The biggest pedagogic change to American education since the arrival of John Dewey is happening right now. It’s called Common Core State Standards. Its goal: to prepare the nation’s tens of thousands of students for college and/or career. If you are involved in any part of teaching, administrating, or planning, you are holding your breath, downing an aspirin, and crossing your fingers, knowing a storm is about to hit. You’ve prepared, but is it enough?
46 states adopted the Common Core in an effort to bring consistency and uniformity to the hodge podge of state standards that dot the education landscape from California to Maine and Alaska to Florida. For most states, implementation is piecemeal, a bit at a time, with the full roll out not expected until sometime in 2015.
Besides turning your curriculum upside down, there are philosophic changes you as a teacher will have to buy into to fit the mold that is Common Core:
- Depth not width—Dig into ideas. Make them clearer, more robust. Teachers will cover fewer topics in a year, but with greater detail. Trust that the breadth of learning will come from that deeper understanding. The accepted pedagogy that similar topics be introduced every year, each with more detail, is no longer. Now, students will cover new topics at each grade level–fewer but fuller.
- Nonfiction, not fiction—Literacy and reading is likely to be comprehensive narratives rather than inference from stories. Why? Post-high school reading in both college and career is more often expository than fiction as high school grads study for college courses or receive specific training on a job. Students need to know how to perform the critical reading necessary to pick through the staggering amount of print and digital information required to thrive at the game called life.
- Evidence is required—It will be paramount that students logically and dispassionately prove their claims with organic conversations and authentic, well-understood evidence. Statements must have supporting facts that stand up under cerebral scrutiny. A claim of acceptability because it is ‘their interpretation’ will not be sufficient in a CCSS classroom.
- Speaking and listening—Anyone who thrives in the adult world knows the importance of these two skills. Now, they will be taught in the K-12 curriculum. The youngest learners will have guidelines for how to carry on a conversation–come to a discussion prepared, listen respectfully to others, take turns speaking, build on each other’s conversations, ask clarifying questions. As they advance grade levels, so too will the requirements.
- Technology is part of most/all standards—Not overtly, but teachers will find a fundamental understanding of how technology scaffolds learning to be essential in delivering Standards correctly. Many times, standards expect knowledge be ‘collaborated on, published and shared’. This is done through technology–pdfs, printing, publishing to blogs and wikis, sharing via Tagxedos and Animotos. Students and teachers will use the internet, online tools, software, tech devices as vehicles for achieving educational goals. No longer will they be ‘fun’ tools employed in the computer lab. Now, they will be integral to the curriculum. This means teachers will have to be comfortable with iPads, online widgets, Google Docs, and all those geeky tools that they admired from afar, when colleagues used them, promising they would try them ‘one day’. That day has arrived.
- Life skills are emphasized across subject areas—It’s not good enough students can write in literacy classes. CCSS expects them to communicate just as effectively in every subject. And, where critical thinking has always been fundamental to math and science, that now expands to all classes. Students must understand cause and effect, transfer knowledge from one subject area to another throughout their educational day. That means, math teachers must pay attention to writing and literature teachers to cognitive processes.
- An increase in rigor—Accountability will be expected of students and teachers. Too often, passing a test was all the assessment that was expected. CCSS will look for more–transfer of knowledge (see 6 above), evidence of learning, student as risk-taker, authenticity of lessons, vertical planning, learning with increasingly less scaffolding and prompting, and differentiated instruction so all learners get it.