Wednesday, October 31, 2012

CCSS and the Big Picture

            This summer I taught an online webinar on Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for High School for The Principal Center’s program titled Smarter Online Common Core Educator Roundtable (SOCCER.)   I approached the topic from the author’s point of view.    
Long before I committed to teach this webinar, I’d printed out the CCSS.  I fully intended to give the topic careful consideration.  I’d even thumbed through them several times.   I told myself I’d go through the standards and get a handle on what the fuss was all about.  But every time I looked at the thick stack of pages, I’d think about all the other things I needed to do and I’d do them instead.    
As the webinar date approached, I faced a very real deadline.  I had five hours of time to fill—one hour a day for five days.  There is nothing like a deadline to provide the necessary motivation.  I picked up my highlighter, ink pen, and the hefty stack of Common Core State Standards and went to work.    
When I begin research on a new book, initially I get a general understanding of the topic, and then I concentrate on specifics.  Studying the CCSS was the same way.  First I needed to understand the “big picture” of the Common Core.  I studied the standards, I compared the standards, I highlighted the standards, I made notes on the standards, I read the overviews, I consulted the exemplar texts—you get the picture.  After a while, I made sense of them.  By the time of the webinar, I could help others make some sense of them.  Maybe some of the “big picture” details I learned will help you too.
The CCSS were created to ensure that American high school graduates are prepared for college level work (without remedial classes) or the workforce.  Also to ensure that American students are prepared to compete in the global marketplace.   
Before the CCSS were put into place, education standards varied from state to state.  In our mobile society, common standards across the country were needed to make sure a student who moved from one state to another would not be left behind or be too far ahead academically.  Common standards were needed make sure every American student would receive the best education possible no matter where they live.  A student who attends school in a large city and a student who attends school in a small rural community both need a high quality education.  In order for students all across the country to receive the same quality education, the CCSS established what each of them should know by the time they graduate from High School.   The idea is that each student will learn the skill sets set forth in each grade level, which will be the foundation for the skills added the next year.  The standards for 11-12 grades represent the skills every American student should have when they graduate and go out into the world. 
According to the CCSS Myth vs. Fact page, the text complexity high school students are reading now does not match the text complexity they will face in college or the work place.   Therefore, the goal of the CCSS is to build a “staircase” of reading complexity throughout a student’s educational experience.    Reading informational text is needed to teach students how to do close reading of text, how to think deeply about the text, and how to participate in discussions to gain greater understanding of the text.
The CCSS do not dictate how a teacher teaches those skills.  The teachers and school systems will decide how they will teach these skills required by the CCSS.  Teachers will build lessons for their class just like they always have.  They will have the freedom to choose complex informational books that are appropriate for their classrooms.  Perhaps the biggest change for some is that CCSS requires every teacher to teach literacy alongside their content areas (this includes teachers of social studies, history, science and technical subjects).   
The CCSS brings with it a renewed focus on informational text.  The standards require teachers to use complex, literary nonfiction books in the classroom.  This is good news for those of us who write books that fit this need.  Perhaps now, amazing nonfiction books will take their rightful place in educating students to succeed in a nonfiction world.    
What do I think after studying the Common Core State Standards?  In a word:  WELCOME! 
Carla Killough McClafferty

1 comment:

Myra Zarnowski said...

I also approach CCSS from two perspectives--zooming out and zooming in. That is, we need the big picture of where we're going and the small snapshots of some of the small day-to-day pieces. For teachers, it's a dialog between yearly goals and the everyday experience. When we incorporate nonfiction into the classroom, we think about it from these perspectives. We're asking, How does the activity we're doing today contribute to a larger goal?