Tag Archives: Pathways to Common Core

“Common Sense” and the Common Core

Remember the old game of telephone?  A small group would be sitting in a line or circle.  The first person would whisper a sentence to their neighbor.  The sentence would be repeated in whispers one at a time.  The last person would say the sentence out loud and everyone would be “shocked” that the message had completely morphed.  It was unrecognizable and often had zero connection to the original message!

Take a deep breath, exhale slowly!

Now think of the “last thing” that you heard about the Common Core that “riled” you up.  What was your role?

  • Did you ask clarifying questions?
  • Did you repeat what you heard verbatim?
  • Did your listener hear the same message?

Take a second deep breath!  Exhale even more slowly this time!

Think about that “irksome” idea(s) from the Common Core.  Did you fact check it yourself?   Have you read the notes in the sidebars alongside the Common Core Anchor Standards in search of the “truth” about what the Core says?   If you have the Core in a Word document, it is easy to “search” for those specific ideas and phrases that seem to be problematic.

I can easily become embroiled in conspiracy theories about the forces behind the Common Core, but I choose not to even go there with this topic.  For me, “common sense instruction” and the Common Core is about:

  1.  Taking a step back
  2.  Listening to the question, complaint, concern
  3.  Consulting the document for the answer (evidence)
  4. Verifying/clarifying my knowledge with multiple sources
  5. Considering the benefits for increased student learning

This process allows me to move forward on a daily basis as I work to increase my own understanding and help teachers implement the Common Core.  As a “thinking” educator, I believe that the potential for increased student learning is limitless under the Common Core, and I want to be a part of implementation with high expectations and high quality instruction!

Is the Common Core perfect?  Of course not!  However, our students now have the possibility of the same K-12 goals in English Language Arts across the majority of our country.  A child with mobile parents may have some consistency in their education for the first time in the history of our country.  For children of military families, this new possibility may even make it easier for families to travel from base to base as a family unit.

Implementation of the Common Core is not going to be easy.  Some teachers are being asked to “change” the content they are teaching to more closely align with the content of the Core so students are College and Career Ready.  Yet, the “HOW” and the art of teaching is inevitably up to each and every teacher every day in every classroom across our country.

I continue to look for the good and “the gold” in the Common Core (Thank you, Lucy, Mary and Chris for Pathways to Common Core!).  Some days it may be a bit tarnished, but it’s there!  Keep digging!  Use your own close reading and research skills to unearth it!

Choose the positive!  Choose knowledge and common sense!

Are my students reading enough?

A common question from teachers is:  Are my students reading enough?  How much should my students be reading across the school day as we implement the Common Core?

“Volume of Reading” was the subject of my last blog post where I posed a question about how much text a second grader should be reading daily in order to “accelerate learning” to meet the demands of the Common Core.  This question began with information presented by Lucy Calkins in Chicago, January 25, 2013 titled Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement and sponsored by Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

“Real learning requires an honest assessment of current reality.  The best teachers understand this and, consequently, they are never completely satisfied.” This quote comes from High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching by Jim Knight (p. 9), a book I am reading for our Wednesday night (9 pm CST) #educoach Twitter chat.

A simple course of action might be:

  1.  Honestly assess current reality of “Volume of Reading”
  2.  Review schedule / organizational framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading”
  3. Set a goal
  4.  Implement the plan with additional re-purposed time
  5. Set measurement times to collect formative data to determine whether “on course” to achieve the target

But just how would one go about completing step 1) honestly assessing the current reality of Volume of Reading?  Beginning mid-year in grade 1, teachers could consider using the process outlined below.

Use current assessment data to choose ONE student from each of the following three categories:  a high, medium and struggling reader.  The struggling reader for this data activity should not be a student identified as a student with an IEP or a student who does not have English as their first language.

Pick a day this week that seems to have a fairly normal schedule of activities (without special assemblies, field trips, etc.)  On this one day, collect the text read by those students.

What could that look like?  Give each of the three children their own color of arrow post its.  Tell them you are conducting an experiment and they are going to help you.

When the day begins, meet with those three students and give them their post its.  Ask them to mark their starting and ending points when reading with the post its.  Give them a hand signal as a “special prompt’ to remind them to mark their reading.  Put a special basket or tub next to their desk or work area for them to place their books after tagged with the arrows.

