COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDSBy Deia Sanders
Master Teacher and Instructional Coach
Yes, we are seeing great teaching and new methods in the classroom thanks to the challenge of meeting the rigor of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and students are able to not only answer questions, but also discuss and communicate deeply on the process. But as an instructional coach, one of the most exciting changes I’m seeing is the improvement in our teachers.
I am in a district where we are currently teaching and writing units of study for ELA and mathematics. For anyone who has tackled this task, you know it’s a long road of pouring your heart, mind, and energy into creating something that almost immediately needs to be changed again. While it may be a daunting and frustrating task to some, it truly is inspiring to others. The growth we’ve seen in our teacher teams tasked with writing these units is unbelievable. They’ve become experts at teaching, merging, researching, and developing ideas, practices, and lessons. We’ve gone from a culture that simply taught the curriculum handed to them on a pacing guide they were forced to keep, to one in which we not only let kids explore and guide the pace of learning, but the methods we use to teach are ones that we’ve had conversations with grade levels below and above to know the level to begin and end the content on.
We no longer make a lesson plan from a guide in a book. We are sitting down with the standards, the Model Content Frameworks, viewing videos, looking at practices, pulling resources, looking at prototypes, writing tasks based on prototypes, talking to other grade levels, creating our own materials, etc.—each lesson is a research project that although may be exhausting, the process creates a true expert that stands in front of kids to teach and facilitate the learning.
When I entered a class last year and the teacher said “we’re just reading today,” it was always just that. This year when I enter a class and they are “just reading,” it’s amazing. The kids are reading alright, but they are charting characters and their traits, making inferences and notes as they read, and coming together on deep discussions on anything from the plot of the book or chapter to if “grandpa” is a character or not because they haven’t had interaction with him yet. Yes, 11-year-olds using the word “interact” to describe a personal experience with a text—and this is “just reading.” In math, the kids are exploring, teaching, developing methods, sharing, and discovering unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The lessons differentiate themselves because almost everything they do is a visual or conversational formative assessment that drives their next step.
I’m thankful for the CCSS and excited about what it’s doing for our students. But the process of digging into the CCSS and expectations of the assessment has created unmatched job-embedded professional development. This experience has taken my colleagues and me from teachers to experts in our field, and that is going to have an unmatched impact on our students!