Common Sense for the Common Core | Mindsteps Inc.

Common Sense for the Common Core

There is a lot of fear mongering surrounding the Common Core Standards. As a result, many teachers and administrators are terrified that they will not be prepared to implement these standards by their 2014 deadline. What’s more, most Common Core training tends to make teaching the common core much more complicated than it has to be.

For the most part, we’ve stayed out of the Common Core debate, focusing our training and resources around what makes great teaching with the idea that good teaching is good teaching no matter what standards you are teaching to. But lately, many of the schools and districts where we are working have been so stressed out by the impending Common Core implementation that we have started providing training on how to effectively implement the Common Core Standards by using what you already know.

So far, the training has done a lot to calm folks down and show them how to implement the Common Core effectively. So, we thought that we would share some of the biggest take-aways from our training with our newsletter subscribers, just in case you too were starting to stress out about the Common Core. Here are 5 pieces of Common Sense Advice for the Common Core.

  • Unpack the Standards: There is a lot of training out there about what the Common Core standards are but very little on how to teach them. The first step is to unpack the standards. We’ve been showing teachers how to identify the thinking process (decision making, problem solving, invention, investigation, or hypothesis testing/experimental inquiry) demanded by each standard as fast way to unpack the standard and understand what kind of thinking it will ultimately demand from students.  See this month’s TIP Sheet  (available to newsletter subscribers exclusively) for explanations of each of these thinking processes).
  • Use the rigorous planning template: Once you’ve unpacked your standard and understand what thinking process is demanded by the standard, you are ready to plan a unit of instruction around the standard. We’ve helped teachers use our Rigorous Unit Planning Template to break each standard into a primary thinking process, its composite thinking skills, and to help teachers organize the key content, skills or concepts around these thinking processes and thinking skills. As a result, teachers know exactly what to teach and how to teach it. Not only that, but with the Common Core’s emphasis on real world applications, this template helps teachers think through ways to help students adapt what they have learned to real world contexts that extend the thinking students have been doing throughout the unit.
  • Focus on thinking and not on strategies: We’re seeing a lot of resources cropping up that tout “Common Core Strategies.” Strategies have their place, but if they are not carefully considered, they can distract from proper Common Core implementation by substituting a strategy for real thinking. First figure out the kind of thinking process that is demanded by the standard. Then, select strategies that will best help students apply that thinking process to the content.
  • Plan thinking first, then content: Many teachers want to jump right to planning content but that is a mistake for several reasons. For one, if you don’t understand how you ultimately want students to think about the content, it is hard to determine how to teach the content. And two, the thinking process demanded by the standard will give you clues about how you need to organize the content so that you not only cover content, you can ensure that students actually understand it. So, focus on the thinking you want students to do first. Then organize the content by the thinking skills you are teaching. That way, the content will make much more sense and you will have an easy structure to organize content and ensure that you cover it the way that it needs to be covered.
  • Don’t over think it: Because of the pervasive anxiety around the Common Core, many teachers are over-thinking and over-planning. This not only increases anxiety, it yields lesson plans that are cumbersome and often miss the mark. Instead, start by unpacking the standards. Spend your time really trying to understand the thinking process demanded by each standard. That will be the hardest part. Once you understand what thinking process is demanded by the standard, the rest of planning becomes progressively easier. Invest your efforts unpacking the standard.

What does this look like in a school? Read our Case Study to find out.