The skill set for Common Core is pretty static. There are NOT a lot of skills. For literature there are ten skills. TEN. For Georgia Educators who have been here for a while, mentioning the word QCC conjures up images of hundreds of skills that had to be taught just for reading. This shifts how we look at ELA instruction. Students in ELA have fewer skills than Science, Math, and Social Studies. Why? The other content areas are heavy on multiple concepts. In ELA, the Common Core Standards revolve around ONE concept: How do I deconstruct text? That is it. Students are learning to analyze text and communicate this analysis effectively.
Pick up a Ball
This is analogous to learning a sport or learning to play an instrument. You need just a few skills to play the sport. You need a lot of practice to be good at the sport. My seven year old has mastered all of the rules for basketball. She can explain them to you, show you different techniques, and even tell you how to improve your game, but she is actually a pretty lousy player. This is the same with Analyzing text. Students can know the skills and strategies, but only the only ones that will meet the goal of Common Core are those who practice—A LOT. We don’t want a bunch of seven year olds with knowledge of the game. We want to develop some solid players, who perform on the road, at home games, under pressure, and even some All Stars.
Cute Integrated Units
When teachers focus their energy on designing an integrated unit that will include text on Magnets, because we are learning about Magnets, they are missing the point. You don’t dribble a ball during a sitcom and claim that you have integrated the two. That isn’t integrated practice. That’s walking and chewing at that same time. We don’t need walking; we need strategy, responsiveness, and intuition that comes from being in a situation over and over again.
We also don’t want students to stand in one place and take three point shots for five hours. That would be drill and kill. Yes—you have been really practicing, but for Common Core you have to practice those three pointers for thirty minutes, get your coaches feedback, then jump in a practice game and see if you can take that shot. Then you come back tomorrow and play in that game, perfecting your three point shot, while blocking and even stealing a few passes, each time taking note of what needs to be improved on. The next time you practice, you are always looking toward the game. In Common Core the game is deconstructing text.
Planning for Common Core is not about creative units on Slavery, or Characters finding courage. That would be the same as focusing on which team you play in a tournament, instead of worrying about practicing your blocking technique within a game so that you can take more shots.
Basketball and Common Core
Using this basketball analogy, let’s look at our approach to Common Core Planning.
Our 10 Reading Literature and 10 Reading Informational standards is a list of what the greats do in basketball. This is what Michael Jordan is an expert at—all of these RL and RI standards. Good players are experts at ALL of these too, that is a given. Jordan, however, is also a master of the ten writing standards, language ones, and can use them in concert. We have the blueprint; we know what they our text deconstructors need to do well. What we have to do is figure out how to get our students to practice those skills in different contexts so that they can play in a championship game, with or without us. These “practice games” are the different text that you introduce in your class. It’s the excerpt from the basal reader, the news article, the video of that famous speech, the advertisement ripper out of the magazine. The text (the game) can be against anyone! Your job is to make sure that your players get to play a lot and play lots of different types of players. Don’t set them up to play the worst teams every week. You want them to encounter the strange, the big, the excellent, the intimidating…The skill set is not that big—the difference is the practice. As teachers we are tasked with crafting practice opportunities so carefully that students are getting stronger, more independent, and can go out and play the game. This is not product based, they don’t “have it” when they make or build something. They “have it” when they can jump into the basketball game and know what to do without the teacher there. So plan your practice sessions. Watch your players and their needs, set up dozens of games, and see how much of an All Star Team you can build.