Before I introduce what I’ve come to call the “non-freaked out approach” to Common Core literacy intruction (pictured above), let me first do a bit of work introducing how I came to rest in these five essential practices. Keep in mind that, throughout all of this and up to today, I have been a full-time English and history teacher in a small-town high school in West Michigan.
A bit more than two years ago, I was completing my sixth year of teaching, and I realized I needed a “push” professionally. I was getting results with my students—never as high as I hoped, of course—my administrative evaluations were positive, and I was enjoying my students and my job.
There were still so many things about teaching that I simply had not explored. Standards were a very big one of those things. As a rule, I had religiously avoided standards documents during my teacher education and initial years as a teacher. I found them long, tedious, and burdensome—and guess what? Not paying attention them didn’t seem to be hurting my performance as a teacher.
It was the growing murmurs I was hearing about the Common Core literacy standards that started to make me wonder if perhaps there would be value in actually reading these things. If nothing else, I would at least know what all the freaking out was about.
And so it was that I decided I would force myself to read the Common Core during the summer of 2012. How would I do this? I would blog my way through them. I figured a couple of other teachers might find what I was doing helpful, and at least their readership would provide the peer pressure I would need to get these things read.
But what ended up happening was significantly different from what I expected.
I started to find that reading the standards was actually making me more confident as a teacher. These weren’t the incomprehensible, insanely unrealistic wish lists of the past; there was a simplcity to them. Ten things in reading, ten in writing, 6 in speaking/listening, 6 in language. Many of them, I was already doing. I became increasingly incredulous of the freaking out that attended these standards; I realized much of it was being done by people who simply hadn’t read them.
So that summer I read and blogged through the standards themselves, as well as elements of the introductoy matter and the appendices. Come fall, I was ready to start playing around with implementation.
What I found that fall in the classroom was that, true to the central thesis of Mike Schmoker’s Focus, the standards needed reducing if they were going to be truly mastered by students. This realization started me on a journey to figure out an answer to a simple question: how could the standards be boiled down to potent, powerful, simple instructional practices?
In my post next week, I’ll explain the first element of the simplified, non-freaked out framework I came up with.