Learning to Use the Common Core

A friend recently asked what teachers are doing to align with the new Common Core curriculum.

She wrote:

As I am working with teachers on the ELA CCSS, some are asking about examples of how the other content areas are using the standards in their curriculum. They are meeting with some resistance re: looking at their curriculums in light of the standards and are “waiting for their content associations” to publish new standards.

Educators being reluctant to put too much energy into the “New Best Thing” isn't surprising, given the speed with which innovations come and go in schools. But the notion of being clearer about what we are teaching and increasing the consistency of what is taught across classrooms, schools, and districts is not new, and is enduring enough that having a “new” curriculum is a good opportunity to be deliberate about getting better at that. (Now, if we could only get as strong and enduring a focus on quality instruction!)

We are working on transparency of teaching and integrating the Common Core in my district, and I shared with my friend what we are doing:

Introducing and Starting to Use the Common Core

In keeping with approaching implementing Customized Learning in phases, we are looking at using the curriculum differently as a phased implementation. I think I would label those phases as something like: Awareness, Models, Practice, Implementation.

Awareness: Have teachers do what they're doing now, but make sure that students know what the learning targets are for their activities that day (regardless of which set of standards teachers are using). At the same time, see if the teacher can identify which Common Core standards the activities they are doing that day are most closely related to. Some of this phase should be devoted to doing a 10,000 ft crosswalk between the curriculum they are used to using and the Common Core, to help identify how they are the same and how they are different.

Models: Have teachers visit (in person, on line, or in print) some examples of folks teaching from the Common Core in ways we might label “high level of implementation.” The goal, of course, is to help teachers find exemplars so they can experience what it looks like, feels like, tastes like, smells like, etc. Part of this phase is reflecting on how they might organize their teaching, lessons, or units differently to bring them more in line with the Common Core.

Practice: Teachers use the Common Core to design their teaching, lessons, and units, and try them out. Both feedback from knowledgeable, trusted others, and self reflection guide the revision and improved implementation of that teaching. The goal is to know you won't start out perfect, but that you are working to get better. Teachers here, in Cohort districts, would also be using the curriculum more and more to have students monitor their own progress.

Implementation: Teachers have gotten pretty comfortable with the transition and pretty good at teaching with the Common Core (these teachers don't have to be perfect or outstanding, just competent). Teachers in this phase become both places to visit and coaches (knowledgable, trusted others) for teachers in more novice phases.

Teachers in a builidng don't have to be all at the same phase at the same time. In fact, it's really helpful to have those teachers who are a phase or two ahead and can work with the more novice teachers.

We need to help teachers move from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset (the ability to learn and adapt as things change and evolve around you), possibly by having them all read the book Mindset. You need to build a common language around Growth Mindset, and talk about it often to keep that idea in the forefront of their minds while struggling through change. Parallel to this is helping teachers know that the new constant is change, and we must learn how to constantly adapt to productively respond to new challenges and requirements.

And lastly, I suspect part of what is giving teachers a hard time is not the Content Knowledge piece, but the focus on higher order thinking and the application of knowledge (changes away from sacred cow units of study aside). I think getting them involved with the Cohort's Complex Reasoning curriculum (essentially Marzano and Pickering' Dimensions of Learning) would give them a concrete way to apply and leverage higher order thinking to their content…