Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What does Common Core implementation look like?

Over the past few months, many of us have wrestled with what Common Core implementation might look like in our classrooms. What impact will it have on our students? How will it affect us as classroom teachers? How will we know that  we have succeeded in creating "Common Core" classrooms? As Learning Facilitators, we have the opportunity to have these deep conversations on a daily basis.  And despite the collective knowledge of the group who are neck deep in research and readings, even we struggle with what it will "look" like.

In reading "Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement" by Lucy Calkins, Mary Enrenworth, and Christopher Lehman, I believe I have found SOME clarity as well as re-confirmations of what I have always believed about learning. As many of us discussed on our last Non-Instructional Day in September, the Common Core standards provide a rigorous framework of high expectations for all students regarding literacy across all content areas. And while this framework provides a relatively easy structure to understand the progressions and expectations at grade level (compared to most state standards), what the Common Core does NOT do is tell us how to implement or teach it on the ground level. Calkins et al attempt to help us move forward with the gigantic task in front of us.

One of the first thing the authors do is provide us yet another opportunity to reflect on our mindset going into the work ahead of us. They challenge us to decide whether we will simply complain or examine this as a "golden opportunity".  The authors systematically explain many of the major criticisms and concerns regarding Common Core and what it means. As I read them, I found myself nodding along, agreeing with many of the curmudgeonly concerns with it.  However, as I continued to read, I also recognized that there are many aspects of the Common Core which are hard to argue against.  They are the parts in which the focus on what is best for our students and we know to be true regarding learning.

Once I was willing to accept that I had pre-conceived opinions and  ignorant attitudes about what they mean, I could then move forward and see that the standards ask my students to develop the higher order critical  thinking skills I've always held dear to my heart.Once I was willing to acknowledge that some of my fears and concerns are selfishly about  not wanting to endure yet more changes to my curriculum, assessments, and instructional strategies. Sadly, some of my reluctance is also about not wanting to roll my sleeves up and get dirty with things I thought I had "mastered" in my classroom. If I'm being really open and honest, what I have learned from the Common Core is that what I believe and what I have  provided for my students are very different. I have my own implementation gap.

Another thought from the first chapter of the book I found particularly interesting:

"It is no longer okay to provide the vast majority of America's children with a fill-in-the-blank, answer the questions, read-the-paragraph curriculum that equips them to take their place on the assembly line."

One of the great ironies here is that many of us rail against the use of standardized tests as not being valid or fair assessments of our students, yet Calkins calls us out for assessing students in very traditional ways.  That's not to say that multiple choice assessments aren't valid, but if we aren't challenging ourselves to look at the rigor of the questions we are asking, we are missing opportunities to truly understand what our students know and can do.  I don't know that I am any closer to understanding what a "common core classroom" will look like, but I do know that we need to challenge all of our past practices through multiple lenses.

Ultimately, the goal of common core is to help our students become college and career ready, and the task ahead of us is daunting, but not impossible. As I mentioned before, we must admit our own pre-conceived notions, we must unlearn what we have learned, and we must work together to overcome our own implementation gaps.