Teaching Common Core Standards as a Team

The longer I review the learning expectations of the ELA Common Core standards, the more it becomes obvious to me how teachers will need to work collaboratively to help students learn reading and writing to the depths that will be needed to meet these new standards. Working collaboratively on the same topics across disciplines will be an absolute necessity for teachers in middle and high school. Each content area teacher will need to think about how the skills required for student mastery in reading and writing are used in his or her own discipline and then be responsible for teaching students how to read or write in the discipline as a professional of that discipline would. This will be a gigantic paradigm shift for teachers who have been used to simply closing the door and teaching “cover to cover” from a textbook. Unfortunately, many teachers that I have heard at meetings and trainings still have not realized that this shift in thinking will need to take place for student success. Many still think they will just be substituting one set of standards for a new – albeit more difficult – set of standards and that teaching will continue as it has for the past 30 years.  When the time for testing comes, they will miss the boat and be left wondering why their students are not able to demonstrate proficiency on the new CC assessments. The game has changed.  The sooner we realize that a group of heads all focused on the same goals are better than a single teacher, the more successful we will be. What has your school been doing to foster teacher collaboration in the Common Core Standards?  Please feel free to share your comments on this topic.

Developing Text-Based Answers to Connect to Textual Meaning

One of the shifts that moving to the Common Core standards will require is asking students to have rich and rigorous conversations that are based on a common text that they have been reading. What does it mean to ask students to give a text-based answer? Let’s explore that concept and what it means to ask students to give a text-based answer to what they have been reading. According to the research of Pearson and Johnson (1978) the answer to some questions is textually explicit meaning that that answer is found directly in the text and can be pointed out by the responder.  Questions of this type are like: What color was the wagon in the story?”  Teachers have been asking these types of “right there” questions for generations.

The next level of questioning is textually implicit or questions where the answer is not directly stated but must be implied from the text.  These types of responses have been referred to as “making the connection” or “putting it together” questions.  To respond to this type of question, the reader has to think about what the author has said and perhaps consider information that has been presented in multiple places in the text. An example of a question that fits this category might be:  Why was the stroke of midnight a problem for Cinderella?  In this example, the student must put information together from several places to determine a response. The teacher could then ask the student to cite specific bits of information from the text to support his or her response by asking the student, “What it the text helps you understand this?  Read to us the specific areas of the text (page and paragraph) that helped you come to this conclusion.”   Just and Carpenter (1987) state, “questions that require higher level abstraction (such as the application of a principle) product more learning than factual questions. High-level questions probably encourage deeper processing and more thorough organization” (pp. 421-422).

So, the next time you are creating questions for your students based on their reading – and this strategy works not only for Literature but also for content-based reading, develop some questions that require students to “put the pieces together” and then justify their analysis.  Get students in the habit of providing support for their analysis and allow others to challenge faulty connections and/or assumptions when they are made.  Your class will have much more exciting discussions and thinking will be higher and more productive.