Common Core – ELA: Mind the shifts

By this fall, schools are expected to have fully implemented the new Common Core English language arts and math standards that are now part of the Maine Learning Results standards. Of course, there’s still much for teachers and all of us to learn about how to adjust our teaching to the new standards, but we know that new standards require teachers to think differently about what they do in the classroom. Below is a quick overview of the six shifts that have been identified as critical to effectively implementing the Common Core standards in ELA. Looking for a little summertime study? Read to the bottom for links to additional resources.

Six Shifts in English Language Arts

1) Staircase of Complexity
In order to prepare students for the complexity of college and career ready literacy, each grade level requires a “step” of growth on the “staircase.” Students read the central, grade-appropriate text on which instruction is centered. Teachers are patient, create more time and space in the curriculum for this close and careful reading, and provide appropriate and necessary scaffolding and supports so that it is possible for students reading below grade level.

2) Balancing Instruction of Informational and Literary Texts (PK-5)
Students read a true balance of informational and literary texts. Elementary school classrooms are, therefore, places where students access the world – science, social studies, the arts and literature – through text. At least 50 percent of what students read is informational in elementary grades. By high school, 70 percent or more of the texts that students read are informational.

3) Knowledge in the Disciplines (6-12)
Developing the literacy skills necessary to unlock deep content learning is a shared responsibility. Content area teachers outside of the ELA classroom emphasize literacy experiences in their planning and instruction. Students learn through domain-specific texts in science and social studies classrooms – rather than simply referring to the text, they are expected to learn from what they read.  Direct instruction of content-specific literacy skills is critical.

4) Text-based Answers
Students have rich and rigorous conversations which are dependent on a common text. Teachers insist that classroom experiences stay deeply connected to the text on the page and that students develop habits for making evidentiary arguments both in conversation, as well as in writing to assess comprehension of a text.

5) Writing from Sources
Writing needs to emphasize use of evidence to inform or make an argument rather than the personal narrative and other forms of decontextualized prompts. While the narrative still has an important role, students develop skills through written arguments that respond to the ideas, events, facts and arguments presented in the texts they read and in other non-print sources such as lecture, video, conversation or other digital media.

6) Academic Vocabulary
Students constantly build the vocabulary they need to access grade-level complex texts. By focusing strategically on comprehension of pivotal and commonly found words (such as “discourse,” “generation,” “theory” and “principled”) and less on esoteric literary terms (such as “onomatopoeia” or “homonym”), teachers constantly build students’ ability to access more complex texts across the content areas.

Maine DOE English language arts and literacy content specialists Morgan Dunton and Lee Anne Larsen are conducting three ELA Summer Institutes and recently completed the first. We’ll share resources from that conference in a future issue of the Commissioner’s Update.

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