By Tom White
I’ve been teaching for over thirty years, which means I’ve seen a lot of trends and fads; a lot of changes and lot of change-backs. Of all the changes I’ve seen, switching to the Common Core is probably the biggest and most important. For the first time ever, most teachers across the country are adapting their teaching to the same, rigorous standards. It’s hard to put into words just how momentous this is.
But if anyone can do it, it’s NPR. They’ve covered the switch to the Common Core since its conception, its adoption by most states, its eventual abandonment by a handful of states, and most recently, the challenges faced by those of us in the classroom who are trying to change how teach so that our students can meet these standards.
NPR’s recent coverage is a four part series on implementing the Common Core Reading Standards. The first part features an elementary school in Reno where a teacher has her kids closely read the poem that’s inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a great story of a great lesson taught by a great teacher, capturing the challenge and eventual magic of close reading.
The second installment covered a topic we haven’t really heard much about: how do the new standards sit with those students who are already achieving at a high level? The class featured in this part is a high school English class, also in Reno, studying the topic of gerrymandering. They have to read a complex text and discuss is. My favorite part is the learning uncovered during a discussion of the word “intensified.”
The third story is all about text complexity, described as “The Soul” of the Common Core reading standards. It features a third grade teacher from Iowa who used to level all her books for all her students and is now leading staff development in Washington DC, trying to get teachers to balance leveled reading with complex texts.
The final part of the series continues in the same vein. It’s entitled Difficult, Dahl, Repeat; featuring some fifth grade students in the DC area and their teachers who are trying to find the balance between difficult, complex, informative texts read for rigorous study and lighter text read primarily for enjoyment. And who among us isn’t trying to find that balance in their own classroom?
I highly recommend delving into this series. For those of us who have been paying close attention to the implementation of the CCSS, you won’t really learn anything brand new about the standards themselves, but you will learn how they’re being rolled out by some fine teachers across the country. It’s not often that the media accurately captures what really happens in real schools. This series by NPR comes about as close to reality as anything I’ve heard, seen or read.