It's Not So Scary!
Overcoming Common Core Fears
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a beau-ti-ful kindergarten teacher (me, me—pick me!) This teacher had most of "it" figured out—she had taught for years. Her lessons were completely pulled together. All her materials were thoroughly organized. And, many things were LAMINATED (gasp)! The birds sang in her classroom each day, and everything was peaceful.
Until...along came the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). What would happen to her beloved classroom kingdom? Would this teacher be able to use the activities she knew and loved? What if she were not able to change? She was scared.
As you may have guessed, that teacher was me. I had devoted my career to a curriculum that I loved. Initially, I thought the CCSS would threaten it all.
Instead, the CCSS pushed me to reconsider what I was teaching and why. My thought patterns changed, and I learned to view my time with students as one piece of a larger puzzle. My instruction evolved to incorporate prior learning and prepare young minds for concepts that were to come. With this frame of mind, change came easier.
Reflection helped me realize that my teaching need not be so restricted. I simply had to adjust my perspective to a broader view (ironic, given the fact that the CCSS focus on fewer skills than state standards). To follow the brain research, the CCSS are organized to help students make connections across disciplines. So, I tweaked my letter-of-the-week curriculum to be broader, and more thematic, while ensuring that I was still heavily focused on certain skills.
Hooray, I didn't need to relearn how to teach! The research I had embraced—differentiated instruction, interdisciplinary curriculum and multi-sensory approaches—was still effective. My task? Overcome my Common Core fears by figuring out where these approaches would be effective in this new framework! Here are a few of the gems that have helped me along this journey:
Connect the dots
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas is a category throughout Common Core. It's also a great strategy for integrating instruction—keep some of what you taught before and connect it to the new content. For example, I had been using fiction almost exclusively, so I knew that I needed to add lots of informational books, per the CCSS. I already used Laura Numeroff's books to teach cause and effect, inferences and guided reading groups (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, etc). So, I had our librarian help me locate non-fiction texts about mice, moose, pigs and cats. Then, I had the students use graphic organizers to compare the types of texts.
Turn real management tasks into learning moments
There's nothing like showing students that their lessons are relevant to real life. Empower student helpers to jump in and:
- Use a graph to take attendance.
- Review the daily schedule while demonstrating elapsed time with a learning clock.
- Sort items from the lunch menu onto a MyPlate template so classmates can make healthy choices.
- Calculate their own grades.
Guide students to reflect
The CCSS lists 7 competencies for students who are college and career ready. (These are not the Colonel's Secret Recipe!) Of course you will facilitate the development of these skills, but make sure students explicitly know and understand what the competencies are:
- Demonstrate independence
- Build strong content knowledge
- Respond to the varying demands of evidence, task, purpose and discipline
- Comprehend as well as critique
- Value evidence
- Use technology and digital media strategically and capably
- Come to understand others' perspectives and cultures
Writing can be incorporated into any subject, taking instruction from regurgitation to higher-level thinking. Journals, graphic organizers and structured writing assignments provide an accurate picture of student understanding.
Common Core strives to build 21st Century learners. With "a focus on results rather than means," the door is wide open for integration of multi-sensory technology tools. Have students use USB recorders to record their ideas, listen to models via small recordable devices, or review lessons and presentations from classroom video captured with a simple affordable document camera.
The spirit of Common Core acknowledges that children must learn how to take control of their learning. Encourage students to use tools for time management, record observations and questions, and utilize key reference tools to complete projects
Be a critical consumer
Consider how you spend every classroom minute. It's much more important to facilitate higher-order thinking than it is to make it to the end of the workbook. But deeper learning takes longer than just filling in the blanks, and you have to account for this in your schedule.
You're not alone! Compare notes with colleagues. Discuss what is going well and areas where you're struggling. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Remember, we're all in this together.
Common Core is not your mortal enemy. You are still the mighty professional, and your students need your expertise. Believe in yourself, use your strengths and incorporate the old with the new. Not only is victory in sight, it may have been yours all along!
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