The Common Core Workout

Now that teachers and librarians have had some time to work with the Common Core State Standards, trends, resources, and challenges are emerging. One of the central facts is that school librarians are more vital than ever to help teachers navigate the new standards.

Let’s take a look at where the standards are at this moment. Math and English standards have been released for some time, Science standards were released in April and the Social Studies standards are still in development. Where do we go from here and how can we work with what has been released thus far?

To help us understand the state of the common core, we spoke with Mary Ann Cappiello. As the author of Teaching With Texts, frequent webinar panelist and facilitator for School Library Journal, and, with Marc Aronson, Myra Zarnowski and Kathleen Odean, part of the team who creates the Uncommon Corps blog, Mary Ann is well-positioned to speak to the issues and opportunities that are arising as we dig deeper into the Common Core.

One of the most common misunderstandings centers on the requirement for secondary students’ reading to be 70% informational texts. “What many don’t understand is that 70% is supposed to happen across the school day,” explains Dr. Cappiello. “And, yes, this does include traditional text books.” English teachers do not need to shift their entire syllabus to reflect a nonfiction-heavy reading list.

There is also a widespread adoption of the suggested texts in Appendix B. Cappiello notes that teachers are being told by administrators that these are the books that they should teach. She notes that middle grade and high school nonfiction is not reflected in the Appendix B titles and that teachers should not be told what to teach or to teach books only within a certain Lexile range. She encourages educators to look at Standard Ten for a richer understanding in this area. Practically speaking, it’s important to note that the Appendix was provided only to show well-known titles from the past as examples of titles that would have supported the Common Core and many of them are out-of-print.

Take a moment to consider leveling. As is the case many times, be careful about trying to use grade level too precisely. For instance, if you put in a specific grade level on the Bound to Stay Bound CCSS web tool it will give you specific titles. However, you may need to look at the grades above and below to get all good candidates, and especially if you have numerous students reading above or below their grade level.

That said, there are robust resources ready for teachers and librarians. “If you are a literacy educator, go to IRA and NCTE and find the great resources there and the same is true of NSTA and their Next Generation Science Standards and what they mean for students,” she urges. “There are so many opportunities to cross-pollinate.” She adds that “I want to encourage educators to use resources that will advance students skills, to push past this dichotomy between fiction and nonfiction because it takes you off the main point. Get students to read more in a wider range.”

The AASL Lesson Plan Database is an enormously helpful resource for librarians who hold the keys to success with the new standards. The plans are fully correlated to the 21st century learner and contain a wealth of clear, concise and targeted information that is immediately ready for implementation.

School Library Journal has become another go-to resource for educators. In addition to the webinars hosted by Cappiello, there are also articles, blogs and commentary including a recent column by Cappiello, Aronson and Zarnowski on Nonfiction as Mentor Text.

Cappiello also notes that many states have been working collaboratively together on model curriculum projects. Her SLJ partner Kathleen Odean has a website, Great Common Core Fiction, that reviews lots of great middle grade and high school nonfiction and offers connections to different standards.

With Erika Thulin Dawes, Mary Ann developed Teaching With Text Sets. The book came out last Fall and the active blog continues to provide insights into one of the most challenging aspects of the Common Core State Standards. “Multiple interactions with different text types allow students to ask and answer deeper questions, and the different types of text provide different entry points,” she explains. “We see this as a tool you can import into any classroom because it supports good literacy practice.” The author also speaks to the writing emphasis in the Common Core and the reality that “writing takes time–you have to write to figure out what you know.”

As the Common Core works out the kinks and becomes part of the fabric of teaching, perhaps the most important lesson is patience. Educators do not need to throw out what they did before but build on that experience. Now, we wish we could give you a Hogwarts’ style time turner so that you have the time to make the most of all that is out there to help you dig into the Common Core.

Common Core Timeline