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Common Core: Let's Talk About It

Sarah Henchey
"The Common Core will have little to no effect on student achievement," Tom Loveless asserts in a recent Brookings Institution report. His argument revolves around the notion that rigorous standards alone will not increase student achievement.

This is not a surprise to teachers.

In fact, the "standards" themselves are not what will make a difference for students. Change will come as result of teachers reflecting, collaborating, and facilitating this vision into a reality.

As teacher leader Darren Burris pointed out last week, the common standards create countless opportunities for teachers to "share our experiences about what's working, how it's working, with whom it's working, and which areas of growth still need support." It is these conversations, and the results of this collaborative discourse, that will impact student learning.

And these exchanges are already taking place in schools across the country.

Here's a brief glimpse of discussions I've participated in with colleagues, ranging from teachers in my building to those in other districts and states.

• What does it mean for a student to be "college- and career-ready"?
• How can we retain core content while interweaving new literacy standards?
• How will our methods of formative and summative assessments change under the common standards?
• What does rigor mean and how can we ensure all students are experiencing it?
• How do we put in the structural supports to meet the needs of all learners and ensure their success under these standards?

These topics aren't new nor are they revolutionary. But the scale on which these conversations are occurring can be.

And as a result of these discussions, ripples of change have already begun. For instance, after a conversation about the common literacy standards, my grade-level team began an integrated writing activity. The purpose of this assignment was two-fold. First, we wished to help our 6th graders develop their writing stamina—the ability to capture their ideas on paper and write continuously. But we also wanted them to understand that writing is thinking; it communicates your knowledge of vocabulary and concepts. As a grade level, we believe these are 21st-century skills our students need and are committed to working collaboratively to integrate them.

As teachers gather together, both in person and virtually, these conversations will lead to action. Through collaboration, teachers will develop the tools they seek and influence student learning beyond their own classrooms, and even beyond their own states. That's why it's imperative we continue this dialogue and use this opportunity to share and refine our instructional practices.

What conversations have the common standards prompted for you and your colleagues? What changes have already transpired as a result?

Sarah Henchey, a 6th grade language arts teacher in Orange County, N.C., serves as a virtual community organizer for the Center for Teaching Quality's Implementing Common Core Standards project team.

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