I've previously written about some key principles to guide school implementation efforts. One teacher mentioned to me that though these were helpful, she was still confused about how her leadership team should sequence their efforts so as to effectively undertake a whole-school Common Core implementation effort. Of course, every school is going to approach preparation differently, but here are four sequential exercises that a school leadership team might consider:
(1) Survey, Synthesize and SWOT the Standards
As Deborah Kenny says in her Washington Post article from earlier this year, "You do not make teachers better by handing them a packaged curriculum and sending them to a few days of training. Instead, teachers need time to analyze the standards, practice different teaching strategies, learn from mentors, collaborate with colleagues, observe one another, look at student work together, reflect on why certain approaches work better than others, learn from mistakes and continually improve. None of this is fast or easy. But it is how teachers become great." Don't we all agree with this? Nevertheless, it can still be difficult to figure out where to begin in tackling the Common Core. First step: Read, discuss, process, analyze, and discuss again the standards. What do the standards say and how are they organized? How do the standards connect across grade levels? What implications do the standards offer for teaching and learning? How do our current curriculum and instruction practices support the standards and in what ways do the standards stretch us to do things differently...to do things better?
(2) Create a School-wide Implementation Framework
After a thorough examination of the standards, consider what unique implications the developmental progressions have on how you might approach school-wide curriculum planning and assessment, especially the articulation of "featured" standards and "supporting" standards in each grade and across grade bands. For example, summarizing isn't mentioned in the standards until 4th grade. How do we plan to teach this skill when using short and longer literary and informational texts? And when will we teach this skill? Perhaps summary writing would work well as a unit featured standard at the end of 3rd grade, then again in the first nine weeks in 4th grade? Perhaps our collective assessment of students' writing skills suggest that summary writing (as a featured standard) is best planned in a unit after Christmas during the 4th grade year. After that, as a way to continually reinforce, we might include this skill as part of several units' supporting standards.
(3) Selecting Featured Complex Texts
As I've previously mentioned, one of the most challenging and crucial responsibilities for teachers will be selecting and "clustering" texts to support the reading, writing and speaking/listening standards. Consider the value of a prolonged staff development effort centered around teachers working together to identify diverse groupings of featured complex texts that serve as the centerpiece of ELA and content-specific units. A complex text inventory such as this one might be helpful toward this effort.
(4) Shaping Units Around Featured Texts
Draw on conversations focused on curriculum planning and assessment as well as the selection of featured complex texts to begin to build one or more units that meet the demands of the Common Core Standards. This process should include trying to dig for complementary print texts and digital texts/resources that pair well with the featured standards and text. Get your library/media specialist and tech coordinator involved here!