Did you know that the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) are aligned with the Common Core State Standards? Did you know that the NGSS are organized by a framework that has three dimensions? Did you know that the NGSS is separated into four domains of disciplinary ideas? I’m not a science teacher or an elementary teacher, so for me this was new, really important, and pretty darn impressive.
This basic understanding of the NGSS has become really important to me in the last few months. While I am a social studies teacher and not a science teacher, I am a Common Core trainer and a learning support leader in my building. This means that I plan professional development and support professional learning communities (PLCs) across my building. This also means I am trying to support the adoption of literacy practices and data analysis according to the Common Core standards in many disciplines outside of my own.
When planning building-wide professional development for literacy we have been lumping all the disciplines together. English Language Arts is an obvious department to include, as well as social studies, science and career and technical studies. These are all covered under the Common Core State Standards and have specific standards in the framework for their subjects.
However, I was visiting a biology PLC in our building a few weeks ago they were talking about the standards they were using for an upcoming unit. I asked them if they were focussing on the literacy standard we have been using as a school wide focus:
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
I am pretty lucky that I have nice colleagues who did not just roll their eyes at me but told me they did not need to focus on the CCSS but that by using the next gen they were addressing the literacy standards as well.
“Okay,” I said, “did you do a crosswalk or could you show me how the standards are similar?”
I am still lucky for my kind co-workers who could hear the doubt in my voice and just asked me to sit down so they could show me the website for the standards.
Once there, you can do all sorts of things to narrow the standards to get exactly what you are looking for. You can sort them by grade band, and then by disciplinary core idea, topical arrangement, or individual performance expectations (skills). Once you decide how you want to arrange them you can use menus to choose again and again. In this case my concern was that students were meeting standards that correlated to CCSS Anchor Standard Reading One. So this being biology the teacher selected high school and then Life Science, Standard 1B: Growth and Development of Organism. Then he just pressed search and the results were a link titled: HS-LS1 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes. When we clicked on that link what I saw was really impressive. What we got was a page (linked above) that has seven different performance expectations that a science teacher could use. They all had some sort of connection to text-based evidence or creating a model. As I scrolled down I think my jaw actually dropped. Each page that looks like this includes how it connects to science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas. And of course to my delight a little farther down it includes the Common Core State Standards, both for literacy and math that are aligned with the science standards. In this case the first one was CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1. I really didn’t know the standards were this intentionally tied; it wasn’t until I sat down and explored the menus that I understood how thorough these standards are.
I think this is really important for anyone who is in a leadership position that involves science teachers of any kind and any conversation of standards. In the future I will also be asking my science department to focus on their standards and to let me know which Common Core standards they are aligning with instead of the other way around. I have learned that the NGSS are very purposefully aligned with Common Core and that there is no need to split the science department’s focus in two.
I still would not say that I am an expert in the standards or even understand them all when I read them. I do however know a heck of a lot more than I did before I took the time to look at them. I would encourage, in fact insist anyone who might be leading literacy conversations across disciplines, spend a bit of time to at least become familiar with the setup of the standards and the frameworks. It makes so much sense and it allows me to serve that part of my staff with fidelity and respect for their content and what they are doing every day.