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Common Core Big Idea Series 1: A New Blueprint

Jay McTighe

education author and consultant
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Editor's note: This is the first post in a five-part series which takes a look at five big ideas for implementation of the Common Core State Standards, authored by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins

In our travels around the country since the Common Core Standards were released, we sometimes hear comments such as, “Oh, here we go again;” “Same old wine in a new bottle;” or “We already do all of this.” Such reactions are not surprising given the fact that we have been here before. A focus on standards is not new. However, it a misconception to assume that these standards merely require minor tweaks to our curriculum and instructional practices. In fact, the authors of the Mathematics Standards anticipated this reaction and caution against it: “These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business.” (p 5) Merely trying to retrofit the standards to typical teaching and testing practices will undermine the effort.

A related misconception in working with the Common Core is evident when teachers turn immediately to the grade-level standards listed for their grade or course to plan their teaching. Such an action is reasonable; after all, isn’t that what they are supposed to teach? While understandable, we advise against zeroing in on the grade-level standards before a careful examination of the goals and structure of the overall documents.

To invoke a construction analogy: Think of the grade-level standards as building materials. As a construction supervisor, we wouldn’t simply drop off materials and tools at a worksite and have the workers “go at it.” Instead, we would begin with a blueprint -- an overall vision of the desired building to guide its construction. Without an overall end in mind, teachers can create wonderful individual rooms that won’t necessarily fit together within and across floors or achieve the intended results.

The Common Core Standards have been developed with long-term outcomes in mind (e.g., College and Career Anchor Standards in English Language Arts), and their components are intended to work together (e.g., Content and Practice Standards in mathematics). This point is highlighted in a recently released publication, Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (July 2012):

“‘The Standards’ refers to all elements of the design -- the wording of domain headings, cluster headings, and individual statements; the text of the grade level introductions and high school category descriptions; the placement of the standards for mathematical practice at each grade level. The pieces are designed to fit together, and the standards document fits them together, presenting a coherent whole where the connections within grades and the flows of ideas across grades ....”

From "K–8 Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics" 7/20/2012

It is imperative that educators understand the intent and structure of the Standards in order to work with them most effectively. Accordingly, we recommend that schools set the expectation and schedule the time for staff to read and discuss the standards, beginning with the “front matter,” not the grade-level standards. We also recommend that staff reading and discussion be guided by an essential question: What are the new distinctions in these Standards and what do they mean for our practice? Since the standards are complex texts and demand a “close” reading, we recommend that staff carefully examine the table of contents and the organizational structure; the headers (e.g., Design Considerations; What is Not Covered, etc.), the components (e.g., Anchor Standards and Foundational Skills for ELA; Standards for Mathematical Practice), and the Appendices (ELA).

Following a thorough reading of these introductory sections, discuss the changing instructional emphases called for by the Standards and their implications. For example, the ELA Standards demand a greater balance between reading informational and literary texts, and stress the use of text-based evidence to support argumentation in writing and speaking. The Mathematics Standards accentuate the focus on a smaller set of conceptually larger ideas that spiral across the grades (as opposed to simply “covering” numerous skills) with an emphasis on meaningful application using the Practices.

We cannot overemphasize the value of taking the time to collaboratively examine the Standards in this way. Failure to understand the Standards and adjust practices accordingly will likely result in “same old, same old” teaching with only superficial connections to the grade-level standards. In that case, their promise to enhance student performance will not be realized.

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From Common Core Standards to Curriculum Series: Five Big Ideas
In this series, authors Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins explore five big ideas about the Common Core State Standards and their translation into a curriculum. The goal of this series is to clear up misunderstandings and offer recommendations for designing a coherent curriculum and assessment system for realizing the standards' promise.

Jay McTighe

education author and consultant
In This Series
In this series, authors Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins explore five big ideas about the Common Core State Standards and their translation into a curriculum. The goal of this series is to clear up misunderstandings and offer recommendations for designing a coherent curriculum and assessment system for realizing the standards' promise.

Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Jessica's picture

I understand the goal and success for these standards is one that will be a long term process. It is hard to imagine the outcome of the future, considering that the Common Core Standards began with last years kindergarteners (2011-2012) with hopes that these students will be better prepared to meet the challenges in math and college language arts standards. Just think, those kindergarteners will not be in college until 2023/2024! Teachers should keep a positive outlook that if we all do our best to teach not TO these standards but MEET these standards throughout our teaching, years from now, our country will experience the benefits of such a long term goal!

Patriia's picture
Second grade teacher in Phenix City, Alabama

I was very excited to see your series on Common Core Standards. We have been hearing this a lot this year, but we also thought it was the "same ole, same ole." We adopted a new math series this year, and I love it! Yes, it is definitely more challenging for the students, but I know with the focus being on the CCS, they will eventually be better off. We definitely need more Professional Development on the long term impact of Common Core, but I am on board and believe it's going to work. Thanks for the series; I am anxiously waiting for the rest of the them!

Jaime Shaughnessy's picture

I am currently facing the challenge of understanding and implementing the new standards. I agree that it is necessary for teachers to be offered professional development opportunities related to the standards. Thank you for the valuable information and the series!

Rodney's picture
Kindergarten Teacher from Maryland

The Common Core seems to allow a teacher more autonomy in lesson planning. I am new to this curriculum and will be learning as I go along.

John Huber's picture

There was virtually no input from the business community in creating the Common Core Standards. 75% of us go directly into the work force after high school. If we focus all of our attention on preparing students for the college path we are ignoring the vast majority of the population. Common core probably will do a great job of creating academicians but it doesn't address the needs of the real world. There are only enough seats in college for about 20 million students. We need to adjust our priorities. College isn't the only path to success. Ask Bill Gates.

Theresa's picture
Language Arts, Grades 6,7,8. Catholic Cathechist Grade 6

I think the "here we go again" feeling comes from the fact that we as educators have seen this kind of push before. My frustration isn't with the change in standards, curriculum, or even practices. My frustration is with the refusal to give educators time to grow into the changes in standards, curriculum and practices. Although as someone said we won't see the benefits of the Common Core until 1224-1225 when this year's kindergarten students graduate from high school, teachers know from past experience that some other "paradigm shift" will come around long before that. Just as we start to feel that we have adapted to the "new" someone decides that is "old" and therefore "bad". It feels as if we should just keep our currrent "teaching wardrobe" in a storage room somewhere. Like vintage clothing, those practices are bound to "come back in vogue" in another decade.

Karen Johnson's picture

You say it's not just another change--it's different-- but I've been hearing THAT with every change for years too. I've even said it.

Ask yourself who is making money from this.
Also, please explain where the money is going to come from for the training as well as time for implementation and collaboration, etc.

It can be the best change in education in decades or even since the beginning of time, but if teachers are overworked, students are stressed (or absent, or uninterested, or...), classes are too large, parents are too demanding, it's not going to happen, or at least not well.

I am a good teacher; a professional. I'm the one you want your child to be with. But I have 185 students I see each day for 45 quick minutes (not to mention near 30 in advisory), one 45 minute prep, hall duty, meetings, and more meetings, and being asked to add one more thing to my plate is not fair to me or to my students.

I could go on but it's too depressing. CCSS is not the answer, at least not at the moment. We have other priorities--or at least should have.

Bruce's picture
elementary tech teacher

With the "core" now comes a standards based education and boxed curriculum from the business sector. Many of these curriculums are "scripted" ie the teacher does nothing but read from the materials.
Are we really moving ahead or just feeding [ paying ] the machine that makes the lessons?

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