Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Are You Doing Differently to Align with CCSS?

In Doug Lemov’s recent online “interview” with policy and curriculum expert, Kathleen Porter-Magee (the Fordham Foundation’s Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and newly-hired senior policy adviser at the College Board), he asks her what “2 or 3 concrete things you’d do to align to CC.”   She provides three elements that define what “Common Core-aligned” really means:

1.     Put text selection at the front and center of curriculum planning.
2.     Spend lots of time writing good text-dependent questions.
3.     Build instructional units based on a careful sequencing of related texts.

I would add one more element to Porter-Magee’s list.  As part of the process of selecting quality cornerstone and supplementary texts/resources, I would advise grade level teams to identify what I refer to as “featured standards” and “supporting standards.”  A featured standard is a standard that serves as the focal part of an instructional unit—it guides the design of the unit assessment and highlights the best aspects a quality text(s) has to offer (e.g. ideas, themes, structures, point of view, character progressions, etc.).  A 4th grade featured standard might be “comparing and contrasting the point view from which different stories are narrated…” (CCSS RL.4.6) or “compar[ing] and contrast[ing] the treatment of similar themes and topics…and patterns of events…in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures” (CCSS RL.4.9).  The process of determining a unit’s featured standard should be done in conjunction with selecting rich, high quality texts—these two aspects of Common Core unit planning go hand and hand.

Supporting standards, on the other hand, are standards that are critical pieces to every (or almost every) unit a teacher plans during the course of the year.  Every 4th grade literature unit, for example, should require students to “refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text” (CCSS RL.4.1).  If informational texts are a key component to the unit, students should consistently “interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears” (CCSS RI.4.7).  Teachers should plan to teach supporting standards with an emphasis on gradually asking students to demonstrate more and more independence with these skills over the course of the school year.

Keep in mind that there are some standards that could be classified as either a featured or supporting standard depending on the grade level, the amount of experience students have had practicing the skill or what cornerstone text is used to frame the unit.  For example, a 4th grade teacher may want to focus a unit at the beginning of the year on helping students grasp how to use a series of key details in a text to determine the main idea.  However, this same standard may be considered a supporting standard later in the year or, even more likely, in a 6th grade unit where a teacher is seeking to “compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics” (CCSS RL.6.9). 

Unfortunately, in many cases, we are seeing schools approach the Common Core standards in the same ways we’ve approached state standards in the past.  Instead of designing units with an eye toward the distinction between featured and supporting standards and, equally as important, the relationship between featured standards and texts, schools are creating Common Core checklists that imply that every standard should be taught in a similar fashion and mastered in isolation.

Any other Common Core curriculum planning essentials that you would add to Kathleen Porter-Magee’s list?

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