When the Common Core State Standards were rolled out in Colorado in 2010, it was a challenge. At first, my colleagues and I at Doull Elementary in southwest Denver struggled to understand this monumental change. We read the documents, pored over the appendices and wrestled with the terminology. Teachers sat around lunch tables debating the merits of each standard. We wondered whether students could meet these new, much higher expectations, and we discussed how to best explain the changes to families.
Some of my peers predicted that Common Core would be a flash in the pan, yet another silver bullet soon to be abandoned in favor of the next shiny new approach to closing the achievement gap. After teaching under the Common Core standards for two years, I have a different view. The more I teach under Common Core, the more I love it.
The initial confusion over the meaning of the Common Core standards turned out to be a blessing. The discussions that my colleagues and I had while parsing their meaning made us better teachers.
I remember one planning period spent dissecting a single reading standard stating that students will “distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text.” We asked ourselves: What does it look like when third-graders “distinguish their own point of view”? We had to break it down. What concepts would students need to understand to meet this standard? We jotted down our ideas: They would have to be able to distinguish between fact and opinion, to identify word choices suggesting an author’s bias and to understand the intended effect of the images an author selects. One teacher looked up examples of exemplar y student writing online. We searched for sample questions that assessed the standard.
It struck me that the work we were doing as teachers mirrored the work that we ask of students under Common Core. The learning took place in the struggle, just as it does for our students, and our in-depth exploration of the standards made us better teachers. We engaged in a collaborative discussion, analyzed information from multiple sources and supported our conclusions with evidence, all of which is expected of students under Common Core. And ultimately, we — the teachers — decided how to best teach our students to “distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text.”
In thick blue marker in our school’s library, someone wrote: “If you’re not struggling, you’re not learning.” The Common Core State Standards are new, different and challenging. But it is in the struggle that our teachers define what meaningful instruction looks like. And it is in the struggle that our students discover, explore and make their own learning meaningful.
By Kyle Schwartz, teaches third grade at Doull Elementary School in Denver.
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