Teaching the Common Core Standards Means Designing Real and Engaging Learning Experiences

If you are designing real and engaging learning experiences for your students, then you are probably already teaching the Common Core Standards.

Regardless of what you call it, good teaching is good teaching. The Common Core Standards are not new when you look at them carefully. They are refreshing. There, I’ve said it. I didn’t always feel that way. At first, I was overwhelmed at the sight of them, and hoped that they, like other “trends” in education, would go away before we were forced to implement them. That was three years ago. Things have changed since then. I have come to learn that implementing these standards means that I am living up to my obligation as a 21st century educator by providing my students opportunities to learn and think in the “real world,” not in preparation for “the real world.” Remember, as Dewey warns, “Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” We cannot teach students everything they need to know. We can, though, inspire our students to question everything, to want to continue to learn and seek education. I am convinced that if you are growing, stretching, keeping students at the center of what you do, and staying relevant as an educator, that you are probably already teaching the CCSS.

What does transitioning to Common Core mean for the teacher? Student? Curriculum? These standards allow for flexibility where before there was prescription. They demand that teachers think, dig deep, and make connections. They also shift the focus to what students should know to what students should be able to do. I do not want teachers to embrace these standards because they are mandated, or handed down by “the man/woman,” but because they recognize the why behind them.

What is the why behind them? Why is it important for students to provide sound evidence in an argument? Why is it important to learn how to write and publish your work for a public audience? Why is it important to prepare for and participate in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing your own clearly and persuasively? Why is it important to connect dots across disciplines, teaching literacy across the board, allowing students to explore topics they find interesting? The answer to all of these questions is because that is good teaching — good teachers design real and engaging learning experiences.

I am against teaching these standards in isolation, and in a linear fashion.To say, today we are going to learn about such and such standard is silly, and unengaging. It is similar to taking the 16 Habits of Mind, and saying today, in isolation, we are going to learn about persistence or looking at the world with wonderment and awe. How could this be designed to be more real and engaging?

I recently read the article, “Why the Common Core Could Bring the End of One-Size-Fits-All Learning.” A couple of things come to mind. Here it states, “These standards can’t succeed unless we create a new generation of student assessments that really measure the skills and knowledge so critical to success today—something we desperately need to do.” I agree. I was recently discussing discussion boards with a colleague. I shared with him a thread of student responses and mine. He was stunned that students were researching, citing, and supporting their claims within a post. Wouldn’t that be more appropriate for an essay or a test? No, not necessarily. These discussion boards remind me of social media — blog posts, Facebook threads, etc. Assessments come in all types and sizes now — portfolios, presentations, Prezis, discussion board posts, Wikis, speeches, blog posts, etc. all fall under the “new generation of assessments” category. If you are still only sticking to one type of assessment, then I ask you why?

Another thing that struck me was, “…parents are generally clueless on how the Common Core broadens authentic teaching and learning. And those in the know—like teachers—are rightly worried that their districts are not ready for these new standards, and are desperate for more resources and training.” Are teachers desperate for more resources and training? Or are we desperate for what I refer to as professional growth opportunities, in my post titled “What is the Problem with Profession Development?, not prescribed, mandated, isolated development, but real, hands on, engaging growth. Teachers want someone to design real and meaningful learning opportunities for them too.

If you aren’t embracing these standards, why not? That is the bigger question, and perhaps, will lead us to the problem(s) behind the problem(s).

In my next post, I will share a few examples of essential questions, assignments, and projects that are real, engaging, and common core.

One last comment about the Common Core — we need to spend time focusing on why we should be designing using these standards, and how we should be designing. If we are all to become global citizens of the digital world who continue to learn and be educated, then these standards become irrelevant.

In Teacher With a Heart, Vito Perrone reflects on the teachings of Leonard Covello, who in 1958 published his autobiography, The Heart Is The Teacher,  about his forty-five year teaching career. Good teaching is good teaching, regardless of what we call it. In 1958, Covello wrote about asking students to, “describe those occasions in school when their learning was deeper than usual, when their personal intellectual engagement was particularly high, when they were conscious of achievement in a higher level of understanding than usual.” He found that many of these occurred outside of school, but of those that occurred in school, that meant something special, the following circumstances were important:

1. The students had a significant share of the responsibility for defining the content (selecting particular subject to research, the particular biography to read, the particular play to present).

2. There was time to wonder, work around the edges of the subject matter, find a particular direction, actually develop personal commitment.

3. Different forms of expression were permitted–even encouraged.

4. There was an original product, something public–an idea, a point of view, an interpretation, a proposal, a paper, a presentation, a performance. Students gained in the process some form of “expertness.”

5. They actually did something–participated in a political action, wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine, developed a newsletter, talked about their work with others.

6. They made personal connections to the content, were called on to place themselves in the setting, and so forth. It was for them a “living experience.” They were real scientists, not persons studying science.

7. The content was connected to previous interests–in this regard, it had an ongoing quality. Additionally, it was related to the interests of the class.

8. There was a sense that everything was not firm, predetermined, the results fully predictable.

9. Students served as evaluators of their own work.

(Perrone, 56-57).

What does this mean? To me, it means that fifty-five years later good teaching is still good teaching. If you are keeping students at the heart of what you are doing, my guess is that, regardless of what we call it, you are teaching the CCSS.

Courtney Hanes

Mrs. Courtney Hanes is a Staff Development Specialist for grades 7 - 12 at the Riverside Virtual School in Riverside, Ca

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