Those of you who read my blog with any regularity know that when the discussion turns to the Common Core State Standards, I am a proponent of district-wide targeting. Teachers need to know what the standards imply and that, I would argue, they cannot get from reading a matrix fait accompli. My contention is supported by a recent EdWeek guest article, “Common Core: Lessons Learned in Kentucky” authored by Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, Terry Holliday. Holiday outlines eight foundational points in Kentucky’s transition to the CCSS. Point #3 is my mantra: Start with Teachers.
Start with teachers. They need to be involved every step of the way…Kentucky created regional Leadership Networks comprised of content specialists in English/language arts and mathematics from each grade level in every district. More than 1,400 Kentucky educators worked to break down the standards into learning targets, focus on assessment literacy and the characteristics effective teaching and learning. This process resulted in not only a deeper understanding of the standards but also and how instructional practice needed to change — insights these teachers could share with those in their districts. Instructional support and administrator leadership networks rounded out the team approach to implementation in each district.
However, I find that many of the districts I work with are averse to spending the time and effort on targeting; rather, they are bent on adopting and /or adapting cookie cutter templates for ease and time efficiency. And so, in an effort to both provide my clients with options and my own brain with an ever extending breadth of knowledge, I am reviewing state websites, again, looking for means by which I can help “my” teachers and “my” schools overcome the immensity of the task they see before them. Over the next several weeks, I plan to blog on those websites I have either used in my own work or been guided to from others who are entrenched in the work of Common Core Implementation. In this blog, I will talk about the availability of CCSS resources on the DOE sites of Delaware and Kentucky.
Delaware’s Literacy Concept Organizers: Reading and Writing
Delaware offers a comprehensive website on all things Common Core. On the page titled, Literacy Concept Organizers: Reading and Writing, Delaware shares their “concept organizers” for the unpacked Common Core Standards by using a 3-column KUDs matrix (Know, Understand, Do). I may be showing my ignorance here, but I will confess that I have never heard of KUDs. With a little research, I found some attribute of KUD to Jennifer Kumpost and the Institutes on Academic Diversity though the citations are too vague for certainty. Regardless, the webpage shares unpacked standards both grade level as well as across grades by standard number. In addition to the KUDs unpacking, the concept organizers provide the anchor standard across the top of the organizer, the grade level standard in the middle column with the former and latter grade level standards on each side.
Additionally, the site includes what they are calling “Acquisition Lessons,” multi-day exemplar lessons for Reading Standard 2 in both the Literary and Informational strand. These lessons were “written by many of the members of the Delaware Reading Cadre in accordance with Delaware’s Race To The Top requirements” (Overview to the Lessons, July 2012). Although the exemplar lessons precede the deconstructed standards, they obviously reflect the results of a comprehensive process that included the Backward by Design approach. UbD is also cited within the documents I found to support the basis of the KUDs deconstruction. Each Acquisition Lesson details the grade level deconstructed standard, prerequisite skills, essential questions, points of formative assessment, teaching strategies for differentiation, instructional script for each component of the lesson as well as cognitive summarizing. Additionally, the Delaware site offers writing rubrics that for the most part use the language of the standards.
OBSERVATIONS: My first concern with the unpacking system as used in the Delaware matrices is focused on the occasional lack of specificity in the knowledge base as delineated in the first column of each matrix. For instance, the words “main idea” and “key details” are listed in the knowledge column for both grade 3 and grade 4, but as a reader/teacher, I am left to wonder what is the knowledge piece that I am supposed to teach and students to master: what the words mean; identifying main ideas; identifying key details, etc. Additionally, the understand column is labeled conceptual and so it is. For instance RL.5. lists as one of understandings that “Authors of informational text(s) include key details in order to help readers make meaning of the text.” However, this is also listed as an understanding in grades K, 1, 2, 3, 4. I am not seeing a staircase of intellectual growth in the unpacking of these standards. There does not appear to be clear delineation of the differences from grade to grade in the unpacking of the standards. My general observation is that many of the same words and skill sets are repeated over and over, in knowledge area as well as understanding throughout the grades and within the corresponding documents.
In turning to the writing work offered by Delaware, I have a few issues with the writing rubrics. For the sake of “commonness” the rubrics are generic; a claim supported by footnote to asterisk denoting “if applicable.” All writing rubrics, including narrative, have four aspects for evaluation: Reading/Research, Development, Organization, Language/Conventions. The PARCC Model Content Frameworks divorces narrative writing from reading; Delaware is a SBAC state, so they may see narrative differently than I. Additionally, to my thinking, the aspect titled “Conventions/Language” should be more closely tied to the actual CCSS grade-level language standards. Overall, rubrics should more closely reflect the writing task at hand and as such, support the writer’s work. Moreover, I worry that administration may confuse the availability of writing rubrics with expertise in teaching skill.
