by Margot Carmichael Lester, Quill.com Contributing Writer
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) provide consistent education standards across 40-plus states and the District of Columbia, but they're causing heartburn for some teachers who struggle with implementation. We asked experienced educators for their suggestions on creating effective lessons that support the Common Core.
In these early days, the biggest CCSS mistake is “teaching the standards instead of the kids or the big ideas the standards invite us to examine,” says Jim Burke, a 25-year English teacher at Burlingame High School in Burlingame, CA. “Create rich units of inquiry and ask yourself which of the standards the lesson or unit gives you the chance to teach. You might be surprised by how many you can actually cover in one good lesson.”
Teachers now have easier access to ready-made lessons and other materials. “While planning a lesson hasn't changed, getting the materials you need to deliver lessons is a lot easier,” explains Steve Peha of Teaching That Makes Sense in Carrboro, NC. Resources range from lesson and activity books to digital assets, including many created by teachers. Ask other educators in your network for their recommendations.
Teachers often give students “reflections” assignments, but instructors can benefit from looking back, too, without writing a paper. “The greatest challenge is finding the reflection time to see where I have met the standards in my instruction in the past and how I can meet them better presently and in the future,” says Oona Abrams, a 12th grade English teacher at Chatham High School in Chatham, NJ. Schedule time to make notes on lessons each day, and plan a little more time at the end of units to review and project in detail.
Everyone feels the pressure of testing, and that prompts some teachers to focus too keenly on test taking. Instead, Peha suggests approaching testing as a single-unit genre study. “Testing is a unique kind of work, and kids need to be prepared for it,” Peha says. “But this can be done in a relatively short period of time just before testing begins. You can cover the format of the test if you know it, practice timed writings and teach ‘what to do if you're stuck’ problem-solving skills.” This increases instructional time throughout the year and focuses kids on test taking immediately prior to the exam.
Get parents involved by encouraging them to reinforce CCSS learning at home. “The best way they can do it is to ask their children to explain their thinking rather than to push for one correct answer,” Abrams says. Remind parents to model problem solving by thinking out loud. Students also can go through homework and test prep manuals with their parents.
For Burke, author of the popular Common Core Companion Series, the best thing about the CCSS is “the invitation to learn and improve in ways that grow your own practice and stand to substantially improve students' performance as well,” he says. “The Common Core is allowing teachers to have the most important conversations about teaching in general, and literacy in particular, in the last 30 years. Through those conversations, the standards are challenging the profession in ways that will revitalize it.”
Margot Carmichael Lester is a freelance journalist and owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. She frequently teaches writing workshops in K-college classrooms. The granddaughter of school teachers and administrators, she's a staunch education advocate. Follow her on Google+.
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