Collect beginning and ending arrows for these students for text “read” during the day. If your students are reading text online, you will have to devise a recording system that is “doable” on your devices, browser, and documents (transferring to Word would be advantageous because “word count” could automatically give you total words read).

At the end of the day, count the words read and add up the totals by the individual students according to the scheduled activity.

Your list / data chart might look something like:

Reading – Student 1 ____ words; Student 2 _____ words; Student 3 _____ words

Science – Student 1 _____ words; Student 2 _____ words; Student 3 _____ words

Initial questions for your data:

  • How many total words did Students 1, 2, and 3 read?
  • Were there any surprises in the data?
  • When did the big “chunks” of reading occur?
  • Was this honestly a “typical” day of reading for your class?
  • How accurate do you believe that the students were in recording their “start” and “stop” points?
  • (Additional questions will come from your data)

Please note that I did not say this would be easy!  Data collection is often messy and time-consuming. And why three levels?  If you are differentiating instruction and/or using leveled books, it is possible that the number of words read will vary due to different texts or assignments with text over the course of the day. And also note that this is my idea based on previous “counts” encouraged by Richard Allington as we look at students accumulated reading across every day.  I did NOT say or imply that Lucy Calkins said to collect this data.

What’s next?

Move on to step 2. Review schedule / organizational framework for minutes that can be re-purposed for “Volume of Reading”

How could this information guide your instruction? What could / would you do differently after collecting this data?

Common Core: A Promise? A Failure?

The choice is yours.  Is the glass half full?  Half empty?


Photo credit: Jim_sama (Creative Commons)

Last week Lucy Calkins said to a room full of educators, “We are at the intersection of promise, opportunity and public education.”*  That view allows you to see the “gold” in the Common Core.  

In many cases, the Common Core is a wake-up call.  How will YOU respond to the instructional challenge?

If you embrace the instructional design of the English Language Arts  Core and look for the “good” within, you can see that the ELA  K-12 Anchor Standards contain the promise of success for students that will accelerate student learning through the progression of grade level standards.  The Common Core provides the “what” for students across the U.S.(for students in those states who have adopted the Core) and leaves the “how” totally up to teachers, principals, school districts and state departments of education.

If you believe the instructional design of the Core ELA Anchor Standards is “half empty,” you may think that nonfiction is now more important than literature.  Or you may think that there is a specific list of books for students to read. It is also possible that you believe the Common Core is equally as bad or even worse than No Child Left Behind.

Your beliefs shape your actions and your attitude towards the ELA Common Core. A deep understanding and knowledge of the Common Core can lead to decisions that will benefit the students in your sphere of influence.

Where does your information about the Common Core come from?  Do you choose to consult those teachers and researchers who have deeply studied the Common Core and who have actually dug into the work of implementation?  Or because the Common Core will involve change, do you choose to find only those “naysayers” who list all the “blemishes and imperfections” of the Core? Or have you taken a third stance as you sit on the fence contemplating both sides of the Common Core coin? (Or have you made a different choice?)

What you believe will shape your attitude and affect your students if you live in a state that has adopted the Common Core.

If we continue to maintain the status quo, without change, here is the impact based on historical trends shared by Lucy Calkins:

  • “From a group of 100 ninth graders, only 19 will graduate from college. More students will go to prison than those who will graduate from college.
  •  Information growth from 1997 to 2002 was as great as the rest of all the previous years of civilization.
  •  In the U.S. 85% of the jobs used to require basic literacy skills so the 15% of high school students who had debate club and AP classes were often only those college bound students. Employers are currently asking for employees with high levels of literacy – up to  85% of the jobs will require higher literacy skills. That is what the Common Core is calling for – up to 85% of all the students to have the opportunity for debate club and AP classes.
  • Students need a good school that has a cohesive approach to quality literacy. It is no longer “okay” to have an isolated, quality teacher at one or two grade levels.”*

(*Presentation titled Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Student Achievement, Lucy Calkins, 01/25/2013. Chicago, IL: New York Teachers College: TRWP.)

The choice is yours.  Do you choose to believe that the instructional design of the ELA Common Core is a “promise for accelerating achievement?”  Or do you choose to believe it is a failure?  What does your decision say about you and your outlook on life?  What are the implications for your students?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

NEED More Information?

For more information about Lucy Calkin’s work at New York Teachers College click here.

For a link to the book, Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement click here(Scroll down on the Heinemann link and you can read the Introduction, and Chapters 1 and 2 for free!)

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