May 27, 2016

Three Keys to Implementing the Common Core Standards

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By stating that the standards are “a focus on results rather than means,” the authors of the Common Core handed the important work of implementing the standards to “teachers, curriculum developers, and states” (Common Core State Standards, p.4). This hand off has left many educators feeling apprehensive and asking questions, such as “What does a good Common Core aligned lesson look like?” and “What do I need to be thinking about as I make long- and short-term plans for instruction?” People are wondering, how are we going to achieve the “results” the Common Core sets forth?

Because implementation is an enormous and serious task, we are going to spend the next few days sharing some of the ideas, techniques and tools that we have developed to facilitate the implementation process. To launch this series, we offer you the following three qualities, which happen to be three C’s, that we think characterize great teaching as well as great Common Core aligned instruction.

1. Critical Thinking

With words like “analyze,” “evaluate” and “integrate” in abundance in the standards, planning instruction where students engage and think critically about whatever text they are “reading closely” is paramount. By virtue of selecting these words, the authors of the Common Core seemed intent on communicating that children not only become better readers, writers, speakers and listeners, but better thinkers, as well.  When planning for Common Core aligned instruction, ask yourself these questions related to critical thinking:

  • Who’s doing the work?

  • How engaged are students in their learning?

  • How do I know students are thinking deeply about their work?

2. Communication

If idea development is the outcome of “analyzing,” “evaluating,” and “integrating,” then it stands to reason that the next step is to communicate these ideas to others. Communication stands as a central theme of the Common Core State Standards, as evidenced throughout the ten standards for writing and twelve standards for speaking and listening and language development. When thinking about planning Common Core aligned instruction, ask yourself these questions related to communication:

  • How often do students write?

  • How much do students talk?

  • How are students accountable for the conversations they have with one another?

3. Collaboration

Great thinking does not usually happen in a vacuum. In most cases, it is the result of the synergy that happens after listening, talking, and reading the ideas and work of others. Great thinking and learning relies on collaboration and when we imagine powerful instruction, we always consider ways in which we can invite students to share their thinking and build on the ideas of others. When thinking about planning Common Core aligned instruction, ask yourself these questions about student collaboration:

  • How often do students work with others to develop, expand, and/or share ideas?

  • How do students use what they learn from others to expand their own thinking?
  • How are students accountable for during collaboration?


  1. As a teacher of English language development, I worry when I see my English language learners passively sitting in general education classrooms while teachers lecture. I have long advocated for students, particularly ELLs, to be afforded opportunities to engage in meaningful and purposeful academic dialogue/conversation with their native English-speaking and other English “model” peers. I am cautiously optimistic that the Common Core Standards will lead to a greater emphasis on the three C’s, and lead teachers to rethink how students grasp and master content-area subject matter and strengthen their oral language and literacy skills. Teachers will certainly need support through professional development, coaching and modeling of instructional approaches to planning and implementing lessons which promote critical thinking, communication and collaboration of and among students, as well as assessing student academic performance. School distict administrators and others in leadership positions (e.g., principals, curriculum directors, department chairs, team leaders) will play a crucial role in not only aligning curricula to the CC Standards, but ensuring that teachers have the tools they need to adapt their teaching methods and techniques to create and sustain a learning environment in which all students can flourish socially and academically, and leave school with the essential knowledge and skills they need to meet the demands of 21st century life.

  2. Great questions. Engagement is something that many lessons are lacking. By using focus questions with teachers we can reverse it. Thank you.

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