Monday, May 13, 2013


The Common Core State Standards.  

What do you think about them?

As part of a Teacher Inquiry Group which I co-facilitated in 2011 and 2012, we delved into the mysteries of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), critically examining the document itself, as well as several other documents, videos, and resources.

The details of our exploration of the CCSS, as well as the resources that we found helpful or thought-provoking are outlined in the previous post, Common Core Explorations-Part 1.

As preparation for our group session on the CCSS, we each wrote an individual response to the following prompt:
Respond to the CCSS in terms of your overall feelings about the entire document as well as your response to the levels with which you are most familiar. What strikes you as a dominant characteristic? What are you pleased to see? What surprises you about the Core Standards? What is missing? What is there that you feel shouldn’t be?
My  initial response (written in December 2011) is below:

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) read in one sitting are daunting and overwhelming just by the sheer volume of detail included.   

It is immediately obvious that informational texts in reading and writing have taken center stage in this document, although, despite what I keep hearing, there is still a place for narrative, and also a balance between the two types of texts through middle school.  

 By grade 12, however, the field is skewed----- 70% informational and 30% literary texts in reading, and 80% informational texts (persuasive and explanatory) in writing and 20% only to convey experiences.

At the time I  set out to read the Common Core Standards, I was also reading Teaching Argument Writing by George Hillocks, who makes a distinction between persuasive writing and argumentation. He defines persuasive writing as having a single purpose—that of convincing--- it is demonstrated in propaganda and advertising.  Persuasive writing often
appeals to emotions, using the most favorable evidence, and also style to convince.

According to Hillocks, on the other hand: 
...argument is mainly about logical appeals and involves claims, evidence, warrants, backing and rebuttals... (He sees).. argument at the heart of critical thinking and academic discourse.(xvii)
As I read his explanations I don’t quite see this logical aspect included in the CCSS, although the language of evidence, claims, and such is used.  Reasons (language that is also used ) are not always evidence and don’t have to be proven logically.  

Are we confusing students? Or am I confused?

I am pleased to see recognition of the fact that all teachers need to be teaching both reading and writing.  I am also pleased to see that disciplinary-specific reading and writing is called for, acknowledging that there are specialized vocabularies, structures, and genres associated with specific disciplines.

The statement that gives me comfort and that I intend to hold onto as we enter this new era of nationalized standardization is the following, which states clearly that this document is designed to outline results---not define the means in which we achieve these results:

By emphasizing required achievements, the standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed. Thus, the Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of metacognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning.  Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards (CCSS -page 4)

Disappointingly,  the CCSS do not at all deal with realities we face daily:  the needs for intervention,  and acceleration, support for English language learners or students with other  special needs, and those additional readiness elements not defined by simple reading, writing, speaking and listening goals. 

 I believe those “other readiness goals”  are described in the Framework for Post Secondary Writing as Habits of Mind that we want students to have no matter what they are learning, reading or writing.  

This document indicates that the way we achieve the Habits is by writing, reading and thinking critically and, as an aside, the word thinking seems glaringly absent from the CCSS--or was that just my own perception?

Curious about the suggested exemplar texts, I perused Appendix B. There does seem to be wide range of texts in each of three categories--- stories (which includes novels and short fiction), informational texts, and poetry).   The texts selected seem to be a combination of classic texts that we have all used over the years, as well as newer texts--particularly in the information categories. 

At my most recently familiar level the novels seem a bit hard for the average student—they are the ones we would have read aloud—only some students would have been able to read these independently. 

Read-aloud selections are indicated as well for each category of texts, through grades 2-3—this feature drops out at the levels above this.  I believe this is unfortunate-- I believe reading aloud has its place at all levels. Part of reading is hearing texts, hearing the language and structures and word choices.

Performance tasks are included at each level for each category of text.
For most texts a snippet of is given to show the level and complexity of the text.

My questions after this initial digging into the Core:

  • How will this  be implemented?
  • How scripted will the curriculum guides be? 
  • Will administrators take the suggested lists as requirements and make these texts mandatory whether appropriate or not?. 
  • Will subject matter in the content areas remain the same with the new reading and writing goals overlayed?

Will teachers have input into what all of this looks like?

Will it last? 

Or will it be gone like like other standards and assessments-- the dead proficiency test replaced by the OAA and the OGT  (all Ohio assessments), with the latter now being replaced by the SAT and exit examines?

Will it last?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

After reading the Common Core State Standards, what are you thinking?
What are your questions?

Write a reflection on how the CCSS will affect your teaching, your classroom and students and your community.

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