In an effort to add value to learning in the classroom, 45 states in the United States have welcomed the Common Core State Standards. The Standards focus on the idea that lessons contain realistic and practical use for students. This means teachers prepare students not only for college but also for earning a living, for work, which concept seems obvious to many, especially working parents.
Yet, the idea of preparing young children for the world around them has often eluded the educational system which frequently finds itself engrossed in a vicious cycle of patting itself on the back for getting students to sit still and take notes.
Many who criticize the educational system argue that schools and testing in general prepare children and young adults for more school, not for actually living in the world. So, many teachers who feel the same are rallying around the common core standards because they also see the need for school to matter more to students than just a place where they learn to take a test.
Right now, common core standards focus on English language arts and math for K-12 because these are considered the building blocks of education. There are active efforts to also include science, world languages, and the arts.
In the mean time, teachers can pull ideas from the available common core standards and use them as a springboard for their own unique transformations inside their classroom.
These transformations might occur with something small such as offering your average student in third grade a book that would normally be for a student in sixth or even reading an article from the online news and teaching them how to figure out the meaning of some pretty large vocabulary words.
Teachers will be expected to expose students to more difficult and challenging material, allow the students to struggle, and guide them step-by-step through that challenge. The teacher shouldn’t just hand over the answer. It’s the struggle that makes a difference as well as the difficulty of the material.
This guide will help educators break down the Common Core State Standards and find some great inspiration and resources along the way.
To understand CCSS better, it helps to find out where they came from. The CCSS developed over time like any good solution to a growing problem. The problem started with the insight that students in general weren’t even prepared to consider a higher education let alone a career outside of the most average. And even then, because of rising unemployment rates, students weren’t capable of competing.
Teachers, researchers, assessment developers, professional organizations, content experts, 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands came together, spoke up, and discussed the issues. This is where the creation of the Standards originated. Among the organizations spearheading the CCSS are the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State Officers, Achieve, the Council of Great City Schools, and the National Association of State Boards of Education.
In addition, two public comment sessions allowed teachers, parents, school administrators, and other individuals to add input to the standards. Altogether, that meant approximately 10,000 comments that helped finalize the CCSS.
Comprised of 25 members who lead the way in education standards, the Committee acted as an independent “observer” of the CCSS development. The VC scrutinized the development of the CCSS by examining the evidence of various criteria used to create the CCSS, including how they compare with other countries with proven track records of educating students in preparation for college and work.
For a full list and biographical information of the VC members visit the following link www.corestandards.org
Knowing and discussing a growing problem is one thing, but proving it’s a problem is another. Within the realm of reading and text, many had noticed that students weren’t capable of understanding the rising demands of text complexity in higher education and the business world itself. So, the research began. The results proved that students needed exposure to more complex texts in order to survive in the world.
Based on six different computer programs, the research study gave teachers an evaluation tool to prepare students for college and work. Those companies consisted of ATOS by Renaissance Learning, Degrees of Reading Power ® by Questar Assessment, Inc., Flesh Kincaid (Public Domain), The Lexile ® Framework for Reading by MetaMetrics, Reading Maturity by Pearson Education, Source Rater by Educational Testing Service, and Easibility Indicator by Coh-Metrix. Ultimately, these various programs helped discover ways to align text difficulty with college readiness. See www.corestandards.org for more information.
Because mathematics in the United States only touched the surface, never delving deeper, students reflected the lack of depth in their performance and ability. Now, the CCSS wants to follow in the footsteps of leading countries by adding meaning to mathematical concepts so that students not only perform better on tests but find themselves able to compete in the global market.
Three elements create a format with which educators can move forward.
Focus as applied to the CCSS means teachers teach less skills so that the students learn more. For many teachers of mathematics, this goes against everything they’ve been doing over the years. However, by focusing or narrowing the curriculum to a select few skills over a longer period of time, teacher then ensure that students remember the skills and retain the ability to apply them over time.
This is critical for students entering middle and high school when the concepts change and difficulty increases. If they don’t even have the basics down, how can they learn new concepts without feeling overwhelmed and then giving up?
When coherence is added to the equation, curriculum turns into an intricately woven work of art. Instead of bouncing from one topic to the next, the materials teachers use work together to create understanding for the students. It seems very logical, but this hasn’t been happening in the United States.
