Common Core—What are the Common Core State Standards?
Before we move on to the controversy, I want to make sure everyone knows what the Common Core State Standards actually are. Although there are some scary things going on related to the Common Core, the Common Core State Standards, as you will see, are not scary at all. In some ways it is easier to say what they are not:
The Common Core State Standards (known in Maryland as the Maryland College-and-Career-Readiness Standards) are NOT…
· A day-by-day curriculum outlining what teachers will teach and how
· A set of tests to assess student learning or teacher effectiveness
· A set of instructional strategies telling teachers how to teach
· A list of what facts students should know in any school subject
· A prescription for what texts or ideas should be taught in any school subject
· A watered-down list of skills dumbing down what students will learn in school
The Common Core does outline what students should know and be able to do in English Language Arts and Math, and there are a few key shifts that are essential to achieving the standards. Below, I will talk briefly about each and provide links to where you can find out more.
English Language Arts and Literacy
I encourage you to visit the Common Core State Standards Initiative website to read about the standards for each grade for each subject area. You will see that these standards outline what your student should be able to do by the end of the grade. Teachers will not work through these in the order presented, focusing on one standard at a time. The idea is that as teachers work through the various texts and activities throughout the year in their class, they will be working toward achieving these standards in a meaningful context. As students read and write and speak and explore literature, social studies and science, they will be developing these skills in the context of their daily activities and lessons. Notice that although the Standards recommend a few foundational texts (American lit, myth, and Shakespeare) and offer examples of appropriate text complexity, they do not mandate what literary and non-fiction texts teachers have to use to address these standards. There are three key shifts that you should be aware of:
1. Regular practice with complex text and academic language
Students will be expected to struggle through increasingly complex text more and more independently with the idea that students need to be able to independently extract information from text in order to effectively learn from textbooks and critically read informational text in the work place. The idea is that students will eventually learn to struggle through text and figure it on their own rather than having it simplified or explained to them. There is an emphasis here on increasing text complexity.
2. Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from texts, both literary and informational
The emphasis here is that students responses to text move beyond students’ interests, opinions, and personal reflections toward more rigorous interpretation and analysis supported by evidence.
3. Building knowledge through content-rich non-fiction
Overtime the Common Core expects students to interact with an increasing percentage of non-fiction rather than fictional literary narrative. In the past, most of the reading done in school has been focused on fiction, stories, and literature. The Common Core encourages increasing opportunities for students to read informational non-fiction text.
As an English teacher and parent, I am passionate about students learning to LOVE reading. I want students to get drawn into books and experience the excitement of being taken to another world to experience new things through books. And I want students to know that their thoughts and opinions about texts are valid and important. I also know that reading to learn is equally important. I want my child to be empowered to learn whatever she wants through text, and I want her to be able to support her ideas and opinions with evidence. The key here for me is the both/and rather than either/or approach. We want our students to love reading as well as be able to use reading as a tool for success in academics and the work place. I will explore how to achieve this balance in a future post. To learn more about the shifts, go Key Shifts in English Language Arts.
I’ll admit upfront that I know less about math education, but I read through the math standards and aside from finding them wordy and hard to read (they need an English teacher to make them more readable), I didn’t find anything too astonishing to my untrained eye. However, the more astute reader will find that there is a much greater emphasis on conceptualization and problem solving over the more traditional rote memorization of math facts many of us grew up with. The Common Core encourages deeper understanding of mathematical concepts and reasoning rather than following procedural rules alone. You can read the standards for your student’s grade here: http://www.corestandards.org/Math/. The key shifts in math:
1. Greater focus on fewer topics.
2. Coherence: Linking topics and thinking across grades.
3. Rigor: Pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application with equal intensity.
In a professional development session I attended in Howard County it was explained to me like this: this is how math should have been taught all along and it is how math is taught in other countries. Many of us are uncomfortable with it because it is not how we were taught; however, many of us hated math, thought of ourselves as not good at it, and have forgotten much of it. This approach is based on the idea that mathematical procedures should be tied to meaningful understanding and application rather than following rules alone. This approach does require greater mathematical knowledge and training for teachers in order to be done effectively, and preliminary reviews of textbooks reveal mixed quality of how this is being approached by publishers. Again, my encouragement here is to take a balanced approach. I want my child to know her math facts and have procedural fluency, but I also want to make sure that she understands what she is doing, can explain it effectively, and can apply it. For more information on these shifts go to Key Shifts in Mathematics.
For more detailed explanations:
· Helping Your Pre-K to Grade 2 Students with Math
· Helping Your Grade 3-5 Student with Math
If you want to download and print the Standards (I find them easier to read this way), go here:
· English Language Arts and Literacy
I will share more resources for supporting our students with these shifts in future posts.