Kentucky’s English Language Arts Deconstructed Standards
Unlike Delaware, Kentucky has chosen the Knowledge, Reasoning, Skills, Product framework developed by Dr. Rick Stiggns as a way to “unpack” the Common Core Standards in a series of documents accessed through Kentucky DOE’s English Language Arts Deconstructed Standards. The KRSP framework (as it became known in my home-state of Illinois) involves the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy in determining the types of student thinking implied by the standard. For example, in the Kentucky document RI.5.1. Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text (CCSS, 2010) is further broken down into a knowledge and a reasoning target. The knowledge required to be successful in the is standard is stated in the Kentucky document as “Explain explicitness of text by quoting accurately from the text.” The reasoning target is exemplified with these words: “Draw inferences using textual information.” Although the fifth grade standard may appear relatively sparse, the targets as identified by Kentucky do address the two parts of the standard, both new at the fifth grade. However, I wondered when does the word “explicit” first appear in the grade-level standards.
The answer as many of you already know is in RL.3.1. Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers (CCSS, 2010). However, Kentucky does not refer to any knowledge base regarding the student’s understanding of the word “explicit” as a precursor to being able to complete what they have targeted as a reasoning: “Refer explicitly to the text to answer questions” (3rd Grade Kentucky Core Academic Standards with Targets). What I do not see in Kentucky’s targeting is the further parsing of standards into the kinds of discrete knowledge and reasoning skills students will need in order be successful in meeting the expectations of the standards. That is not to say teachers do not address these learning needs, only to indicate that such instruction is not explicitly indicated as a look for in the teacher’s repertoire and the students experiences. This absence in the deconstruction is perhaps related to the nature of the framework Kentucky selected. In their KRSPing framework and in following the KRSPing process, among the steps is determining the highest point of the standard itself: Knowledge, Reasoning, Performance Skill, or Product.Because the demands of reading are invisible–they result in no tangible product, none of the targets move beyond reasoning.
One weakness of the Kentucky’s work is the choice to sometimes omit parenthetical references within a grade-level standard. For example, RL.7.5. Analyze how a drama’s or poem’s form or structure (e.g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning (CCSS, 2010, p. 36) is represented in Kentucky’s targets merely as “Analyze how a drama’s or poem’s form or structure contributes to its meaning” (7th Grade Kentucky Core Academic Standards with Targets, 2011, p. 6). The resulting targets are far less meaty than they otherwise should be; furthermore, this omission has the potential to undermine Kentucky students in their performance in a normative stance. Without the inclusion of parenthetical references, students may not come away with knowledge of the two sonnet structures and how those structures contribute to meaning. Some may say that such content knowledge is unimportant; however, the CCSS for ELA and literacy are the foundation for building English curriculum; study of genre structures such as the sonnet are as important to ELA as are the varying structures of species within a genus. Students whose systems have more closely followed the CCSS and perhaps even upped the standards demands will have had the opportunity to learn literary devices that from the Kentucky document appear to have been overlooked or consciously ignored.
Like their work in reading, Kentucky’s work with the writing standards is comprehensive in terms of the KRSPing they have completed. As with the writing, they have targeted the standards into their chosen framework with fidelity to the language of the standards. However, because writing is a visible product, the targeting goes beyond reasoning and much of the standard language moves then into the product column. However, as with the reading standards and perhaps to an even greater degree, there appear not to be any references to specifics or discrete pieces of knowledge and skill that are required as students move through the complexity of the standard’s staircase.
OBSERVATIONS: I commend the efforts of each state that my blog examines and offer these up to you as individual teachers and/or school districts to become templates for something more inclusive. That, I believe is their very purpose. One state cannot define for all teachers either within its own border much less beyond what precisely needs to be taught in each and every classroom. However, I still adhere to the need for true targeting: specifying discrete knowledge and reasoning skills that students must possess in order to become proficient at disciplinary literacy. Although teachers may complain that they are “reinventing the wheel,” that is merely a worn out phrase thrown up in despair. The fact is, much contained within these standards has not been taught at the grade levels now deemed responsible for the instruction. Claiming “I already do it” is easier than having to admit “I don’t know what this means.” Many of the 7th grade teachers with whom I work do not know the term “soliloquy” nor do they know much about the sonnet as a form…which is the intent of RL.7.5. Without clear and precise targeting we are not allowing our teachers to discover what they do and do not know…therefore, what they do and do not teach.