Biggest shift of Common Core is not 'what' we are teaching but 'how,' says E4E-NY teacher Amber Peterson

December 21, 2013

The following is adapted from a speech prepared for the Manhattan Common Core town hall. 

My last few years were spent at a school that put a lot of time and resources into preparing teachers for the Common Core.  We attended workshops and conferences and had copious amounts of professional development aimed at readying us to teach to the new standards.  While difficult and stressful at times, this gradual rollout made the Common Core less of a shock to my senses than it seems to have been for others.  

My first attempts to grapple with the standards were awkward.  I, like many others, presumed that rigorous meant really, really hard.  Immediately, and with the best of intentions, I started assigning my 7th graders reading I hadn’t done until high school and college.  And while I learned that my students were more capable than I often gave them credit for, I was still, predictably, met with some pretty dismal results.  I was frustrated and confused.  It wasn’t until I stopped thinking of the standards as a vague curriculum and started thinking of them as a guide to my instruction and instructional practice that I began to see positive results. 

The biggest shift of the Common Core is not “what” we are teaching but “how.”  To truly engage in the common core, students must do the work.  Rigorous means that students are thinking critically and figuring things out for themselves.  Unfortunately, our students are used to being passive learners.  With pressure from literally every direction, many of us have unwittingly gotten into the habit of spoon-feeding.  We teach and teach and take on all responsibility for our students’ success.  The great thing about the Common Core is that it holds students accountable for learning.  It demands that students defend their learning and articulate their understanding.  These are the skills that will prepare our students for success no matter what their plan after high school graduation.  To backtrack now would be doing them a great disservice. 

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