Digging Deep in the Common Core

As a teacher-consultant in the National Writing Project, I’ve been involved over the past several months in a number of initiatives at the national and state levels related to implementation of the Common Core Standards, which have been adopted by 40 states.

The national initiative involves a partnership between NWP and the Gates Foundation, which has developed a coalition of partners to create rich curriculum related to the Common Core based on target tasks and backwards-designed instruction.  The Massachusetts Writing Project team, with representatives from all three sites in the state, is one of five teams from around the country.  The others are from California, Idaho, Kentucky, and Michigan. 

Our team decided to focus on just one task, an explanatory/synthesis prompt, to try to build modules (units) around it for grades 6-12.  The idea behind this vertical alignment was to develop curricula that would show a progression of skills through the secondary grades.  The work has been hard because it seeks to make visible and explicit all of the thinking that goes into sequencing instruction as well as the criteria for assessing students’ work on “mini-tasks” that lead to the ultimate goal (in this case, an essay).  We will be meeting soon with the other NWP teams to share our work, and we’re eager to see how they are approaching the work.  One of the topics I know we will be considering is the professional development potential of this process.

At the state level, I’ve been a member of a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education panel reviewing the standards and recommending Massachusetts additions to the Common Core, which the Board of Education approved last month.  Among the additions are literary concepts in the reading standards, a broader range of genres in the writing standards, and a set of guiding principles that introduce the whole framework.  Representative of the three Massachusetts Writing Project sites will come together for a weekend retreat later this month to develop a better understanding of the new standards and to figure out what kinds of professional development we can provide to help teachers and schools implement them successfully.  We know that “standards alignment” can mean little more than running through a checklist to make sure everything is “covered.”  We hope to go much deeper than that.

Please share your experiences with the new standards.  How are they being presented in your school?

2 thoughts on “Digging Deep in the Common Core

  1. Leslie Skantz-Hodgson

    The timing of the state’s adoption of the CommonCore standards dovetails nicely with the need at my school to revise our English curriculum and create a curriculum map. Thanks for your help with this, Bruce. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

  2. Bruce Penniman Post author

    Thanks, Leslie. Thinking through adoption of these new standards is certainly a journey!

Comments are closed.