Truth time: we haven’t been talking much about Common Core at my school this year. I’m not too awfully concerned about it for my own faculty and students, though I think it’s a big deal statewide. My school has a good culture of encouraging professional development, and while we’re not Core experts yet, our faculty is, I believe, working on many of the right practices to set our kids up for success.
The main thing we’re working on this year, per our principal’s school goals, is a literacy initiative for kids of all levels. Our literacy committee organized a half-day sort of “mini conference” during the August inservice, where we offered a variety of teacher-led sessions on different topics and let faculty decide what to attend based on the kids they’d be working with. We had sessions on things like academic vocabulary, pushing high students into more advanced texts, supporting very low readers, and strategies to include ELL students, and using interactive notebooks. Teachers were encouraged to split up their departments and attend a variety of sessions, and then they had time to collaborate as a department and compare the best ideas for their content areas. We received good feedback on teachers’ reflection forms at the end of the event, and we’re looking at ways to build on that in other building-level inservices during the year.
So…that’s literacy, not Core. But really, if we do it for every kid, focusing on boosting not just their reading abilities but their skills at working with texts, analyzing them and evaluating them, using them to build and support arguments, synthesizing them with other information sources, then we have absolutely practiced Common Core. Because that’s what the Core is all about: using evidence to support critical thinking and problem solving.
A-students will notice that that description of the Common Core also describes a lot of what librarians teach on a daily basis—and what a lot of people don’t realize we teach. Librarians are in a golden position with the Core standards on their way. If we can make it known to the decision-makers around us that we are already experts in what the Core expects, that we are situated to support the exact needs that may challenge other teachers and students during this transition, and that through collaborative teaching we provide a valuable source of job-embedded professional development to our peers that will help make research- and inquiry-based learning an authentic and effective part of education in our schools, we stand to gain some serious traction.
One thing we do need to adjust to our traditional game plan to make sure we’re supporting the Common Core effectively: nonfiction. We need to promote nonfiction every bit as much as fiction reading, from the primary grades forward. And we need to make sure that we’re not just teaching reading for pleasure—though that should never EVER suffer—but also critical engagement with what kids are reading. If students are evaluating texts as they go, asking questions, building arguments, looking for more information elsewhere to support or disprove what they’ve just read, then they will be building essential Core skills and enjoying it to boot.