If you are a public school teacher in Maryland, you are probably spending most of your professional development hours figuring out how to interpret the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and implement the new state curriculum in your classroom.
Along with 45 other states and Washington, D.C., Maryland has adopted the CCSS for English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. These standards are the foundation of the new Maryland State Curriculum, which is being implemented for the first time this school year (2013-2014). At the root of the standards is the premise that all students should graduate from high school “ready for college, careers, and citizenship.”
Generally speaking, the new standards require significant changes to the curriculum. This guide is designed to help answer some of your questions, and provide you with resources to learn more about the standards and to implement them effectively.
•Why were the CCSS developed?
The CCSS were developed to address a number of problems (real or perceived) with existing standards and curricula in the U.S., including:
1) lack of continuity in instruction from grade to grade;
2) lack of continuity in instruction between states;
3) lack of rigor and depth of instruction;
4) lack of alignment with expectations of the work world and undergraduate institutions; and
5) lack of clear and realistic goals.
In short, the CCSS were developed to ensure that all children have a rigorous education that will prepare them for college and the work world.
•Are the CCSS national standards?
No. Because education is run on the state level, there are no national standards in the United States. The development of the CCSS was not led by the federal government, but rather by a coalition of states through the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
•Are the CCSS a national curriculum?
No. The standards are neither national nor a curriculum. The standards do not dictate how teachers should teach. They merely define the goals and expectations of students at each grade level or grade band. It is up to the school systems or teachers to design curricula (essentially the sequence of lessons) to guide students to achieve these goals and meet these expectations.
•I keep hearing that the CCSS will require “major shifts” in the curriculum. What are these shifts?
The curricula will shift as a result of implementation of the CCSS. However, the extent that shifts are required depends on the particular district in terms of exactly what was taught and how it was taught in the past. Some teaching will shift more than others.
In ELA, these shifts include:
1) A move from primarily literary texts to a balance between literature and non-fiction: The split is 50-50 in grades K-5, 45% fiction/55% non-fiction in grades 6-8, and 30% fiction/70% non-fiction in grades 9-12. Thus the focus shifts to include more reading and analysis ofinformational and explanatory texts.
2) A move to explore disciplinary content through reading: Rather than teaching ELA as an entirely separate subject and not addressing ELA topics in other content areas such as science and social studies, it is more integrated. This move also includes a greater focus on academic vocabulary.
3) Focus on forming explanations and arguments based on evidence from the text: Students don’t just interpret text, but also justify their interpretations with evidence from the text. In writing, students back up claims with text-based evidence.
4) Increasing text complexity: Students will be reading texts that are grade and age-appropriate, but that are more complex than those in the past. Students will also be reading more “authentic text”: text written for a purpose other than reading education. Authentic text includes literature, articles, historical documents, and workplace documents.
5) A focus on grammar, language, spelling, and vocabulary acquisition: Students will not just need to be able to write well, but will need to develop a sense of linguistics, understanding whether a given word is used as an adjective or adverb, or selecting from appropriate phrases and clauses.
6) Focus on the effect of figurative language, stylistic choice, and syntax on the meaning of text: It’s no longer enough for students to be able to identify a metaphor – they need to understand why you choose to use a metaphor and what effect a given metaphor has on the reader’s understanding or appreciation of the text.
7) Focus on media literacy: A wide range of text types is indicated in the CCSS, so teachers should take an all-of-the-above approach to genre exposure (e.g. posters, advertisements, movies, websites, poems, plays, and graphic novels) and critical reading of visual, auditory, and multimedia text.
8) More writing: For many districts and schools, adoption of the CCSS will mean a greater focus on writing.
In Math, these shifts include:
1) Deeper focus on fewer topics: Students spend more time on fewer topics in order to gain adeep understanding. Students will be expected to have a deep understanding of a concept before they move on, and will be able to solve problems in more than one way.
