to keep up.
The nature of the Common Core standards is much different than that of our previously adopted standards for Math and Language Arts. The CCSS will prove to be more rigorous and instruction must shift accordingly.
Common Core in English Language Arts calls for students to receive a balance of exposure and instruction in both informational and literary text. While some worry that this will translate into decreased use of literature in English classrooms, it is important to remember that the onus for informational text instruction also falls on the shoulders of History, Social Studies, Science, Technology, and Performing Arts teachers. Literature can and should remain present in English Language Arts classrooms. The use of primary sources and media sources (audio, visual) should increase in History and Social Studies classrooms.
According to Common Core, students should be able to construct knowledge from text and should not rely on the teacher as the distributor of knowledge. In order to do this, teachers will have plan instruction to scaffold students appropriately, including the use of model texts. In addition, teachers will have to occasionally allow students to struggle with text in order to construct meaning. The goal of CCSS is to build independent thinkers with transferrable knowledge of each discipline. The endgame is to result in students who are college and career ready. Students-centered instruction will be key and may include instructional pedagogies such as project/process-based learning, inquiry, challenge-based learning, and some models of flipped classrooms.
More Complex Text
Text Complexity is a major issue in many classrooms today. Often, teachers will eschew primary sources in favor of textbooks, and that practice will not do the Common Core student any favors. While textbooks are state adopted and certainly valuable, they should not be the only source of text with which students interact. The true heart of CCSS is depth and not breadth. Common Core lends itself well to studying fewer topics in greater depth and taking a unit based approach.
Students should be required to give text-based answers to support their positions and develop the ability to read like detectives and write like investigative reporters. This means fostering an environment of curiosity, inquiry, and analysis. Close reading of text will become increasingly important in primary and middle grades, as will the use of model texts of high complexity. In addition, students must be able to articulate themselves clearly and engage in academic conversation about content, relying on the text to provide support.
Emphasis on Argument
For years, students have been taught to rely on opinion writing (often with insufficient evidence as support), or narrative writing in which they relay an event from their own lives without any need for evidence. The nature of writing under CCSS will be much different, as it shifts more toward informational and argumentative writing. This does not negate the need to teach students how to express themselves through blogging or writing poetry, it simply makes clear the emphasis in all content areas should be on presenting text-based answers in academic writing. Again, the onus for this rests on all teachers of all subjects, not just English.
Students who learn in Common Core classrooms will be expected to use the language of the discipline effectively, and also transfer the vocabulary from one subject area the rest. This will aid students in accessing text of increasing complexity, as well as scaffolding student conversations in such a way that promotes the use of academic vocabulary. For both English Language Learners and native speakers of English, the intentional and consistent use of sentence frames could be beneficial until students no longer require scaffolding.
Common Core State Standards intentionally include the expectation that students will produce as well as consume media. While some may contend that the Common Core does not go far enough in terms of technology integration requirements, it is important to remember that CCSS calls for more digital literacy in core content areas than our current set of standards. Some mention is certainly better than none. In addition, the electronic nature of testing will ensure that districts and individual school sites must begin or continue to invest in technology resources for student use. In terms of testing, students can't be expected to test comfortably without previous, repeated exposure to a range of devices for a variety of purposes.
Jessica Pack is a teacher and Common Core trainer for Palm Springs Unified School District. She is also an iPad Jedi Master for www.appsinclass.com and can be reached via her professional blog, www.packwomantech.com Follow Jessica on Twitter @Packwoman208. Reference: Instructional shifts 1-6 were briefly identified by EngageNY here... http://engageny.org/sites/default/files/resource/attachments/common-core-shifts.pdf All commentary/annotation is my own.
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