With the Common Core State Standards staring everyone in the face, many districts are left scrambling to either (1) purchase “Common Core certified” materials or (2) adapt their old materials for the Common Core. In general, I prefer the latter. Simply purchasing a new series could most likely lead to teachers “doing the same thing” but with new materials, treating the series as if it is the curriculum when it is just a tool or resource. Furthermore, it is obvious that publishers have rushed their products to market in an effort to cash in on the new standards. (I’m surprised that our cafeteria milk has yet to be Common Core approved.)
When rolling out Common Core professional development in a subject such as Language Arts, it could be advantageous to focus on the current series, as this is where most teachers are comfortable. Then, discuss how to reinvent the series in order to meet the needs of the Common Core and higher-order thinking.
At a recent building-based professional development session, we took the following steps:
- We modeled best practice by starting with (and constantly referring back to) our essential question, “How can fewer questions lead to a deeper understanding?”
- Staff members were presented with about half of a story from the current Language Arts series and given time to answer a handful of the comprehension questions that come with the teacher manual.
- Staff members discussed, “How deep does the student’s understanding of the text have to be in order to correctly answer these questions?” In other words, we wanted teachers to “uncover” the conclusion that questions from the series do not necessarily promote higher-order thinking. After, we hammered home this point with slides that showed that all of the answers could be found in the text without any inferential thinking whatsoever.
- Staff members were assigned the following task: Using an upcoming story from the Language Arts series, create at least three higher-order questions that enable students to demonstrate deeper understanding. Then, think about how you can structure classroom activity around these questions. (In other words, replace several thin questions with three thick questions, and then develop a classroom activity based on these three questions.)
The session included a bit more, such as an overview of Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, but the above steps were the central focus of what was accomplished.
By starting with the “old” series and working from there, Common Core professional development can meet participants within their comfort zones. As a result, successful change is more likely to occur. At the same time, the Common Core will not be seen as just another series that needs to be taught, but as a new set of practice and content standards that should be implemented with help from available tools and resources.
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