2) Balance between practicing and understanding: Students will spend significant time both understanding concepts and practicing applications of those concepts.
3) Coherence from grade to grade: Students will build on what they have learned in each grade.
4) Focus on fluency: Students will be expected to be fast and accurate with simple calculations (i.e., they will be expected to memorize all basic math “facts,” for example, multiplication tables).
5) Focus on application: Students will be expected to be able to use what they have learned to figure out how to solve real-world problems, and then apply what they know to perform the calculations to find the solution.
•I hear a lot of people arguing about what the CCSS include and what they don’t. How can I find out what they really cover?
Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths about what is included and excluded from the CCSS. The best thing to do is go right to source: http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards. Here you can browse the standards by grade level or topic. You can also download the standards and then search for what you are looking for. For the Maryland specific framework, go to http://mdk12.org/instruction/commoncore/index.html.
•I have looked at the standards, but I find them confusing and overwhelming.
The complexity of the documents, along with the fact that the instructional language may be unfamiliar can make the standards hard to browse. One strategy is to explore the basic ideas rather than the grade-specific language. For ELA, explore the Anchor Standards first (These are accessible on the left sidebar at http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy). Then get familiar with the structure of the standards. They are organized into four basic areas: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language. Grade 6-12 also include standards for reading and writing in science, social studies, and technical subjects. For Math, it helps to review the Standards for Mathematical Practice at http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice, and then explore the different Domains. By reviewing the standards by Domain, you can see how learning progresses from grade to grade. Once you have a big picture understanding of the standards, they are much easier to explore in detail.
•When I read the CCSS, I notice that they don’t include X, Y, and Z, which I think are important for students to learn. Why aren’t these topics included?
There are a few possible reasons for this: 1) The standards were not built to include everything. They were deliberately designed to encourage development of curricula that are narrower and deeper than previous curricula. Previous state standards were viewed as being too broad and shallow: too many concepts with not enough depth to each concept. 2) The standards are achievement goals, not curriculum. What this means is that underlying each standard is a wealth of knowledge and skills that students must obtain in order to achieve that goal. The knowledge or skills that you are alluding to might be foundational, required to achieve the goals, but not explicitly outlined by them. Topics in this category would be found in the curriculum, but not the standards. 3) The terminology used in the standards might be different from what you are familiar with. It is possible that the topic is included, but is just described in a different way.
•I hear that teachers in Maryland are having trouble implementing the CCSS. If Maryland adopted the CCSS in 2010, why is this happening now, in 2013?
The standards are goals and expectations; they do not constitute a curriculum. In order to ensure that students can meet these goals and expectations, state, local districts and teachers needed to develop detailed curricula: lesson plans, reading lists, assessments, etc. It takes a lot of time and a lot of thought to develop K-12 curricula, and in some districts, the curriculum is not yet complete. Once the materials are developed, it can take several years for teachers to become thoroughly familiar and comfortable with the new way of teaching. This is true for any change in teaching practice, but particularly true for such a comprehensive change. The good news is that because the standards are common to 45 states and D.C., more districts and more teachers can share ideas with each other.
•I don’t teach ELA or Math, but I do teach art/music/dance/fitness. I have been told that I need to incorporate the CCSS into my teaching. How can I do this?
At first, this might seem tricky. But there are actually many ways to address the CCSS outside ELA and math class.
1) Get familiar with the Anchor Standards and the Math Practices of the CCSS by following the steps in the FAQ below for parents. The same ideas apply.
2) In terms of ELA: Think about how you can incorporate critical reading and evidence-based writing into your curriculum:
a. Have students actively learn academic vocabulary of the discipline.
b. Have students explore and evaluate text and media related to the discipline, for example, biographies of artists, reviews of recent performances, articles about athletes.
c. Have students write about the discipline, for example, history, biography, current events (reviews), and narrative.
d. In discussions and writing assignments, encourage students to back up any claims with evidence from what they have read, seen, heard, and experienced.
