4 Things You Need to Know About the Common Core

Like a Spielberg epic, years in the making, the Common Core State Standards are probably premiering this year in a classroom near you. As with any big-screen blockbuster, many people want to know what it’s all about.

There’s no doubt about it, the Common Core is a big production. But it doesn’t need to produce big anxiety. We’ve compiled four insights from experienced Common Core teachers.

1. The Common Core doesn’t force teachers to teach the same things, the same way, at the same time.

A major misconception about the Common Core is that it specifies what teachers must teach. But it doesn’t specify the beginning of the teaching and learning process — just the end result: the knowledge and skills we want kids to master. “The Common Core is only a set of standards or objectives,” says Suzanne Forman, an English teacher from Winnetonka High School in Kansas City, MO. “It’s an alignment of learning outcomes.”

For example, here’s a Common Core writing standard for third graders: “Introduce the topic or text they are writing about, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure that lists reasons.” There are literally dozens of ways to teach this set of skills, and those decisions are entirely up to teachers and principals and the school districts in which they work.

The alignment idea Forman mentions is especially important. It will be so much easier for a third-grade teacher to help students meet that standard if kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers align their teaching to similar, well-sequenced supportive practices.

2. It’s all about integration.

“Teachers in different disciplines will have to work together in order to fully implement the standards,” says Glenn Kessinger, instructional facilitator for the Yakima School District in Yakima, WA. “Take the time you need to spend with colleagues to really delve into the standards in order to understand them and their implications. The Common Core is not just a tweaking of what we’ve been doing in the past.”

To deal with the shift, classroom doors need to open, teachers need to share what they do and everyone needs to coordinate efforts with their peers. As non-traditional as this is, it’s bound to be one of the best outcomes of the Common Core effort — for students, who get a more consistent experience of schooling, and for teachers, who learn more from each other.

3. Take all the state training you can get.

“The Common Core requires a meticulous level of planning but most schools don’t have the flexibility to schedule this,” says Tyauna Bruce, instructional specialist at Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill, MD. “Get any training your state system offers. My state is offering Common Core training throughout the summer in many counties on many different topics. And it’s free!”

There are other opportunities to discover what the Common Core is all about. In particular, check out the many Common Core preparation books for teachers, and investigate the availability of online professional development.

4. Teach the kids, not the Core.

“We have to keep in mind that we teach students, not standards,” says Jim Burke, Burlingame, CA–based teacher and author of The Common Core Companion. “We must listen to the kids, their needs and their interests so that the curriculum is responsive and serves as a means of ensuring engagement. If we just ‘teach the Core’ and not the kids, we miss the mark for want of a target.”

We hope this spoiler on Common Core gives you a better understanding of the big picture. Whether your state is involved in the Common Core or not, it’s definitely a show you won’t want to miss.

Steve Peha is the founder of Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., a North Carolina–based consultancy specializing in innovative approaches to educational change. In addition to working in hundreds of schools and teaching in thousands of classrooms, he is also an award-winning writer and educational software developer. Follow Steve on Google+.

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