Tag Archives: Common Core

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…


Is the Common Core a Good Thing?

Bill Ivey at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School in western Massachusetts started a conversation on AMLE’s MiddleTalk Listserve about the Common Core:

I suddenly realize, Common Core would be pulling the country away from the direction I would love to see education take of more fully individualizing and personalizing each kid’s own path of learning. Maybe they could be used in such a model, and more power to them if they can. I somehow doubt it.

The conversation spurred a bunch of great responses (including Jill Spencer’s post on the Bright Futures blog). Below is what I submitted about Maine’s Customized Learning work and how it may fit with the Common Core:

Maine is moving in the direction of customized learning. I think this would go by a lot of different names around the country: standards-based instruction; performance-based instruction; individualized instruction. And there are lots of models: RISC (Reinventing Schools Coalition); Integrative Curriculum (see here or here); the Foxfire Approach; student designed projects ala Minnesota New Country School and Projects4ME; etc.

At the core are the two key principles that people learn in different timeframes and in different ways.

Maine has a grass roots effort: The Maine Cohort for Customized Learning. There isn’t much online about them yet, but they are currently 14 or so districts working together to implement customized learning. The Cohort’s roots are the RISC model, and Bea McGarvey’s work around Mass Customized Learning. Also, Commissioner Bowen has just recently announced his strategic plan for the ME DOE, Education Evolving, which essentially provides all the policy support for a standards based (NOT Carnegie unit based!) diploma and for performance-based customized learning.

AND, Maine has signed on to the Common Core.

How does this all fit?

The Cohort districts are taking the Maine Learning Results (our learning standards, which by next year will include the Common Core), and are dissecting them and reformulating them into a collection of user-friendly (well, relatively speaking), performance-based learning-friendly list of measurement topics. We’re using Marzano’s framework, and each measurement topic includes a leveled description describing what is necessary for a Level 1 or 2 (essentially lower level Blooms attainment) and for a Level 3 or 4 (essentially an upper level Blooms attainment). The Cohort is sharing these with any district the wants to start exploring or using them.

This has been quite a task. Anyone who has worked at true standards-based learning (not just standards-referenced, but where you are looking for artifacts and evidence of student mastery of the standard) knows that many sets of state’s standards are not really designed to be used this way. Some standards you would need a 3-year portfolio of work to demonstrate, or aren’t clear, or are linked to a specific task or assessment strategy (write a report about X, etc.). Our teachers have had to strip out all the assessment info in the standard, so it is just the content topic (in some cases, once the assessment information is gone, there is little left to infer what the content topic was!).

So this all boils down to the fact that Maine will have a viable curriculum, based on the Common Core, that will lend itself to an individualized, customized, standards-based, performance-based approach.

One of the follow up questions that comes from this work (trying to be more standards-based) is how will we monitor student progress and know where they are in mastering their learning topics?

Some districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning are using Educate, a progress management system in development by some of the RISC folks. It is in the early days of development, but feedback from our districts is being used to shape the development, and I hear from colleagues using it that each new release is better and better.

I’ve been using Project Foundry for more than 4 or 5 years, including for Projects4ME (Projects4ME is Maine’s virtual, project-based program or at-risk youth). They earn credit by designing and doing standards-based projects. Although Project Foundry was designed for programs like ours and the one’s that ours is based on, it is being used mostly now by schools looking at standards-based activities, not just student designed projects. Project Foundry doesn’t only allow project proposals and time logging, but the uploading of artifacts and evidence of learning, assessment against correlated learning targets, and individualized, data-based learning plans, transcripts! and progress reports.

Of course, the next step is not just learning progress management, but also utilizing a database of learning activities correlating to the measurement topics but appealing to different learning styles. Imagine as a student completes a measurement topic, getting a recommendation from the system of an activity for the next measurement topic which is an approach the system thinks the student will like. Think Amazon book recommendations, but for learning activities…

So, depending on how much flexibility you believe you have (or are willing to take regardless!), it isn’t so much the Common Core, as it is what you decide to do with them…