The Common Core Standards in the Classroom
By: Don Frier
For those of you who don’t know, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a series of standards that have swept the nation, being implemented in response to the Race to the Top (RTT) initiative. A majority of states have seen fit to adopt these standards in order to receive the funds promised in RTT. The CCSS have since been developed and can be found online for the sake of transparency.
In the process of observing classroom instruction at the High School level, I’ve seen the practices outlined in the CCSS utilized. Teachers across the board are aware of these standards and the fact that they need to implement them, as are administrators, and as a result there is a trickle-down effect which is occurring within the school systems. Sarah Brown Wessling talks about the implementation of the CCSS in her book Supporting Students in a Time of Core Standards, giving examples of teachers who are already utilizing these standards in their classrooms to effectively reach their students. One example that she uses is the concept of Context, Fulcrum, and Texture texts in the teaching of literature. (27)
The concept locks in with the anchor standards in the CCSS, specifically relating to “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas.” The utilization of other texts to give relevance to the Fulcrum Text allows for a linking of ideas and concepts that promotes a deeper understanding of each work. This fits the anchor standards CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 to a tee. One of the High Schools on the south shore of Long Island exemplified this very process.
The High School in question was in the process of delving into a new unit dealing specifically with Orwellian fiction. The teacher had just started instructing the students on a unit about Animal Farm, which would turn out to be the student’s Context Text. Students would take the ideas and concepts regarding power structures from Animal Farm, and then use those ideas to apply them to the Fulcrum Text: 1984. By utilizing texts by the same author, students are able to see the voice and draw comparisons between the two works with a great deal more ease. Once entering into the unit on 1984, the students would utilize newspaper clippings and news media that the teacher had collected over the course of her years teaching to exemplify and relate real-world scenarios to the concepts brought up in the two texts, acting like Texture Texts. These Texture Texts would bring relevance to the reading and help to develop the ideas and concepts within the Fulcrum Text, making it more palatable to the students.
The interesting thing to note here is that the administration of that south-shore Long Island school was the one to implement the Context and Fulcrum Text idea into the curriculum. The teacher of that classroom was mandated to teach those two texts in juxtaposition to one another, likely in order to meet the CCSS. As an effective means of approaching the understanding of literature and the relationships between texts, it is a good move on their part. The teacher who is teaching in that classroom agrees with that assessment, perfectly happy to have the opportunity to create a structured development of the reading of such a complex book as 1984.
As more school districts attempt to reach the benchmarks outlined in the CCSS, it is entirely likely we’ll see more innovations of this sort in schools all across the nation. Change of this sort is a welcome one, according to this one teacher at least.
Wessling, Sarah. Supporting Students in a Time of Core Standards. 1st ed. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2011. Print.
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