Common Sense on the Common Core

Whenever new initiatives are rolled out across school boards, teachers have to adapt. Learning new skills and policies, implementing best practice based on revised guidelines and changing our lesson plans and teaching philosophies to best meet the needs of the students we teach. An essential part of our role is guiding and advising parents on how they can support the work we are doing in the classroom with consolidation and revision at home.

Learning doesn't happen in a vacuum or stop at the classroom door, students use a variety of inputs to understand the world and their place in it and this is precisely why home-school links are so vital. Parents and teachers are partners in learning and students achieve more when we work together, as researchers at the Harvard Family Research Project found:

Family involvement promotes school success for every child of every age.

With this in mind, the implementation of the common core is a unique move in the US educational system which has traditionally left curriculum planning to individual states. Now, like the United Kingdom with their National Curriculum and Australia with their National Standards, the United States of America has its nationally agreed upon syllabus, usually referred to as the “Common Core”. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a framework for the teaching of Math and English Language Arts. National standards raise attainment as they create a benchmark to measure success and a goal for teachers, parents and students to work towards.

USC Rossier School of Education has produced an infographic explaining the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) including the history of the document, ways it is introduced in schools, which states have adopted and implemented the standards and assessments, tools and resources  for teachers and parents. This resource breaks down the expectations of CCSS and explains how they differ to previous measurements of success.

How Can Teachers Support Parents?

In order to work together for the benefit of all students and to raise education and attainment standards across the nation through the use of the CCSS, teachers need to reach out to parents by:

  • Avoid jargon: we need to ensure we are all using the same language. The field of education uses industry speak that some parents may not be familiar with. For instance, it can be useful to break up the English Language Arts (ELA) subjects into reading, writing, listening and speaking and language topics so that parents understand the goals for their child.
  • Hold a meeting: invite parents to an information session to share literature about the standards and discuss any worries or provide an opportunity to answer questions parents may have about the process.
  • Provide information: be sure to carefully explain things that have changed from your school's precious curriculum, and especially any parts of the new program that may have received negative attention in the media, such as the “Conceptual Understanding” standards in Math.
  • Expect some initial resistance: any change causes a degree of anxiety, many teachers were also reluctant to implement changes but once progress can be seen, people begin to feel more confident in the process. Parents will be rightly concerned about their child's success, remind them that this is also your priority as their teacher. By working together a transition from one way of doing things to another can be seamless for all. 

Home Activities

Once parents are on board and understand the changes we are trying to create in class, they can do their part to continue the learning at home. Here is a list of activities parents can complete with their child at home to foster the skills sought in the common core standards, share them in your information session and encourage parents to join you as a collaborator of success for all students.

Reading 

The CCSS have a focus on reading comprehension, after reading with your child, ask them questions about the pictures, setting or characters, ask them to predict, imagine and interpret the text. Ask them to summarize the story and point out the beginning, middle and end of the book.

Writing

The new standards have a focus on different kinds of writing, show your child how you write for different purposes and different audiences, share a shopping list, thank you card, business report etc. Demonstrate how you use writing in your everyday life. As the program features an emphasis on drafting and rewriting, show your child that your writing goes through stages before it is complete, admit when you have made a mistake or need to edit something.

Speaking and Listening

Model good conversation skills by giving your child eye contact when they speak, give clear instructions, ask them to repeat back key information and ask them to clarify their thoughts or opinions. Avoid asking questions that have a yes or no answer and instead say“How do you feel about that?” “What do you think?“

Math

Students are still expected to learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, but some of the new standards are asking students to think about how they arrived at an answer, they need to be able to explain their work not just do it. The CCSS also value the practical application of Math, so ask your child to help you with Math problems in real life situations, like making change when shopping, figuring out ingredient amounts when we alter the number of servings in a recipe or calculating the distance for a trip or bike ride.

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards need not be anxiety inducing for teachers, parents or students. As educators it is our job to interpret the standards, relay the information to parents, provide stimulating and creative lessons to address the learning goals and assess the value of the new system as we progress through it. Education by its very nature is an industry that adapts, and changes with each new research finding, as we discover more about the learning process we become more reflective practitioners.

Seasoned educators like Kathryn, a retired educator who spent 30 years in the classroom will tell you:

Education intiatives are implemented all the time, I have seen many come and go. You do your best to present them positively and always keep the students education foremost in your mind.

For more information on understanding the CCSS take a look at the Teachers Guide to the Common Core State Standards and also gain some tips on explaining the common core to parents  provided by Achieve The Core, which includes classroom ideas, activities and resources for teachers.

Fiona Tapp, is a Freelance Writer, Educator and Mom.  An Expert in the field of Pedagogy, a teacher of 13 years and Master’s Degree holder in Education. Take a look at her website or blog to connect.