3) If you are thinking of incorporating a specific reading or writing assignment, team up with ELA teachers to come up with ways to enrich the assignment. For example, if you are a dance teacher thinking of having students read reviews of a recent performance, you may be able to have students compare the points of view of each review, and evaluate the arguments presented in the reviews.
4) In terms of math: Team up with math teachers to find out what concepts they are currently focusing on and brainstorm connections between their content and yours. For example,
a. if you are an art teacher and students are studying measurement and scaling, you can have students create scale models.
b. if you are a music teacher, you may be able to make a connection between musical notation and fractions.
c. if you are a physical education teacher, students can apply what they have learned in statistics to understanding sports statistics and athletic performance.
Remember that because math builds from grade to grade, you should feel free to reinforce concepts and skills from any grade leading up to and including the one you are teaching.
5) Rather than looking at all of the standards at once, pick one grade-appropriate standard at a time and think about how it relates to your discipline. Again, work with an ELA or math teacher.
6) Visit the Arts Education Partnership at http://www.aep-arts.org/resources-2/common-core-and-the-arts/ for links to articles and webinars on integrating arts and the CCSS. In addition, many of the websites listed below include connections to the arts and physical education.
•What are publishers doing about the CCSS?
Every educational publisher is coming out with Common Core support. Publishers are creating new CCSS-specific textbooks, lesson plans, activities, and assessments. They are also correlating their existing materials to the CCSS or modifying them to meet the new standards. All new materials should be aligned or correlated to the CCSS.
•How can I help parents understand and reinforce the goals of CCSS at home?
There are a few easy suggestions you can make to parents of your students.
1) Get familiar with the Anchor Standards. These are accessible on the left sidebar athttp://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy. The Anchors are the overarching standards that are the same across all grade levels. Getting familiar with these will help parents not only understand the goals of the work their child is coming home with, but will also help them reinforce the concepts when they read, write, and talk with their child at home.
2) Peruse the examples of texts that illustrate the complexity, quality, and range of student reading. These lists are also accessible on the left sidebar athttp://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy. This will help parents get an idea of what their child should be able to read at a given grade level. These are also in English Language Arts Appendix B: http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_B.pdf.
3) One of the new focuses in the CCSS is on media literacy. Whether parents are reading, using the Internet, watching television, or listening to the radio, they can encourage their children to analyze and interpret the content and use the content to back up their ideas.
1) Get familiar with the Standards for Math Practice:http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice. These are the skills, processes, and methods that underlie proficiency and expertise in mathematics. As with the ELA Anchor Standards, getting familiar with these will help parents understand the work their child is coming home with, as well as help them reinforce mathematical thinking with their child at home.
2) Read the letters developed by the American Federation of Teachers to help introduce the math concepts and new ways of teaching math to parents. A letter for each grade level can be accessed at http://www.sharemylesson.com/article.aspx?storyCode=50006739.
3) Have their children apply what they are learning in school to everyday situations. For example, if they are learning how to multiply, have them work out the cost of a certain number of items in the grocery store. If they are learning to divide, have them calculate how long it will take to travel a certain distance at a certain speed.
Finally, explore the web resources such as the Parent Roadmaps (http://www.cgcs.org/Domain/36) listed below under General Guidance. Many include resources for parents as well as teachers.
Standards and Curriculum
•Common Core State Standards
This is the official website of the CCSS Initiative. Here you can read about the initiative mission and how the standards were developed and find resources to help you interpret the standards. You can also browse or download the standards and summaries of key points.
Download a free app for your iPhone or Android device. The app gives you instant access to the standards and to support documents.
•The Maryland State Department of Education
This is the official word from the state department of education. The page includes links to the new curriculum and curriculum resources.
•Resources from State Departments of Education
A major reason for moving to common state standards was to enable teachers and administrators in different states to share best practices. Many states and school districts have created online resource centers for teachers and parents. This link includes links to the departments of education of all states that have adopted the CCSS.
