Typhani Harris | May 2014

Common Core Curriculum: an oxymoron?

As we enter the Common Core paradigm I have heard many teachers requesting a lesson sample or a curriculum map for a Common Core lesson/unit, but the thing is…Common Core is neither.  Common Core is a philosophy of great teaching.  Any curriculum or lesson can be Common Core; it’s all in the delivery and the product!

Currently, I am privileged with writing the new common core aligned junior (11th grade) English/Language Arts (CP and Honors) curriculum for my district.  This process has been so rewarding and so progressive.  Just imagine…passionate teachers… coming together… creating great things; this is true professional development (please see my previous article, Quality Professional Development…Make it a reality ), it’s just unfortunate that only a few of us are partaking in this amazing experience…but I digress.

Our team leader, Danielle Donaldson-Lovette, took this process to the progressive level by requesting that we go even further in the transition by changing the course title.  In California, at least in my district, we simply use the title English along with a level (I-IV).  In her progressive approach, Mrs. Donaldson-Lovette has suggested that we change that title to: Reading, Writing, and Communicating.  She explained:

As we move toward new standards and new course descriptions, a new class title seems appropriate.  We are not doing things the same way and a new class title would denote that.
She proposed the following rationale:

The purpose of this class is delineated in its name-Reading, Writing and Communicating.  As we prepare students who are college and career ready, it is imperative that students read independently and deeply for comprehension, critiquing and exposure. Students need to read well so that they are citizens who can make well informed decisions. On multiple levels, they need to analyze what an author is saying and to supply evidence to back up an author’s claim or the student’s claims in their own writing so that they can be contributors to the ideas and arguments that happen every day in our world.  Our students need to be able to write well. 

They need to be able to use evidence effectively and convincingly in support of the claims they put forth.  Students need to be able to write for varying purposes, tasks and audiences. Finally, our students need to be communicators in a variety of modes.   They need to be able to communicate orally and listen to oral communication so that they can effectively respond.   In this digital age, much of their communication and collaboration will occur without ever seeing the person with whom they are conversing.  They need to write in order to correspond effectively in a written medium. Our students need to be technologically creative and purposeful when it comes to reading, writing, and communicating.

As students move toward academic endurance and meeting the expectations of college and career readiness, teachers will make the content accessible through a variety of instructional strategies and texts that meet the individual needs of students, including English learners and students with disabilities.

I completely agree with this request as it moves the focus away from learning a language and moves towards using a language, which is what we are actually doing.  So, as we have been rewriting curriculum for our Common Core aligned courses, we have been working with the expectations of research, college/career readiness, and rigor (but don’t get me started on that last one…see my article Rigor, are we sure that’s the right word? to be published 6/30/14).  This process has allowed me to see that the alignment to Common Core is truly in the delivery and the product.   The difficulty, the higher level thinking, and strenuous nature of the expectations are the real changes.  Truthfully, the actual lessons can be the same; meaning we teach the same content, but the delivery of that content and the product expectation is advancing to a new level.

There have been many crosswalks created establishing the connection to Common Core and our previous standards.  The Sacramento County Office of Education has adapted a format from Monterey COE that places the California State Standards next to the new Common Core State Standards; side by side!  This document explicates the standards, how they align, and comments on the specific changes and alterations of each standard!  This is a great resource for our teachers, because you can literally look up the standards your current lessons are addressing, and make adjustments in the product and delivery based on the new Common Core expectations. This gives teachers a guide to the new standards where they can see that Common Core is essentially teaching the same content, just expecting a deeper delivery and a grander product.

I distinctly recall the complaints of the vagueness and arbitrary-ness of the previous state standards (I was a complainer myself), because the only thing the standards gave us was an overarching idea…but nothing concrete to do in our classes!   Common Core has addressed this; furthermore, Common Core places some of these expectations on other subjects!  So when you see H, SS, or S, these are standards that are actually placed under History, Social Sciences, or Science, and we are responsible for merely supporting rather than teaching those standards!

This document covers kindergarten through 12th grade, so don’t get overwhelmed with the length!  Just find what applies to you, and use it!  Click below :)

English/Language Arts Crosswalk…Putting Common Core and State Standards

I hope this resource allows you to see where we have been, and where we are going.  Furthermore, arts teachers, I hope you find that some of the Common Core standards are applicable to your teaching, as theory is so important for our artists (see last weeks’ article Creating Smart Dancers  )

Next Week: Strategies

Helping Our Students to Market themselves: ePortfolios

How can we market the brilliantness of our students?? Have them create e-portfolios!!!  See what current high school dancers are producing as well as build the product into your classes!

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.