No Cliff Notes for the Common Core

If you don’t know where to start in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), here’s a simple piece of advice from Grant Wiggins. Sit down and read the book.

Don’t just skim the document. Or refer to it. Or cherry-pick what directly relates to your subject or grade levels. Sit down and do a close reading of the standards from cover to cover. Read the appendices, too. Some of most important standards for English Language Arts are in the appendices, says Wiggins, co-author of the Understanding by Design series.

Wiggins believes this is one of the best ways to wrap your head around the task of integrating the common core in your school or schools. Organize local reading teams and reading sessions. Ask yourselves as you read the standards, what are the problems that they are trying to address?

Here’s one way not to read the standards: Don’t read the standards as a long laundry list of discrete knowledge and skills you must cover in the classroom.

This is not how you read a cookbook or a building code, Wiggins says. When you read a cookbook you do not just read the lists of ingredients. You think of the meals that you want to serve. When you are building a house, you and the architect do not spend all your time talking about how you will meet the building code. You talk about the living space that you want to create. In the end, the building code will be met, but this is not what is driving how you build your house.

Once you have done a close reading of the text, the next job is to translate the standards into teacher-friendly approaches to curriculum, instruction and assessment design.

One way to translate the standards is to play close attention to the language, the verbs, the nouns, the qualifiers. If a standard says students must be able to “argue,” you know that assessments will need to ask students to build an argument, Wiggins says. If a standard says students need to be “close readers,” you know the assessments will need to show that students have grasped many of the details and nuances of a text.

My father-in-law, a retired American Studies professor, often used to say about a book, if he had merely skimmed it or read sections of it, “I’ve read in it.” It was his amusing way of acknowledging that while the book was important, the reading demands on him were such that he had not been able to really read it.

Wiggins’ advice about the common core standards is: Don’t read in it; read it!


Webinar with Grant Wiggins

What it means for you: Begin the work of aligning your curriculum with the common core standards using the Understanding by Design process

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