Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pathways to the CCSS

Earlier this summer Celina and I attended a training centered on moving to the Common Core in math.  Over the two day workshop we had the opportunity to work with other educators to discuss the standards at grade 4 and develop common assessment questions related to those standards.  We decided as a group to go “all-in” on transitioning to the CCSS this fall. 

Thinking about the standards in math soon had me thinking about how the CCSS plays out in literacy, which had me dipping into the first two chapters of a book I bought in May called Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Christopher Lehman.

First it starts out with a discussion of mind set, you can either approach the standards as a curmudgeon (grumpy, angry, stick in the mud) or as if they are gold (rich with possibility).  The authors go on to explain that within the CCSS reading and writing get equal weight, that higher level thinking is the goal, that intellectual growth occurs over time and is noted in the standards, and that reading and writing need to occur across the curriculum.  These did not come across as surprising. Currently at our school we have been very focused on reading and writing, achieving deep comprehension through thinking skills (inferring, visualizing, synthesizing, evaluating)and working to incorporate reading and writing into social studies and science as the tools for learning and showcasing knowledge within those subjects.  Our work with target walls, assessment driven instruction and DRA testing also have set us along the path to better differentiation and tracking of student progress.

So where does that leave us in terms of implementation?  The authors state that “The most important message centers on lifting the level of student achievement, not on course coverage and compliance.” (pg. 14)  They state it is essential to start from where you are and set goals based in these areas to achieve “observable progress”. We do this to some degree already in our building as we meet to compare and develop common rubric assessments around writing samples.  An overarching desire is to achieve more student focus and accountability.  How can we do this?  The first priority for the Pathways authors is to have a strong writing program across the school that continually revisits skills and builds progressively to students writing within all disciplines.  Their second priority is to provide “eyes-on-print” reading time approaching 45 minutes a day in books that are their appropriate reading level and highly engaging (pg. 18).  This means actual reading, not writing or discussing books that are being read, but deep, engaged reading.

From there it is proposed that school systems add more writing of arguments and informational text and push deeper with reading comprehension.  At our level that will mean moving beyond the narrative and expository structures we are familiar with into writing for other purposes.  In reading we will need to work closely as a system to determine if the comprehension strategies we are currently teaching are truly raising the level of work that our students are doing with their reading.  This had me thinking of a book I used to lead our book group work this year called Raisingthe Standards Through Chapter Books: The CIA Approach by Sarah Collinge.  This book pushed the thinking of my students with looking deeper into how a book or story is structured, recognizing common themes and evaluating the author’s message.  I felt like I saw more” light bulb” moments with my students in their reading than I ever had before and at the same time saw students making deeper connections to and sticking with books that they would have avoided previously. 

This type of analytical reading is also what the Pathway’s authors express as being of primary importance in meeting the CCSS.  The goal is deep comprehension and higher order thinking. They state, “These phrases are not in the Common Core: make text-to-self connections, access prior knowledge, explore personal response, and relate to your own life. In short, the Common Core deemphasizes reading as a personal act and emphasizes textual analysis.” (pg. 25) This statement grabbed me right away, as we have worked extensively to help students build on their prior knowledge and make connections as essential comprehension skills. I can tell that this dissonance will have me reading more intently as I continue through this book. (HA, already applying some higher order thinking myself!)

The chapter ended with some essentials to keep in mind while thinking about reading in the CCSS.  The main take-away for me was that moving to deep comprehension “requires explicit instruction in the skills and strategies of high-level comprehension” (pg. 29), structures and supports like book groups and reading buddies that “will make reading work visible” (pg. 30) as well as rich texts in which they can “practice critical reading.” (pg. 30)

So far I am into this book and my own understanding of the fluidity of the CCSS in just a small way, but my reflections and learning will continue to grow.  I am already beginning to see the gold! Stay tuned. ~Ann

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing the authors' two priorities (coherent writing program/approach & 45 min. of reading a day). You've enticed me to pick up this book.

    I am so glad to read that the authors of Pathways to the Common Core still believe in giving students books that are engaging and at an appropriate level. I've been following Shanahan's blog on the use of challenging text and it has created dissonance in my learning:

    If you check out Shanahan's blog, you may also be interested in Burkins' and Yaris' response: