Earlier this summer, I took a class in implementing non-fiction into the Common Core Curriculum. To be quite honest, the CCSS has never freaked me out too much, but after taking this course and listening to some of the concerns of the other teachers in the class, I began to think that maybe I should be worrying more, that maybe it was worse than I originally thought. Some of the concerns were that there were too many standards to teach, there is no time for creative writing, most literature has to be taken out of the curriculum to replace with non-fiction, among other worries, including the upcoming PARCC exams as well as OTES (to throw more acronyms into the mix).
I listened to some of the concerns with a growing sense of anxiety and worry, thinking maybe I was missing something with CCSS. Then, I took some time during the class to delve into the standards and pick apart what they were really saying, and I’m so glad I did. Do I have some concerns about CCSS? Of course. Do I feel they are perfect and will cure all that is wrong with education? Absolutely not. But, quite honestly, I appreciate an overriding idea behind CCSS-to streamline the standards. I am going to admit a dark secret; I never truly “got” the benchmarks and performance standards from the previous Ohio Content Standards. There were too many standards, sub-categories, benchmarks, etc., etc. and I could never fully wrap my brain around what “they” truly wanted. The documents were confusing, filled with educational jargon and ideas that were not tangible and were more theoretical in nature. I am an English teacher, so I taught my students to love (or try to love, in some cases) reading, how to write well, how to be creative and take risks, how to use technology and I gave them opportunities to present information to hone their public speaking skills. I taught what I knew students should be learning in an English class.
However, after looking more closely at the CCSS, I feel they are much more clear and easier to read and they have streamlined the previous confusing standards. Here are the three most important personal conclusions I’ve made about the CCSS so far:
- There is room for fiction in the CCSS Curriculum. Here is my philosophy: Teach the fiction pieces as well as the classics (being an E.D. Hirsch supporter, classics are imperative!), but supplement with non-fiction pieces. There are so many ways to do this, including articles and essays, such as Kelly Gallagher’s “Article of the Week”, or asking the students to bring in news stories which relate to the literature. Many ways to do this, but never take out the fiction. Fiction is what gives us, as a society, humanity and empathy. It also allows for imagination and creativity and, therefore, should never be taken out of a Language Arts Curriculum.
- There is room for creative writing in the CCSS Curriculum. The term “creative writing” is absent in all of the standards, but I feel the Narrative Writing mode allows for this and I’m going to use it as such! The standards ask that students have opportunities to, and I quote, “use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple story lines” as well as to use “precise words and phrases, telling details and sensory language”. That, to me, is double-speak for “creative writing”. I laugh, because it’s almost as if the writers of CCSS were too nervous to actually write the words “creative” and “writing” in the same sentence in the standards as if it would encourage frivolous behavior in a time of serious college and career readiness training! Students need to be creative and imaginative; it’s an integral part of being ready to go to post-secondary training or to work at a job or career. It’s how our society moves forward by implementing the ideas of others-how else would we have new technology or innovations? Think Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Google, Twitter, to name a few innovations and innovators. It’s okay, CCSS writers-my kids are going to be creative in class and they’ll be all the better for it.
- Students are going to have to learn to be better researchers and curators of information as a result of CCSS, as well as become better users of technology. This is so important to be college and career ready. Honestly, though students are “digital natives”, many are not great users of technology. Facebook? Check. Texting? Check. But to use technology to create and edit videos, to create presentations or to take risks using new tech or apps? Many students are not willing to do this without some guidance and support from teachers. Also, many students do not know there are any search engines or databases beyond “Google”; we, as teachers, need to show them how to reach beyond their comfort zones to become stronger researchers and creators through the use of technology. I believe the CCSS focuses on these skills by asking students to “gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources” and to avoid “plagiarism and over reliance on any one source”. Basically, it emphasizes stronger research and analytical skills, again, crucial in being successful in college and career.
I have a few more ideas in relation to CCSS, but I think I’ll save those for another post. While looking through the standards, I stumbled across a fantastic blog by Dave Stuart, Jr., a middle-school teacher in Michigan, who writes about the CCSS in a relaxed, “non-freaked out” way. It’s called “Teaching the Core” and he’s gone through the CCSS and has dissected them into layman’s terms, making it easy to truly understand them. The web address is: http://www.teachingthecore.com/ and I highly suggest taking a look, especially those who have many concerns about implementing CCSS into their classroom. It alleviated many of my fears and concerns.
Final thoughts: CCSS are a reality, so I personally need to spend more time looking at them and deciding how to best acclimate myself to them and use them to benefit my students. However, I also realize that as educators, we need to have confidence in our innate abilities as teachers to do what is best for our students and to give them the most valuable education we can; the CCSS are not going to do that for us. Instead, it’ll ultimately be our teaching skills and talents, as well as our empathy, patience and passion for teaching that will.