The Common Core and your Classroom

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

Now that implementation has begun in earnest throughout a good chunk of the country, it’s time to talk about what a person can expect if they were to walk into a math classroom being operated in the true sense of the Common Core.

This is not a discussion of the curricular standards themselves, but rather what the Practice Standards (found here for math) look like when implemented. They can also be taken as signals of what the new standards want accomplished across the curricula, no matter the subject area. This is particularly important for the subjects that do not yet have any Common Core standards.

The work is more rigorous

“Rigor” is undoubtedly the buzzword of the Common Core movement. The framers of the standards believe students need more of it in order to compete on the global stage. But it would be a mistake to equate rigor with simply more work. Rigor is more challenging work, saying nothing about the amount.

More rigor requires some differentiation and a commitment to formative assessment in an effort to stay in a student’s zone of proximal development, the “sweet spot” between work that is too easy and too hard. The student should remain challenged without becoming frustrated that concepts are too far out of reach.

Tasks are more authentic

Both sets of Practice Standards call for classroom tasks to better relate to the world of college and career. In other words, students should be asked to do more jobs that they would be asked to do after they leave school. Some have taken this movement as a validation of Project-Based Learning and have modified their curricula accordingly.

It is the hope of the Common Core that if you were to walk into a classroom, you would find students busy working toward a common goal similar to that which a group of employees might have in the real world, depending on the subject area. Mainly, the question “Where are we going to use this?” should be made obsolete.

Students are more questioning, of each other and even of the instructor

The Common Core makes it resoundingly clear that students will be required to think critically. Critical thinking has become a broad concept, but it means the ability to solve problems and be able to defend how you solved them. To that end, both sets of Practice Standards call for students to be able to question each other.

Aside from occasional group work, this practice has been frowned on in the past. It was viewed as the teacher’s responsibility to correct a student if their answer or idea was incorrect and that was the end of the discussion. Students should now be openly helping each other refine their thought processes in an effort to develop these critical thinking skills.