Common Core: A Plan

Aligning your curriculum with Common Core Standards is daunting,  overwhelming.  At our annual back to school meetings–which have grown longer yet still do not yield enough practical, applicable information–Common Core was a big item on our agendas, which means we devoted a few hours to it.  A few hours?  Considering the instructional shift the Common Core represents, a few hours is superficial attention.

It seems that much of the burden of this shift falls on department heads and will ultimately trickle down to individual teachers.

How to start?

Start with the understanding that the Common Core means greater emphasis on reading and writing in all content areas. It means close reading for information. It means formulating original assertions and writing clearly and persuasively, with text-based support. The Common Core is meant to develop those reading and writing skills kids will need for the post-high school world: college and the workplace. The stress is on non-fiction because reading in college and business is primarily informational.

Go to your state education department’s web site and download and print a copy of the Common Core Standards for your content area.

You need a hard copy of this information so you can write on it, highlight it.  You have to own the Common Core.  You may be pleasantly surprised about how much of this you are already incorporating into your instruction.  If your state includes performance indicators as part of the Common Core document, pay special attention to what students are expected to be able to do when they leave your class.  These exit skills become your starting point.

Juxtapose your existing curriculum maps with the Common Core standards.


Do you plan by the unit?  By the quarter? Setting limits on your planning removes the fright factor associated with looking at the whole year. Think of each unit/quarter as a stop along the way toward the final goals articulated by the state Common Core document.

Use your unit/quarter topics and the Common Core document to create a few essential questions you expect your instruction to help students answer.

These essential questions should reflect what you teach and should allow students to demonstrate mastery by applying learning.  I always think of creating the essential questions as on-going.  I constantly tinker with them and tweak them.  Though some people call these questions open-ended, I believe that there must be specific text-based support for anything a student writes.  He/she must be able to take the information from class and use it to answer the essential questions.

From your state’s Common Core document, select the focus standards that correspond to your planned instruction.

Not every single standard on the list has to be the center of instruction for every single unit/quarter.  Pick and choose.  Part of the Common Core is depth as opposed to breadth.  Skill acquisition is often sequential.

Write out a set of instructional goals and objectives that correspond to the focus standards.

So what will your students be able to do as a result of their experiences in this unit/quarter?  When you consider goals, think about big things kids will be able to do.  Will they be able to use a syllabus as a time management tool?  Will they be able to work collaboratively?  Will they be able to define their own strengths and weaknesses?  Will they be able to articulate the implications of purpose and audience? When you outline objectives, be more specific.  Will students be able to annotate text? Will they be able to take effective listening notes? Will they be able to draw valid conclusion? Will students be able to compare/contrast opposing points of view?  Will they be able to incorporate information from several documents in a unified argumentative essay?

Get practical!  Plan activities that will promote learning.

This is where you start to think about how to make this magic happen in your classroom, where you plan the ways you will implement the theory.  How will you conduct in class reading?  What types of reading strategies will you model in class? What student centered activities will both engage kids and force them to read closely for detail?  How will you make kids accountable for participating in class discussions?

None of this is easy.  But so much of it is what we already do.  I am of the opinion that you do not have to reinvent the wheel.  Enrich–don’t replace– your existing instruction.

Good luck.  If anyone out there has other ideas to add to this, please comment.  We are all walking new ground and we all new encouragement and advice!


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