Quarter 1 Reflection: Getting On With Teaching "The Common Core Way"

Now that the first quarter of the school year is behind us, and I've had a few days off to reflect on my own implementation of the Common Core State Standards in my own teaching practice with my 3rd and 2nd grade reading groups. I wanted to share that reflection with you.  

I have a unique position at my school in that I work with 2nd and 3rd grade students in reading groups for half of the day, and the other half of the day, I work with teachers, in their classrooms and in PLT's as they implement core instruction and the best research based best practices to do that. 

Last spring, we did a lot of training for teachers on the implementation of Common Core for Math.  However, we really didn't devote too much time to the Common Core for ELA, for two reasons. One, we were already doing many of the practices emphasized by the new standards and two, we only had a limited amount of time to devote to the Common Core training.  I also sort of think of it as, you're going into it with a blind-fold...last spring, no one was sure what it would really be like until we started teaching the Common Core way.  I did begin using the Common Core standards and the practices (shifts) of the Common Core last spring because I felt that if I was training teachers on how to teach this way, that I must teach this way myself...sort of a "talk the talk, walk the walk" kind of thing. That's really important! 

And this next part is the brutally honest truth about our school....please don't judge. 

As this first quarter began to unfold, my principal kept coming in to my office and saying, "I don't see teachers teaching any differently?" "They sound the same, the students sound the same." "Their lessons seem the same." "Guided reading looks the same." ....I too, would walk in and out of classrooms and saw pockets of the Common Core, but nothing consistent or school wide (again, I'm talking ELA now).  

In the meantime, I had been contacted by South Mebane Elementary School in Alamance County (a county about an hour north of Raleigh). Tammy Yeatts, the assistant principal, emailed me, she said she'd been following my blog for years and followed me on Pinterest. She asked if I would consider presenting to her staff in the area of Higher Order Thinking, especially in the area of independent reading and guided reading, and would love it if I would tie in the new demands and rigor of the Common Core.  So, on September 19th I  spent three wonderful hours with 45 elementary teachers building their capacity for A)the difference between lower order thinking vs. higher order thinking and B) shared real classroom strategies (with visual examples) of ways to teach not only critical thinking but critical reading in all areas of their day, not just in the reading block, and highlighted all the areas that the Common Core where higher order thinking is necessary....BTW, that's EVERYWHERE!

Here is my presentation for South Mebane Elementary School (3 hours).

So upon returning to Lake Myra, there was a sense of urgency in also building the capacity of the teachers at Lake Myra...really just "telling" them all that is and ISN'T in the Common Core.  Even though we faced getting ready for track-out, and we knew that sitting and listening to a 90 minute presentation, was not the way  99 out of 100 teachers would want to spend the last two hours of the last day of school before a three week track-out. However, before teachers can tell you what they need to implement the Common Core, they must first know what they need. The "I don't know what I don't know" conundrum was creeping in and our school was actually in deficit mode, which is huge for us, considering that I feel like most of the time, we are ahead of the curve, mostly progressive when it comes to instructional practices. However, for the majority, everyone needed to hear about the standards and the shifts and really learn what is and isn't valued in the Common Core documents.  I said to my principal, "I believe that if you just give me 90 minutes to present to the staff on the standards and the shifts for ELA, that our school could just get on with teaching the Common Core way." So I adapted the presentation I created and delivered to South Mebane Elementary (because I didn't need to spend time building capacity for higher order thinking at Lake Myra) added more focus on the Common Core and retained the important critical thinking aspects.  

Here is the presentation I delivered to the teachers and staff at Lake Myra last Friday (90 minutes).

The bottom line on teaching "the Common Core way" at Lake Myra is that there are things we were already doing at the lake that we needed to continue to do and do with fidelity.  There is however, a handful of take-aways that are vital (instructional) behaviors that we need to replace.  By the way, the PD was VERY well received despite it being the last two hours on the last day before track-out.  LM staff feedback (reviews) are on the last slide of the above slideshow.  In sum, teachers collectively said, "That was perfect, exactly what we needed to move forward with the Common Core."

Here's what we're doing at the lake as we move forward:

-Continue emphasizing speaking in complete sentences, in addition to speaking and listening skills in Morning Meeting and all throughout the day.
-Continue emphasizing that students HAVE an opinion and need to justify it with reasons. Playing games like, Would You Rather? and The Book of Questions. 
-Continue doing and having conversations around Daily Analogies .DA helps kids classify words and the relationship of those classifications.
- Continue emphasizing Identifying Similarities and Differences
-When speaking and listening, continue getting kids to justify their thinking with reasons and evidence…I infer ___ because___.   The SIP team felt that creating Critical Thinking Sentence Frames was a vital behavior for critical thinking to occur in our school.
-Continue using and teaching to the three highest levels of Blooms…the posters are not just posters, but conversations with students. They are an anchor and a label for the thinking work.
-Continue emphasizing the daily learning of lots and lots of words with "permission" to add any word to their notebook (this builds ownership and engagement)
-Continue modeling the 3 column template for Vocabulary Notebook entries
-Continue to build & increase content vocabulary using the 6-step process
-Continue using more complex texts via shared reading to teach standards 2-9, like interactive read-alouds/think-alouds/text-talk lessons and novel studies.
-Continue instructing students at their instructional level in guided reading with an emphasis on the instructional shifts below. 

