Case Study: Rigor and the Common Core | Mindsteps Inc.

Case Study: Rigor and the Common Core

This summer, John (Our Vice President) called one of our clients to schedule some workshops for the year. We’d worked with this particular school district for several years and were familiar with some of their needs, but as is always a part of our process, we asked them to share with us what their current challenges were so that we could customize our work to directly address their needs. As soon as John asked this question, Diane, our contact sighed.

“It’s this Common Core. It’s got everyone stressed out. We are planning on a 2014 implementation date but we are so far from being ready.”
“What’s keeping you from being ready?” John asked.
“Well, we’re providing a lot of training to teachers to help them understand the new standards and we have started training them on things like how to use non-fiction texts and how to cultivate some of the higher-order thinking that the new standards demand, but it’s so disjointed. Personally, I think all this training is making it worse instead of better. But, I don’t know what else to do. We’re not ready.”
“Let me get Robyn on the phone,” John suggested. “Together, we might be able to help you tease this out.”

Once Robyn joined the call, she asked a few more questions, listened to Diane’s responses, and then suggested,

“Diane, we’ve been working with your teachers, coaches, and administrators for the last 2 years on developing rigorous units and lessons. I think the best thing to do would be to build on that work. Otherwise, we lose the ground we’ve gained on the rigor front and the Common Core feels like another initiative added on. Besides, I think that rigor can actually help teachers manage the new standards a lot more easily.”

Robyn, John, and Diane talked for a few more minutes and developed a plan for the year. First, we held sessions with the instructional coaches and teacher leaders tasked with preparing teachers for the Common Core to show them how to help teachers unpack the standards. Many of the district’s curriculum writers joined the training so that they could build in thinking processes in the curricular support materials they were preparing. Next, we held workshops with teachers where they brought their common core standards and worked together by subject area and grade level with our coaches to unpack them in terms of the thinking processes demanded by each standard. The teachers were already used to planning rigorous units using our templates so this was familiar territory for them. Using this process really helped them feel that the standards much more clear and accessible.

The next phase of the work is to work with coaches and teachers to help teachers plan rigorous units around the common core. We’ll supplement by providing instructional strategies that directly build the kinds of thinking demanded by the standards and help teachers incorporate these into their plans. And, we will train instructional coaches on how to maintain this work in schools beyond our training. We’ll also train administrators on how to observe and provide feedback about common core implementation and help them develop a professional development and roll-out plan they can use at their individual schools. By the end of the school year, teachers will have unpacked all the common core standards for their grade level or subject area, developed and implemented several rigorous units using those Common Core Standards that directly align with their current standards (since their students are still required to take their state’s assessments). They will also have a plan for implementing even more Common Core Standards in the coming school year.

By 2014, our goal is that teachers will have unit plans for each Common Core Standard they are responsible for teaching as well as rigorous instructional practices that help them teach each standard with fidelity. Already, we are seeing an increase in student achievement in terms of passing rates on the current state test and increased thinking in the classroom.

Do you have a plan for preparing for the Common Core? If you need additional resources to help you, check out our book How to Plan Rigorous Instruction which takes you step-by-step through the rigorous planning process. You can also access our free rigor webinar as a way to introduce rigor to your staff or watch our tutorial that takes you through how to plan a rigorous unit using a Common Core standard. We will post more resources between now and January to help you with transitioning to the Common Core so continue to check out our resource page each month to get more resources.

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