Common Core: Verb or Noun

Verb: (in traditional grammar) any of a large class of words in a language that serve to indicate the occurrence or performance of and action, the existence of a state or condition, etc.

Noun: a word or group of words that refers to a person, place, or thing or any syntactically similar word

Over the past few months I, as most of us, have been hard-core common-core!  But what does it mean to be Common Core?  Is it noun, something we are; or is it a verb, something we do?  Although,  I have overheard many educators placing Common Core as a noun, (the thing, of person, place or thing) I think it is more of a verb, the action of doing something.  I believe Common Core is a method, a practice, an action, a verb!  Common Core encompasses the act of doing.  The word standards may be the noun, but Common Core is the verb for achieving those standards.

Historically, education has been built on the basic skills of the 3 R’s Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.  This trifecta has been the foundation of education since the early 1800s.  However, with our new educational shift, I officially would like to replace the trifecta of 3 R’s with a new quadfecta of 4 R’s: Reach, Rigor, Research, and Readiness.  Although basic epistemology will place these words in various parts of speech, I believe Common Core utilizes them as verbs.  Where the original standards serve as a jump off point, the Common Core standards tell you just how far to jump.  The standards are very similar in nature, but Common Core has a deeper expectation and a greater depth of knowledge.

Reach

Reach refers to how far we can go with the expectations.  It is the depth of knowledge not just the breadth of knowledge that we are now expected to teach.  Common Core is requesting that we move beyond the superficial and delve deep into the understanding of information, and more importantly the use of that knowledge through real world application.  Let’s take a look at some standards*:

Original CA ELA Standard:
Analyze the way in which the theme or meaning of a selection represents a view or comment on life, using textual evidence to support the claim.

Common Core ELA Standard:
Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

Both standards request the understanding of theme and meaning.  The original standard is requesting a basic analysis of theme; in other words, what is it and what does it say about life?  The new Common Core version goes deeper and reaches further by requesting the determination of more than one theme, the development of the those themes, and the interaction and foundational use of the themes.  This standard expects students to go beyond the first few levels of depth of knowledge, which merely recite and understand, and show a more symbiotic approach by explicating the development, interaction, and complex uses of the theme(s).

Rigor

By definition, rigor insinuates something that is harsh, strict, or severe.  Having never actually looked up the word in the dictionary, I was actually surprised by the dennotation.  I have always connotatively used the word rigor in education to mean difficult, challenging, and demanding.  Which makes me wonder: do we really want to use the word rigor as a definition of education, I feel that harsh, strict, and severe, are certainly in opposition to EdCode.  But I digress, as that could be a whole other topic of debate (see my article: Rigor: are we sure we want to use that word to be published 7-30-14).  For the purpose of this article, I will use the connotative definition of difficult, challenging, and demanding.  So let’s look at the standards:

The CA ELA standards requests students to write narratives, responses to literature, reflective compositions, and historical investigations.

The Common Core ELA standards request narratives as well, however the rigor comes from their request of argumentative and informative compositions.  So instead of merely responding to literature, reflecting on personal experiences, or describing historical events, students are now asked to argue their personal claims based on textual evidence while examining complex ideas and concepts.  This places the responses to literature, reflective compositions, and historical investigations as the medium by which students build personal claims for original arguments.

As an English teacher and moreover an arts educator, I know the importance of responding to literature and/or artistic works, historical investigations of both literary and artistic nature, and reflective compositions of personal writing and/or artwork, and Common Core is not removing this traditional importance, but rather asking that we now look at it through an argumentative or analysis lens.

Research

We are in the digital age, with information flying from our fingertips.  Common Core is embracing this and saying let’s use it to our advantage!

CA ELA Standard:
Develop presentations by using clear research questions and creative and critical research strategies (e.g., field studies, oral histories, interviews, experiments, electronic sources).

Common Core ELA Standard:

Conduct short, as well as more sustained, research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, and demonstrate understanding of the subject under investigation.

Both standards are requesting research, however the term research has frequently and loosely been described as the act of reporting, not necessarily researching.  This is fine for our primary grades who are learning how to look for information, but at the secondary level our job is to prepare our students for college and/or career, which means we must use the true definition of research.  By definition, research is an investigation with the purpose of discovering or revising facts, theories, applications, etc. and the Common Core research standards explicitly ask for problem solving, inquiry adjustment, and source synthesis.

This is a higher level of research, historically displaced until college.  Whereas, with the past standards, a simple report on a topic would suffice, Common Core is building college readiness by requesting authentic research on an argumentative and/or analysis level.  True research expects one to investigate systematically with the purpose of establishing facts and new conclusions, unfortunately, a simple report does not meet that expectation, so we must push our students to a higher level and understanding of research,

Readiness

One thing that the past standards never really touched on was college and career readiness.  Common Core, along with 21st century skills, have now made this a foundational expectation of contemporary education.  Most job descriptions do not request literary analysis or poetry recitation.  Don’t get me wrong, understanding great works of literature and the poets of our past does provide our students with cultural understanding, acceptance, tolerance, and furthermore, exposes our students to genius and renown authors who have paved the way for contemporary works and our future artists.

However, Common Core has now placed high regard for informational texts from diverse media and formats.  Which, if you think about it, is really a foundation for what is expected of our students once they proceed in the “Real World”.   Examining articles, advertisements, visual and audio stimuli, as well as seminal and contemporary literature, provides a more well-rounded approach to real-life experience.  Although these facets of medium were implied within the previous standards, Common Core places them as an explicit forefront to college and career readiness.

When you look at the state standards and the common core standards side-by-side, they mirror each other quite nicely.  All of the previous standards are present and relevant to the Common Core standards, however, Common Core (the verb) is offering us a more concrete way of looking at them, as well as providing a more tangible way to achieve them.  The predominant difference lies in the language.  Our previous standards merely grazed the surface of learning and expected students to learn something (noun).  Common Core expects students to do (verb) something, and offers more ways of accomplishing that, hence why I like to think of Common Core as a verb not a noun.  For a side-by-side comparison of the CA ELA standards and the Common Core ELA standards, as well as sample products for each, look for my article: Common Core Curriculum: an Oxymoron to be published May 12, 2014.

So as you begin planning your Common Core approach to lessons, remember to provide Reach, Rigor, Research, and Readiness, the new 4 R’s of education!

Piquès and Pirouettès
-Typh

* For the purpose of this article I will use my personal schema which is the subject of English/Language Arts, and the California State Standards.

Next Week: Teaching Strategies

ARTISTIC Critique: a strategy for critiquing art in the secondary classroom