As we near the final deadlines for the Common Core State Standards alignment, teachers are exploring new methods for implementing the curriculum that prove most beneficial for their students. In doing so, teachers are looking at teaching methods as well as non-traditional collaboration opportunities to boost student engagement and achievement.

Co-teaching and collaboration options hold great promise in implementing the curriculum changes and improving student achievement. It’s time for the Common Core and collaboration. When thinking about implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teachers have a choice to make:

  1. Resist the standards and complain.
  2. Include the standards and get by.
  3. Embrace the standards and dazzle.

Can you guess which option I am clinging to? And as I continue to read and learn, I find that I am embracing the CCSS with more passion and determination than ever before. This brings me to think about my upcoming school year.

I will be co-teaching with four different co-teachers (math, science, social studies, and English). That’s a lot of content and a lot of personalities for one person (namely me) to take on, weave in, balance out, and collaborate with in order to meet the needs of all learners each day. In addition, I will be teaching solo for one period of study skills (that’s a perfect time for me to reinforce the content, process, and strategies to guide independent life-long learners).

There’s a lot to think about as I begin to plan ahead. The instructional shifts driven by the Common Core are enough to make general education teachers’ heads spin. But what does it mean for a special education teacher?

The Common Core and special education

The Council for Exceptional Children provides ongoing articles and updates (based on research) to support that students with varying abilities are capable of reaching higher levels of achievement than was once thought possible. The trick comes as we strive to update the mindsets of administrators, teachers and families (as well as the personal belief systems of the students) about the capabilities of diverse learners.

Typically, a student with a learning disability is viewed through a deficit lens. The fact that he has difficulty reading and writing becomes a priority for teachers to address. Yet, in what direction does this priority go? Is he supported in a way that encourages independent, higher level thinking (that the CCSS demands) or is he supported in a way that focuses on his deficits—emphasizing his disability and dependence?

Enter special education. Teachers must make sure that supports are scaffolded in ways that allow students to become empowered by what they can do—rather than disenchanted by their areas of need. I’m reminded of a former student, Andrew. He could not decode or read fluently. In addition, he could not write in complete sentences using traditional paper and pencil methods. His Individualized Education Plan (IEP) stated that he must have text read to him, and he needed a scribe for all writing assignments.

Does this sound about right? Personally, it makes me cringe just thinking about it. Sure Andrew’s needs were met, but only for the moment. He learned to be completely dependent on others to gather information and express his thoughts. How, I ask you, could this student meet the high expectations of the Common Core? More importantly, how could he apply this to his future life and the need to become an independent learner?

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