-Replace looking at the standards quickly with “close” reading and analysis of the standards (per quarter) by teachers to see what's in (and not in) the new standards. Use the app.
-Replace teaching Text to Self Connections with teaching Text to Text Connections and replace teaching Activating Prior Knowledge with How is This Content Relevant to My Life? (Real World Connections) sending kids the message that mastering content matters beyond passing a test and has implications for their daily lives.
-Replace cursory, fast and one-time text reading with emphasizing “close” reading and re-reading by students to analyze and evaluate the author’s choice of words, language structure, language syntax, the words and phrases that are said, and *not said*, paying close attention to what the author included and what the author left out and why.
-Replace generic question stems with text based questions and text based answers. De-emphasize reader response like schema & background knowledge as a basis for their justifications and emphasis more text-based evidence as a basis for their justifications.
-Go beyond summarizing and continue teaching Big Ideas and Concepts that answer the question “So What?” in non-fiction (Polar Bears)

Here is a Printable version of the Common Core Take-Aways for LMES 

A lot of what I said to both staffs are what a lot of teachers need to hear right now. 
Please let me know if I can help your staff. My email address is helloliteracy@gmail.com
Also, if it gets accepted, I will be giving the Fifty Shades of the Common Core presentation at the North Carolina State Reading Conference (NCRA)  in March of 2013, here in Raleigh, NC.   

Also, I reference the Critical Thinking Sentence Frames, the Critical Thinking Rubric and the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy Posters quite a bit in both presentations...these teaching and learning tools and behaviors are vital for teaching and learning in the Common Core classroom.  I have created and uploaded these documents to my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can grab them below.

Critical Thinking Sentence Frames Classroom Posters (FREEBIE)

Rubric for Critical Thinking (FREEBIE)

For now, happy (text-based) reading! ;-)

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April Walker said...

This was a fabulous post! I will come back and reread when I am less tired.
~April Walker
The Idea Backpack

Kimberly said...

Wow! Incredible post, lots of information and so generous of you! You are a difference maker...thank you!

Shawna said...

Thank you so much all this great information. I am not one of the lucky ones that gets training on the Common Core standards so I am always looking for good resources and I hit the jackpot with your post. I will look forward to anything more you can share on this topic.
The Picture Book Teacher's Edition

Unknown said...

The link to the Analyze Evaluate Create sheets is fixed.

Mrs. L said...

I started reading this last night and had to stop, so that I could give it the proper attention it deserved. Thank you for sharing your ideas and your resources. You've given me a lot to think about.
Life with Mrs. L

Anonymous said...

This is so awesome. I plan on sending this to my fellow teachers because this is our focus right now...actually today specifically! I'm still having trouble clicking on the link to the Analyze/Evaluate/Create Cheat sheet. It says Error 403. Is it in your shop?

Sarah said...

I have been reading your post for two days, I just keep reading and rereading and learning and feel empowered! Thank you for reflecting back on your first quarter with your students, this REALLY helps put Common Core into teachable language for me! I learned so much from this!!!

Wishful Teaching

First Grade and Fearless said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful information. I love the "real" examples of what Common Core looks like in practice. That is really helpful.

Unknown said...

This is great and thank you so much for sharing. I'm still having a difficult time wrapping my head around how I can do this in Kindergarten and First Grade reading. I feel like I am one those teachers your principal was talking about that are still teaching the same old way. I am spending a majority of my time on Phonics and Phonemic Awareness. I am required to teach Fundations (30 minutes whole group and 20 minutes with a Double Dose group.) Which only leaves about 20 minutes a day for whole group reading lessons.
What does this look like for your primary teachers? (especially with students that are very behind)
Any help would be much appreciated!

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Anonymous said...

Hello Literacy!
The link is not working. Could you post here when link is working...you know we will check back!

The Goonie Gals

vickiteach said...

Sorry, but the spin off of the title Fifty Shades of Gray was a huge turn off to me. I would love to follow you and read your posts but there should be a better attention getter. I'm not being judgmental. I just want you to know that people might be offended by this.

Unknown said...

Thanks for offering your opinion that people might be offended by this, but in the two years since this post was published, there are more teachers all over the world that are now teaching critical thinking who were not before and more students on this planet thinking at higher levels! Amen to that. I am also proud and honored to have been asked to present this twice, two years in a row, at the North Carolina State Reading conference, and schools and districts in North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas and Kansas.
Thanks! Jen

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