We field many questions about interpreting and implementing the Common Core, but very often, people will say, “Sum it up. What do we really need to know about the new standards for English Language Arts?” While distilling a complex document such as the Common Core is not an easy task, these five ideas may help you to further your understanding of the standards and the ways they impact teaching and learning.
1. Common Core instruction means repeatedly addressing all 32 standards.
The 32 standards for English Language Arts are distinguished by subtle differences. What you see presented in reading is often echoed in the writing, speaking and listening, and language standards. Alignment is no longer a simple process of picking a standard, teaching a lesson that addresses it, and ticking it off a list. Aligning instruction to the Common Core means planning lessons that address several standards on a repeated basis.
2. Text selection is king.
Reading standard 10 speaks to the need for students to read “complex literary and informational text independently and proficiently.” Proficiency is incumbent upon one’s ability to deeply comprehend what they are reading. In order to practice deep comprehension, children need to be working with texts that give them a lot to think about. If we are not intentional about the materials that we select for our students to work within guided reading, shared reading, and read aloud, then we minimize their opportunities to work toward the goal of proficiency.
3. Be an informed consumer.
Lots of companies are looking to profit from the Common Core. There are all sorts of new products flooding the educational materials market. Some of these products are good and reflect the spirit of the Common Core while others contain little substance. The only way to know whether a resource is good or not, is to know what the Common Core says. Be very cautious of buying your way to standards alignment because, very likely, it won’t work.
4. Collaboration is as important for teachers as it is for students.
We are all smarter together than we are alone. When planning Common Core aligned lessons, we must include lots of opportunities for students to work together to build one another’s knowledge base. These opportunities help to integrate many of the standards for speaking and listening as well as to serve the need for students to build background knowledge necessary for critical thinking. Like our students who are working to learn new material, the Common Core is new for us, which means that our instructional planning will be better if we work together with colleagues or more knowledgeable professionals to garner feedback about our lesson plans.
5. Keep your eye on the big picture. We went into teaching to instill and nurture a love for learning.
In spite of whatever reform initiative is set before us, our number one objective is student learning. We must remember that we didn’t enter into teaching because we thought we’d be the best person to help a child get a four on a test, we did it because we believe in helping children be the best they can be. If, in implementing the Common Core, it seems like we are deflating a love of learning, we can’t possibly be on the right course. When that happens, we must step back and rethink and reinvent our approaches. Remember, there is no one clear path to implementation. The only right path is the one that is best for the students that you teach.