Saturday, October 5, 2013

How have the Common Core Standards changed my teaching?

Lately I have been reading negative press about the Common Core Standards and it has left me a little perplexed.  I honestly feel that my teaching got the boost that it needed when I started teaching the standards last year.  I finally felt that I had some say in what and how I taught and it made me feel excited.

Maybe I have felt this way because my county invested in its teachers and gave them the opportunity to map out our curriculum over time.  I happened to be a member of the first grade team that took the standards and wrote Manatee county's Roadmaps and Overviews.  I participated in collegiate conversations daily about what it should look like, why it should look like that and how to make it happen.  The members of the team got to use the research that we have learned from and been changed by and make it come alive.  We took the research and knowledge we learned from Marie Clay, Richard Allington, Ellin Oliver Keane, Susan Zimmerman, Debbie Miller, Lucy Calkins and so many more and got it into the hands of our students.

I taught the CC curriculum last year and I was surprised by what my students were able to do with an increased curriculum.  Before last year, I thought I was giving my students the best there was. But after last year, I learned that in my previous years teaching we could have accomplished more. 

I think so many people have been negative about it because it is hard to change....and it is a very huge change.  You have to change your thinking about what you think students can do and realize the bar we have set should be non-existent.  You have to hone your craft daily.  You have to push yourself to learn more than you ever thought possible.  You have to research like crazy and you have to try it on and get all mucky. 

So here is a list of what I have learned:

-You must understand the continuum of reading, writing and math.  You must know what steps to take with a student.  If the student knows _____, then I can stretch them with ______.

-You must know how to assess a student's understanding giving him or her many opportunities and different ways always keeping in mind what the student can do.

-You must give up your one-size-fits-all and find creative ways to differentiate.  Whether it be your questioning, your small groups, your have to meet every student where they are.

-You must be able to give over power and let the students figure it out.  Teachers should not be doing most of the work.  As a teacher you need to be quick and effective in your teaching and then you need to let the students try it on - because the point is that they can apply what you've taught.  That means less teacher talk and more focused lessons that are to the point.

- If you work with students that aren't achieving grade level standards then you need to make every second count.  You need to work from where they are while exposing them to where they need to be.  It is the most difficult work you will do with the biggest reward.

-You must be resourceful.  So many people rely on published programs (basal readers, math series, etc.). Guess what - for the most part those are one size fits all.  Not to mention, the students are not responsible for what real readers, writers and mathematicians do.  Getting your hands on literature, anchor charts, math resources that stretch you to have the students inquiring, solving, applying and ultimately not filling in the blank will be so powerful.

-You must work as a team because this is the HARDEST work you will ever do.

-You must give your students valuable feedback that will move them on.  Negativity is not welcomed when giving a student feedback - they will just shut down.

-You must be thoughtful with your language:  "Tell me more about that." "How did you come up with that?"  "What are you thinking?"  "Why do you agree/disagree with...?"  "Show me where you found that evidence."  "What are your goals as a reader/writer/mathematician?  How will you make that happen?"  Again its all about students doing the work.  Stop rescuing them and start propelling them forward.

-You will push students past their comfort zone and be their cheerleader along the way.  Every child deserves to come to school and be loved for who they are, flaws and all.  Remember that they didn't choose the things that have happened in their life but they have had to live it.  BUT, at school, they don't have to live with all the stuff that weighs them down. 

-You have to create an atmosphere of safety because only then will the students be able to take risk and push themselves with more rigorous tasks.

-You must seek out professional development.  Read a book, meet with teachers from around your county, find classes that speak to your needs.  Focusing on one subject area at a time and making it the best it can be is manageable.  Being wonderful at all of them right away is probably not going to happen.

-You must set goals for yourself as an educator.  You must really look at your teaching and be able to be honest about it.  It's really hard to admit when you know something isn't working but the vitality you feel when you fix it is the reward.

-You must be able to speak to what you do with every minute of your day.  You will have to defend yourself more than once.  I've learned that my continued research stops almost all questions...I had to prove myself several times but now I have the respect from those I need it from.  And if not, I have research backing me up.

-You must know what to believe and when.  There are so many salespeople out there in many positions (most within the county you work in) and they will try to tell you how this or that should work.  Again I rely on my continued research and the mucky work that I do daily in honing my craft.

As an educator, I believe that the Common Core standards are an honest attempt to improve the quality of education that we provide. If you are interested in reading more about the actual guidelines for Common Core, I would suggest you start here:
These are just some thoughts from an educator that constantly looks to better herself for the sake of the students she teaches,


  1. Jen, you stated it beautifully and completely. Please consider sharing this post with our staff!

  2. love this Jen! I want to print this and put it in our staff room! Well, we don't have Common Core here of course, but your insights still apply. Well written.

  3. You were able to sum up exactly how I feel about the common core and teaching overall. Beautifully put!