Think of your district’s implementation of Common Core as a gift to reconnect with colleagues, share and disseminate best practices that work with your students in YOUR classrooms, explore new ideas, discuss how to engage students in learning, and have frank discussions about what it means to be educated.
My favorite part of the new standards is that they are a list of expectations, not a list of what to teach. They open the door for teachers to determine what an actual performance looks like for students in their classrooms, as well as how to support their students in getting there.
The Common Core Standards are not a curriculum! By focusing on “results rather than means” the Common Core State Standards are designed to trust teachers to use “whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”
They celebrate that teachers more than any other single factor help students learn and grow. Standards alone don’t stifle creativity. High-stakes test to evaluate student performance… well, that’s an entirely different topic.
Results opens the door to project work
In my opinion a project approach is the best way to engage students in meaningful performances that demonstrate they have achieved the results mentioned in the standards. The standards are even structured to support an integrated model of literacy where students write, speak, listen, and present about the literature and informational texts they read.
Projects make it easy to integrate work across standards. Posing a problem or challenge engages students and gives them “voice and choice” in how to address or solve it. For example:
The media specialist at school was seen crying the other day because she can't get kids interested in checking out books from the library. The Principal has asked you to help!
Students could choose to promote reading in general, or choose a book or story they love and determine how best to promote it. They could develop a new book cover design that is more attractive or contains a more exciting summary.
They might create a poster or video with a “celebrity testimonial” or “bandwagon” approach to persuade other students. Having watched numerous exciting trailers for movies they have gone to see, they may produce an animated book trailer.
Creating any of these “products” to encourage others to read a particular story forces students to move beyond their own experience or at least relate their experience to others. As they learn to think about audience, utilize the tools of propaganda, and persuade, they build powerful skills for effective communication.
Projects like this also help students build skills and develop performances that meet a variety of standards. A project like the one above would address grade 3 Language Arts standards:
- RL 2. Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
- RL 3. Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
- RL 5. Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.
- RL 6. Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.
- RFS 4. Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
- W 1. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.
- W 4. With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose.
- W 5. With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.
- SL 2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
- SL 4. Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
- L 1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
- L 2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
- L 3. Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
Successful projects usually include a design element and require data and data analysis to complete. Any sort of design involves measurement, area, shape, and other geometric concepts. Strong arguments are supported with data and statistics shared in charts and graphs. Projects, in other words, are great ways for students to apply mathematical concepts, calculations, and skills.
The Common Core State Standards also include Standards for Mathematical Practice. This set of standards encourages teachers to help students develop the habits and dispositions that are essential to future success in mathematics. They include:
- Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
- Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
- Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
- Model with mathematics.
- Use appropriate tools strategically.
- Attend to precision.
- Look for and make use of structure.
- Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
Standards for mathematical practice are like norms for group work, they should be hanging on every wall in our classrooms! If you, or your students, have ever worked on a project in your classroom, you know that to be successful, they need to apply almost everyone one of these!
So if you are spending your professional development days before the start of school discussing and addressing the new Common Core Standards, consider it an opportunity to make connections and design exciting authentic projects that will keep you all engaged during the school year.