•Arts Education Partnership
The AEP provides a list of resources, including articles and webinars, about integrating arts and the CCSS.
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development is a non-profit that publishes books, articles, videos, and webinars to support implementation of the CCSS.
•International Reading Association
The International Reading Association (IRA) is the major professional association for K-8 teachers of English-Language Arts. In addition to publishing numerous books and several highly regarded peer-reviewed journals, IRA also holds regional and national conferences that provide seminars and workshops for reading teachers. IRA’s website provides access to numerous additional resources surrounding the Common Core State Standards for ELA.
•National Council of Teachers of English
NCTE is a professional organization that provides numerous resources for teaching CCSS English Language Arts.
•National Council for Teachers of Mathematics
The NCTM is a national organization dedicated to assisting math teachers.
The National PTA is a non-profit organization that advocates for the CCSS. On this site you will find student success guides, recommendations for effective implementation, and state-specific links and resources.
•Parent Roadmaps to the Common Core Standards
This free resource from the Council for Great City Schools provides parents with guidance for supporting their children in each grade level in mathematics and ELA.
Lesson Plans and other Teaching Resources
Edutopia has links to resources on CCSS overview, implementation, assessment, and research.
LearnZillion is a learning platform with video lessons and assessments. At LearnZillion you can search for lessons by subject, grade, and standard. This is great for teachers who need ideas, and parents who want to reinforce concepts at home.
Lesson Planet allows you to search for lessons and other materials based on subject and grade level. It provides summaries, reviews, and download/purchasing information for thousands of resources.
•Maryland State Department of Education ELA Resources
The Maryland Department of Education site provides full text and clarifications of the standards, along with lesson plans, sample assessments, and other resources.
•Maryland State Department of Education Math Resources
The Maryland Department of Education site provides full text and clarifications of the standards, along with lesson plans, sample assessments, and other resources.
•Math Common Core Coalition
The Math Common Core Coalition provides links to teaching resources, assessments, and professional development for CCSS Math.
ReadWriteThink is a program jointly developed by the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and Verizon Thinkfinity. It provides free lesson plans, interactives, mobile apps, and other resources for teachers and parents. Lesson plans are aligned to the NCTE standards and state Common Core standards, and can be browsed by grade level and topic.
•Share My Lesson
Share My Lesson includes news, lessons, and tips to support both teachers and parents with respect to the CCSS.
•Student Achievement Partners
Student Achievement Partners is an independent non-profit founded by lead writers of the CCSS to help teachers implement the CCSS. Content on the site, including lessons, assessments, and professional development, was created by educators and is free for anyone to use or modify. You can also sign up to receive updates.
There are no ELL (English Language Learner) standards in the CCSS. Check out this blog for support navigating the ELL terrain.
Consultant Sunday Cummins blogs about close reading and non-fiction, two major shifts in the CCSS.
•Teaching the Core: A Non-Freaked Out Approach to the Common Core Standards
Teacher Dave Stuart has more than 100 blog posts about the CCSS in general, and about specific standards.
Who to Follow on Twitter
Follow these Tweeters for updates on Common Core issues:
Media for the Classroom
If you’re looking for something to bring into your classroom for media analysis and interpretation (or just plain fun), check out these radio shows, podcasts, and videos:
Hmmm…Krulwich on Science http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/
Science Friday http://sciencefriday.com/
TED talks http://www.ted.com/
Lexicon Valley http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/lexicon_valley.html
Selected Shorts http://www.selectedshorts.org/
The Moth Radio Hour http://themoth.org/
This American Life http://www.thisamericanlife.org/
Youth Radio http://www.npr.org/series/4692815/youth-radio
Freakonomics Radio http://freakonomics.com/radio/
Planet Money (Economics) http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/
Margaret W. Carruthers is an author, editor, and educational consultant, and has been developing curriculum materials for K-12 students and teachers for more than 10 years.