Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Teachers are key to quality Common Core-aligned instructional materials

In Education Week’s “Curriculum Matters” Dec. 18 blog post, Catherine Gewertz reports on the frustrations many teachers, districts, and states have experienced in searching for Common Core-aligned instructional materials. While we acknowledge this very real frustration, we think there is a way forward.

As Gewertz writes, “Denver public school system has been scouring the market for instructional resources in math and English/language arts, but hasn't found anything it likes enough to justify the multimillion-dollar investment.”

As many educators have found, much of the instructional materials publishers have labeled “Common Core-aligned” fall short of those criteria.

Gewertz explains that Denver, like other districts, then attempted to create its own curriculum only to return “the drawing board” after that enormous undertaking suffered its own pitfalls.

That leaves Denver teachers pretty much betwixt and between, as tests for the common core draw near,” as Gewertz concludes. “They're adapting their current resources as well as they can, and district officials are supporting those efforts. But it's likely that many other districts are in similar straits.”

We know these straits well, and we would like to offer a way forward. We support Denver and other districts in holding publishers to high standards, but we especially applaud their willingness to allow teachers to create their own instructional materials, even as we acknowledge the huge challenges and anxieties inherent in such a high-stakes effort.

We understand that Denver has not found success in creating its own curricula thus far, but we strongly believe that a curriculum that truly supports students in achieving the goals of the Common Core must be current and responsive to students’ changing needs and interests. Therefore, it must be shaped by local teachers; with the right resources and support, they can do this work.

As educators, we know that teachers already have far too much on their plates and that doing this work well takes time teachers rarely have. That’s why we’ve developed a model and resources for using informational text that can help teachers tackle one of the most challenging instructional shifts mandated by the Common Core. Teachers in all content areas have found that our model is highly adaptable and applicable to the literacy challenges and needs of their discipline.

We also offer some units that we have created in Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird. In this text, and in our work-in-progress on A Raisin in the Sun, we’ve gathered a wide range of informational texts for teachers and created a variety of activities and assignments for teachers to use to fill in gaps and make connections with the anchor literary text. Please see our sample units for To Kill a Mockingbird as well as our blog posts on how to use these strategies in the classroom.

Our series is intended to produce high-quality, deeply engaging units. But we hope our work serves as an inspiration for teachers; we can and should all be creating and sharing these kinds of units as we adjust to the Common Core.

We have been inspired by the many educators around the country to whom we’ve had the opportunity to speak since we began our work on using informational text. Over and over, we encounter teachers who are already doing this work – and presenting their students with exciting, relevant, challenging lessons that will help them develop the strong critical thinking, reading, and writing skills they will need to succeed in their 21st century futures – as well as teachers who are eager to begin once given a clear model that not only maps out how to do this work in a manageable and effective way but also demonstrates the great potential rewards of doing so.

Note to districts and administrators: the secret to the Common Core is your own teachers. Give them the time and resources to do the work! After all, this is why we all became teachers. Good for Long Beach, CA, for putting the curriculum into the hands of their teachers. And to those administrators in Denver who aren’t yet satisfied with the district-produced curriculum, don’t give up yet. Even if a home-grown curriculum isn’t fully feasible, the efforts you make to empower your teachers to do this work will surely pay enormous dividends as we all muddle through the messy process of transitioning to the Core.

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