The landscape of education is changing rapidly and dramatically. Recently, we have experienced changes to the district and school report card, the teacher evaluation system, and school funding. In this article, I will focus on a significant change to the curriculum and the approach to student learning that has been adopted by the State of Ohio and is currently in the process of being implemented in our school district and school districts throughout the state. The term Common Core State Standards is probably familiar to you. It is the curriculum that Ohio and 44 other states have adopted since the advent of the federal Race to the Top initiative and is the basis of the new generation of assessments that students will begin taking next year (if the assessments are ready by this time next year). The question I will address in the rest of this article is “What is the Common Core and what does it mean to our students?”
The Common Core only addresses two curriculum areas: English/Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics. The areas of science and social studies have new standards too, but these standards were created by the State of Ohio. The Common Core Standards are built on the best of state standards and learning expectations from across the country. Teachers, administrators, professors, policy makers, and other educational experts contributed to their development and they are designed to challenge are students to become active and thoughtful learners. The standards are fewer in number but demand that students demonstrate greater depth of understanding. The focus of the standards is not to remember facts, patterns, and routines. They are about thinking, applying knowledge, and finding deep understanding of knowledge. There are 12 shifts (6 in ELA and 6 in math) in teaching and learning that must take place for teachers and students to be successful in the implementation of the Common Core.
In ELA, the shifts include:
Balancing Informational and Literary Text- Students will read a balance of fiction and non-fiction. The expectation is that students in grades K-5 will read a balance of about 50% in each area. In grades 6-8 the shift will be to about 60% informational or non-fiction text and by the time a student leaves high school the shift should be to about 70% informational text.
Students will build knowledge about the world through content rich non-fiction. The school-level curriculum will reinforce big ideas across content areas and students will be able to think about and answer essential questions. For example, students will have to be able to describe how a graph is like an argument and how geography is destiny for some people. The questions are bigger and broader and designed for students to think about information rather than just remember it.
Provide a staircase of complexity. This shift points to the Common Core’s emphasis on text complexity and ensuring that students are given the supports they need to work with grade-level appropriate texts. The idea is that students will work with more and more complex work as they make their way through school.
The Common Core will insist that students can provide text-based answers. This shift is about developing students’ ability to use and interpret text-based evidence. This shift calls for classroom instruction that engages students in rigorous discussion that allows them to construct meaning from text rather than being told what it means, and then hold them accountable for backing up their reasoning with evidence drawn from the text.
Students will be expected to write from sources. Students will be expected to write persuasively and explain rather than just convey an experience. Students will have to prove their position by citing examples from text and appropriate sources.
Finally, students will have to develop an academic vocabulary. This means that students will have to be able to speak about, read and understand academic vocabulary such as what it means to “generate a hypothesis” or “identify assumptions of two writers’ arguments.” The idea is that students will understand and use higher-level vocabulary associated with quality academic work.
In mathematics, the shifts include:
A narrower and deeper focus in the understanding of math. There will be more emphasis on understanding concepts rather than memorizing patterns
Mathematical learning will be focused on coherence so that learning is connected within and across grade levels. Students will be expected to link topics and thinking across their math experience and understand how the topics connect.
From a fluency perspective, students are expected to have speed and accuracy with simple calculations. When student can complete simple calculations without significant thought they make room in their thinking to address deeper mathematical concepts.
There is an expectation that students will develop a deep understanding of topics and will be able to operate easily with a math concept before moving on to a new concept. They will need to learn the math rather than the “tricks” to get the right answer.
Students will be expected to apply their learning to problems outside of the math classroom. Students will be expected to understand how math is applied to daily functions.
Finally, students will be expected to both practice math and understand the concepts presented to them. The goal is to create balance between the two very different tasks.
The Common Core reset expectations for students and teachers and the shifts required will take time, practice, support, and patience. Instruction in ELA and mathematics will look different than it has in the past and the expectations for students will be different as well. As partners in the educational process, I ask that you learn as much as you can about the Common Core and how you may be able to help your children with this shift. If you have questions, we encourage you to call the school and ask for help. We plan to host some meetings in the future to address these shifts more specifically.