As educators work to implement the Common Core State Standards, a continuous effort has been made to understanding precisely what the new standards entail. There’s been significant analysis, commentary, and, ultimately, adoption by the vast majority of states.
While this effort is producing results and providing educators with a clearer understanding of the Common Core Initiative, a group of education professionals believes the inquiry is asking the wrong question. Instead of asking WHAT, these experts believe education professionals should be asking HOW?
We believe that a more important question is, How? After all, the Common Core State Standards avoid offering any specific guidance to teachers on how the standards should be taught. And rightfully so. A static document designed to enumerate and organize standards would be a poor resource for teachers looking for insightful or practical ways to improve instruction and deepen student learning in their own unique classrooms.
If we respond to the question of “how” by focusing exclusively on outcomes or forthcoming assessments and not on how we teach and how our students learn, then we’ll never achieve the aspirations of the Common Core. We’ll be in danger of once again teaching to the test instead of focusing on developing the skills and habits students will need for future success.
In our work and discussions with teachers and administrators throughout the country, a common refrain we hear about the Common Core is one of commitment blended with a healthy amount of anxiety. The determination of so many educators genuinely interested in preparing all of their students for success in college and 21st century careers and beyond is tempered by uncertainty surrounding the Common Core—with limited resources and time, how do teachers “teach the Common Core” and prepare all of their students for the future?
This is why we like to think of the Common Core State Standards, and especially the standards for English language arts, as a tapestry. A tapestry carefully woven together with common threads of core skills that all students need to develop at every grade level and in every content area. These core skills include evaluating and using evidence, comprehending rigorous texts, contributing meaningfully to discussions, identifying patterns and structures, using academic vocabulary in speaking and writing, writing in key genres (e.g., argument, informative, narrative), and thinking comparatively, among others.
So, how should teachers address the Common Core? Take comfort—good teaching is still good teaching. And effective instruction focused on these important skills has always been critical to the success of all of our students. The key, then, is to approach the Common Core strategically by focusing on the common skills and using the best instructional practices to teach and develop those skills.
In our quest to identify a manageable set of practical strategies to address Common Core skills, we rediscovered a half-dozen particularly powerful strategies, which we call “The Core Six”:
- Reading for Meaning.
- Compare & Contrast.
- Inductive Learning.
- Circle of Knowledge.
- Write to Learn.
- Vocabulary’s CODE.
Harvey F. Silver is president of Silver Strong & Associates and Thoughtful Education Press. He has conducted numerous workshops for schools, districts, and state education organizations throughout the United States. With the late Richard Strong, he developed The Thoughtful Classroom—a renowned professional development program dedicated to “making students as important as standards.”
R. Thomas Dewing has spent more than 35 years in public education as an elementary and middle school teacher, principal, instructional coordinator, and educator of gifted students. He has also taught education courses at National Louis University and North Central College.
Editor’s note: The Core Six is available in print and e-book formats in the ASCD Online Store. You can also continue the learning by enrolling inThe Core Six: Teaching with the Common Core State Standards in Mind: An ASCD PD Online Course and Silver’s free July 18 webinar.