Common Sense for Common Core: An OpEd

Common-Core-Aligned. The buzz phrase is spreading faster than a bout of the stomach flu at a child's gym.  A simple Google search will likely result in a plethora of workbooks, worksheets, graphic organizers, and projects that claim to be the answer to all of your Common Core problems.  But are they?

I'm fortunate to work in a district that supports the instructional craft behind the CCCS (Read: my district doesn't expect us to robotic-ly teach strand by strand, without context or meaning for the students.) We've spent an incredible amount of time thinking about what the Common Core means -- and what it doesn't, what it is -- and what it isn't.

Which led me to an incredible discovery:  If you want to truly align your instruction to the Common Core -- get rid of everything that claims to be aligned with Common Core!

I know, I know... "That's crazy talk!" You're thinking, "It says right here! Common-Core-Aligned!"

But it's true. Most of it is crap.

Common Core is deeper and bigger than a one-page graphic organizer or worksheet...
if you do it right!

Recently, I read an article blasting the CCCS because the whole initiative is just another way of textbook companies trying to exploit schools and make money and drive teachers to drink and watch car-wreck episodes of The Bachelor. (I may have taken creative liberties on that last Bachelor phrase...) ;)

Maybe that's true. Maybe textbook companies and publishing companies are taking advantage of the purpose of the CCCS and taking the opportunity to cash-in on teachers who want to do the right thing, but aren't getting the support to know any better.

But they can only do that if we let them!  We teachers can think better.  We can do better!

Here's the key: You cannot read each strand of the grade level standards as individual 'skills' to be mastered.  That's where the workbooks and worksheets are getting it wrong!

It's bigger than that. Yes, yes, the grade level standards were broken down to make developmentally appropriate milestones.  But they are always, always moving toward the anchor standards.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

If you read every single Reading standard from second grade -- not once, not once -- do the standards say anything about inference.

"Great! We don't have to teach it!"

Wrong again.

We must always teach with the anchor standards in mind, and if we do, we will know our instruction has purpose and is moving our students in the right direction.  Anchor Standard R.1 is 'Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it...'

Experienced reading teachers know inferring is a critical part of understanding text at the level of rigor demanded by the Common Core.  For example, RL.2.3 requires students to understand how characters respond to major events and challenges. As expert, adult readers we ourselves know that in order to do that, we must make inferences about character traits, their motivations, and the ideas that the conflict creates within the character. We use evidence from the text to support our inferences.

In the classroom, it's not as simple as asking, "So how did the character respond to the major events, boys and girls?" -- students fill in a box, and teacher checks off standard 2.3 off the list. Our students desperately need instruction on the thinking behind this idea. Our students need to know what to focus their thinking on when thinking about characters. Our students need developmentally appropriate opportunities to make inferences about text, regardless of what the grade-level standards say.  They need this in order to master the grade level standards -- even though the grade level standards don't say so.

No inference, you say? We know better.

But that takes time.  A lot more time than one worksheet or graphic organizer can do alone. 

I'm so tired of seeing worksheets and workbooks at every turn all claiming to be aligned to Common Core just because they made a worksheet for each grade level standard!
That approach views the grade level CCCS as a checklist to be checked off.  

How in the world can that move the student toward the anchor standard?

Alone, it doesn't.  But it can!

I'll tell you how.  Expert teaching! Yes - we make the difference.

Without the right instructional focus or purpose, a graphic organizer isn't common-core-aligned, even if it says "common-core-aligned". Simply filling out a who, what, when, where, why graphic organizer without deeper thinking (keeping the anchor standards in mind) won't cut it.

But with the right instructional focus (keeping the anchor standards in mind), it becomes common-core-aligned.

The secret is you! The power is in the teaching.

Luckily, in this digital age, we're so lucky to have access to so many great resources on various teaching blogs and on TpT.  There are amazing teacher bloggers and authors out there writing about successful lessons and teaching strategies.  Our teaching network is bigger than it's ever been -- let's use it!

I urge all teachers to not take the Common Core at face value.  I urge you to not let publishing companies and worksheets tell you what the Common Core means.  Question your administration if you need to, especially if they are trying to fit you into a little box.

Dive deep into those anchor standards and really think hard about what they mean for your grade level and question how you can scaffold them for your class.

Read blog posts by real teachers who are getting it right every day in their own classroom.
Find teachers who have classrooms with similar needs as yours -- ask them how they scaffold standards.

"The Common Core State Standards focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures..." 

"The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach."

Those are two truths about from Common Core.

When I read those, I see power shifting back to the teacher, back to understanding.

And that's just where the power should be.

We just have to take it.

*Standards in this article refer to the Reading Standards for Literature, though there are many consistencies among all standards.


  1. "The secret is you! The power is in the teaching."

    YES! SO TRUE!!! Thank you so much for sharing! The teacher really is the #1 influential factor in the classroom and it is great to be reminded of that!

    Little Miss Primary

  2. Fabulous!! Thank you for "putting it out there" in such a reasoned way. It is time we remember who the education professionals are, and empower them.

    Hello Mrs Sykes

  3. Preach it sister! Agreed 100%!!! Love your comment on scaffolding the standards! My focus is math but the same ideas apply. You can't reach the fluency benchmark standards in isolation! Teach to understanding, teach kids to be problem solvers not answer givers!



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