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Engaging Common Core: Writing to Argue, Explain, or Tell a Story

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Following is a post (fifth in a series on breaking down the Common Core ) from guest blogger Susan Weston, a Kentucky education consultant who often works with the Prichard Committee:

For public engagement of the Common Core State Standards for Writing, I recommend beginning with how the first three Anchor Standards specify kinds of writing, saying that students who are ready for college and career ready can:

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

To draw parents and other citizens in deeper, I'd point out that Common Core also shows grade-by-grade steps on the way to each of those Anchor Standards.

For instance, Standard 2 is expanded to ask first graders students to " Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure." That's right for that age group, and then growth is added year by year.

By fifth grade, students are asked to:

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

a. Introduce a topic clearly, provide a general observation and focus, and group related information logically; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

b. Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.

c. Link ideas within and across categories of information using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., in contrast, especially).

d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.

e. Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented.

I've lived pretty much my whole life with college professors, and I have some sense of what they hunt for in student writing and don't always find. That fifth grade standard, halfway through the school progression, already aims to move students higher than what postsecondary programs currently see from some high school graduates. Students who move past that to meet the grade 11-12 version of the Standards will be ready for excellent work and robust futures.

I'm confident that nearly all stakeholders, given access to that much information, will gain confidence that Common Core is the kind of document they can figure out. I don't mean that everyone will support those Standards as deeply as I do, but I do mean that the Standards are short enough, clear enough, and accessible enough for everyone to study and consider--and I think everyone should be encouraged to do just that.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here . They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 47 states (46 for the mathematics Standards).

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