So, the CCSS guide teachers to incorporate arithmetic and word problems into a lesson of bar graphs. The same holds true of grade levels. Taking prior knowledge and using it to solve problems in the next grade level then happens effortlessly if teachers adhere to the CCSS.
Without focus and coherence, rigor languishes as an afterthought to a great idea. But, with the support of focus and coherence, rigor flourishes. Teachers then have the tools to challenge students and prepare them for challenges in the future.
However, within the realm of rigor, lies the need to balance conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and applications. All too often, there’s a drive to encourage one segment of rigor and the others fall behind in the process. Consideration of the need to implement all three consistently creates a healthy environment for rigor.
How Teaching Changes
Let’s say a Language Arts Teacher in sixth grade decides to read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee with students. However, the teacher even has approximately 15 students who are English language learners. What should the teacher do?
Look to a teacher or a school who’s set an example of success even before the CCSS. These “new” standards didn’t just sprout up from nothing. They grew from research and innovation actively at work all across our country.
In fact, contrary to many of those grumbling about the Standards, the CCSS are very practical and stem from very real, very successful classroom experience. The Standards state that text should challenge students and that math problems should delve deeper.
One teacher in California has been meeting these standards long before they were created. Rafael Esquith, who many teachers probably already know about, has used them and implemented them without even needing them. His name doesn’t appear anywhere on the CCSS website and yet everything he does inside his classroom is already aligned with the standards.
In short, he challenges students with books such as To Kill A Mockingbird even though the majority of his students are immigrants living in poverty and dealing with violence in their neighborhood. He reads and performs Shakespearean plays with them. He creates budgets with them. He believes in them. www.hobartshakespeareans.org
But, mostly, he’s not alone. Many teachers provide creative environments for their students. And, with access to the Internet, teachers can now share ideas about their innovations within minutes. The CCSS seem to be saying, “Okay, the old standards didn’t match what great teachers actually do, so let’s open up the world of education for all students and let teachers get kids excited about learning again.”
If the states adhere to the CCSS correctly, Rafael Esquith’s classroom would hold the answers to all teachers’ questions about the Standards. Only time will tell whether or not duplication is possible.
In order to find a common ground, the creators needed to simplify the complexity of learning into a few concepts that educators could implement in innovative and necessary ways throughout the elementary and secondary schooling years.
The first and most important concept conveyed revolves around focus. Focus, coherence and rigor in mathematics support the idea that students learn less so that they learn more.
The common core standards dictate that students understand numbers. Yes, sounds simple, but not so simple to teach, especially if the teacher is busy making sure the student can meet multiple standards. Well, the CCSS reminds everyone, parents and teachers alike, that students can’t move on to more difficult concepts until they understand why numbers even matter in the first place.
Teachers ensure students know the basics. Whether teachers teach whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, or decimals, students must know them at least at their most basic level. Less is more in respect to the standards. If a child enters sixth grade and can’t add decimals, then this signals that the child wasn’t taught decimals properly in fifth grade. It’s simple. These are the basics.
The most valuable part of the standards stems from the fact that they give teachers freedom to find the practical tools to implement the ideas and enforce the learning. Fractions, negative numbers, and geometry stand at the discretion of the teacher. The resources are a click away because of the Internet and so are the lessons.
Teachers teach the student to fish. They don’t just give the student the fish to eat. At least, that’s what the standards want teachers to convey to the students. No matter what equation or word problem, a student should be able to work it out on his or her own. So, students aren’t focused on just passing the test but actually figuring out how to deal with the future.
At least by 7th grade, students have built enough of a foundation to understand concepts then transform them into critical thinking skills necessary to solve various problems so that Algebra becomes accessible rather than too abstract or difficult, allowing students to build another important foundation for high school. Here’s a link to a perfect example of a math teacher showing students the distinct value of Algebra.
High school then becomes an avenue rather than an end. Students find value and worth where they might have otherwise found a steppingstone or a brick wall. If they enter high school knowing the basics and matching that with a desire to learn, they can overcome obstacles set in motion from economic or other difficulties. Students innovate according to a given situation.
Once integrated into the high school curriculum, students then use mathematics to solve everyday problems. Whether tackling technological issues or very basic problems such as a grocery list, students apply what they’ve learned and find success and value within their realm of understanding then extend that understanding to other realms.
