Last week one of my co-bloggers Brooke posted about how some teachers are worried about how Common Core Standards will take the creativity out of teaching. The worry is that teachers will have to adhere to strict standards and will not be able to make any decisions on their own. I know that this is a concern for teachers. This could be because great teachers are creative people by nature. However, these standards are skill-based and I at least don’t feel pigeon-holed. Yes, they do ask that we focus on literacy skills, but they are skills that show quality thinking in our students. As a resource for helping to stay creative and meet the Common Core State Standards there is a framework I have been working with called the Literacy Design Collaborative. This collaborative is a framework for infusing your curriculum with the Common Core using great essential unit question templates and close reading. Using the Literacy Design Collaborative I can use whatever text, content, or curriculum, I choose.
I was recently at a writers workshop for the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession and I was writing this wordy dramatic vignette about how to collect data using the Common Core and the Literacy Design Collaborative rubric. I was in a writers group with someone who was much more data oriented. He was much more a scientist in his approach to teaching and education. The terms and acronyms he was mixing into the conversation were hard for me to keep up with. I was in awe and impressed with his ability to talk in such terms. I was trying to explain it in “smart people” terms to Mr. Data and he was trying his best to understand my emotional, flowery rant. I was trying to explain to him how the Literacy Design Collaborative worked for me as a baseline framework for my curriculum and that I could plug in literally any, and mostly my favorite, topics from either my social studies course or my English course. Because the Common Core Standards are skill based and the Literacy Design Collaborative is hard wired to those same skills, I can do whatever I see best for my students and still meet the standards. I have designed my courses around these tasks and templates and my students can continually track their progress on the skills and standards and I can move through content as quickly or as slowly as I want. The students can track growth during each unit and also across units instead of wiping the slate clean for the next batch of content, in the way that so many social studies classes operate.
Here is a quick example. The collaborative is built around template tasks like this:
Task 4: [Insert optional question] After reading ________ (literature or informational texts), write ________ (an essay or substitute) in which you compare ________ (content) and argue ________ (content). Support your position with evidence from the text(s). (Argumentation/Comparison)
I take this task and use it for my globalization unit by plugging in my curriculum and the kids get:
After reading the provided globalization articles and viewing “Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt” write an essay in which you compare the costs and benefits of globalization and argue whether it is overall more harmful or helpful for mankind. Support your position with evidence from the texts.
In this way I have used the template and my own creativity as well as favorite resources to have my students practice the skills of the Common Core. The standards don’t say anything about globalization, the documentary, the great articles I chose, or the great daily engagement strategies I planned into my unit. The LDC has allowed me to choose my unit, my topic, my lessons, and my materials and still assess and plan around the new standards.
I was explaining that all literacy tasks are assessed on seven elements. These elements stay the same no matter the mode of my essential question. The class could be doing an argumentative essay, they could be designing an informational pamphlet, or performing a narrative play they wrote. Each assignment is assessed on the same seven elements that are closely tied to and intertwined with Common Core language. Why does this matter? Well, it matters because after Mr. Data and I seemed to come to an understanding he said, “Oh, so any teacher can literally be doing whatever they want but the skills can still be measured. What you have is a curriculum based measure of underlying skills and overarching understandings.” (Actually at first he just said I had a CBM and I had to admit I didn’t know what that was so he clarified with Curriculum Based Measure.) This makes so much sense for me. That’s what the Common Core does for us. It sets out Curriculum Based Measures of underlying skills. We, the classroom practitioners, are still in total control of the overarching understandings. The Literacy Design Collaborative gives teachers a framework for working those overarching understandings and leading us to create meaningful final projects, assessments, essays, or whatever you can imagine your students creating to show their understandings. By using the LDC a teacher can run with their imagination and the students will produce thoughtful, carefully-crafted answers to the teacher’s essential question. This does the opposite of cutting the creativity out of the classroom. This leads me to be more creative and to ensure that my students are building and using strong literacy skills all the while.
I believe that all teachers should make sure they really understand the Common Core. Take some time and unpack them before you judge them; we often fear the things we don’t understand. Talk to your team members or curriculum-like friends. There are tools and people out there to help. (The PSESD has quite a few.) Once there is some peace between you and the standards, check out the Literacy Design Collaborative.
Go slow, they both can be a lot to think about at once. Use the collaborative even in the form of mini-tasks (literacy-based lessons as opposed to units). This will make you more confident in guiding your students toward mastery of the literacy standards.
I believe that the Common Core will not keep you from your creative genius or true fabulous teacher self.
You can find out all about the Literacy Design Collaborative at www.ldc.org
You can read Brooke’s post here: Common Core State Standards and Creativity: Room for Both?