The standards continually refer to reading as a “staircase” with which the students take to reach a level capable of reading a mixture of both classic and contemporary literature while giving each state the freedom to choose the route for delivery. While not providing a reading list, the standards suggest variations of myths, world literature, U.S. documents, American literature, and Shakespeare.
An emphasis on argumentative writing should begin in the early grades, according to the CCSS. All arguments should be supported with proper evidence. In the same vein, long and short research projects help students understand the value of gathering information quickly and then spending more time on certain issues. More importantly, students need to take that information and form an analysis from it then present it.
The two most basic skills seem to fall by the wayside when students enter school. So, the CCSS give them importance by accentuating a question and answer format within the classroom. These questions should spark discussion and the answers should require more than just a “right” answer. Often referred to as critical thinking questions, these questions should open up a conversation offering students a chance to explore various reasons why one conclusion may differ from another.
From Kindergarten and beyond, the standards demand that vocabulary blend into all lessons in assorted ways. Students should see a word from numerous perspectives understanding the subtle differences in meaning and practice. Students should experience these words throughout their learning environments and across curriculum.
Exposing students to diverse text selection enables them to acquire new vocabulary, but there are opportunities to teach students skills empowering them to learn more on their own as well. Highlighting and teaching word parts and parts of speech are among many simple yet effective tools students need to help them acquire and build vocabulary.
However, developing vocabulary doesn’t mean students must always read to learn new words. Discussions on different topics offer students another route to obtaining the vocabulary they need to succeed in school and in life.
Technology dominates our lives in so many ways so bringing it into the classroom and into students’ web of learning only makes sense. The CCSS require educators to enhance learning with lessons that allow students the use of technology.
Now that the Common Core State Standards established their rule over the future of education, any company capable of producing an educational product wants to link it with the Standards. So sifting through the resources becomes more important than ever. Simply claiming to align materials with standards doesn’t make the material valuable or worthwhile.
Some resources, however, give educators an edge by consolidating the main points of the standards and at least offering students a chance to experience them in a condensed form.
Free digital resources pummel the Internet so teachers need not look too far for ways to build upon and alter their lessons. Challenging students simply means taking some time to click through some really great websites that come equipped with detailed aids to teaching even the more difficult skills.
E.D. Hirsch writes a blog giving teachers important insight into the value of the Common Core State Standards. Understanding the philosophy behind the Standards makes it easier to implement them in the classroom. It also helps clarify why they were created in the first place. There’s also a link on Creative Commons to essential publications available for free.
The Hunt Institute
With a meaningful website for any educator, The Hunt Institute catalogues video clips with lessons that not only show the standards in action but also help spark ideas for future lessons.
Problem of the Month
An easily accessible tool for math teachers, Problems of the Month available at Inside Mathematics allows teachers and administrators to give students levels of problem solving that require them to be active and apply their knowledge to the world around them.
From Arithmetic to Calculus
Find basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, biology, or even U.S. History in clips or interactive lessons in www.hippocampus.org. Build upon basic lessons or delve deeper into a problem confronting an entire classroom. These can be played as introductions, clarifications, or homework assignments.
Standards by State
In each state, educators can usually access resources with specific lessons and materials. For example, in Florida, teachers can access iCPalms that guides them through lessons one strand at a time with helpful links to digital resources. However, all teachers can access it for free and benefit from the well-organized format.
According to the CCSS, an even amount of time should be spent reading non-fiction texts because these are the type of texts adults mostly read. They’re also difficult to read for many students. This website offers small chunks of text with some really great multiple-choice questions and other very helpful tools to keep students informed and on task.
Because the CCSS require teachers to introduce students to more complex text, using sites that host classical literature makes it easier to work through specific chapters as a class and break it down into pieces. This also keeps students from feeling overwhelmed with the significant difference in difficulty.
Glencoe Literature Library alphabetically lists award-winning books complete with detailed study guides available to download for free. The guides help students better understand the author and the book as well as ask a series of higher-order questions that prompt the student to think differently about the literature.
The Library of Congress
Catering to teachers, the Library of Congress offers gallons of informational resources readily available to anyone willing to visit the website. From speeches, maps, letters, and campaign materials to photographs, film footage, and government documents, teachers can effortlessly teach students about primary and secondary resources and expose them to authentic documentation of events and people.
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