Tools to Unpack the ELA Common Core Standards
By Sarah Tantillo
How can teachers unpack the Common Core standards for English/Language Arts and then create objectives and activities to meet them?
First, we have to develop an appreciation for the CCSS ELA trajectory (which I have blogged about HERE and HERE). But before we can really teach the standards, we must also understand exactly what they mean and what they entail.
Often seemingly “simple” standards require extensive scaffolding, and some of the complicated ones are even more complicated than they might appear. (For example, Calkins, Ehrenworth, and Lehman refer to Writing Standard #9 as “the standard with twenty standards hidden within it,” and I don’t disagree.) To unpack the standards, you need to do the following:
- Paraphrase the standard. It’s important to know what the standard is saying on a literal level so that you can break it down into manageable pieces.
- Figure out why we do this standard. Determining the purpose(s) of a standard will help you explain to students why it’s worth mastering. And thinking about this rationale will help you later when you want to design objectives that are purposeful.
- Identify the skills that students will need in order to meet this standard. Almost invariably, students will need more than one skill in order meet any given standard. If you don’t break the standard down, you might skip over key skills that need to be taught. And if you don’t teach the needed skills, students won’t master the standard (and worse: you won’t know why).
- Determine how you could assess this standard. What would mastery of this standard look like? Once you’re confident you know what mastery looks like, it’s easier to plan how to get students to that level.
- Brainstorm on how you might teach this standard. For the moment, stick to general approaches; don’t worry about detailed lesson plans yet. The purpose here is to generate some rough ideas about how to approach the standard.
- Design RPM (rigorous, purposeful, measurable) objectives related to these skills. (For more information on RPM objectives, click HERE.) These objectives will lead you logically to lesson plans that set students up to meet and exceed the standards. Note: This step can be challenging to do in a vacuum; it works best if teachers have specific texts in mind that they plan to use to meet these objectives.
To support teachers working through this unpacking process, I’ve created what I hope is a simple, user-friendly graphic organizer. Here is a completed model:
|STANDARD:||RIT 6.1: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.|
||Provide properly-quoted evidence from the text to support your explanation of what the text says directly and what it implies.|
|WHY do we do this standard? What purposes does it serve?||We provide evidence to support arguments because no one would believe us if we didn’t; we prove our points more persuasively when we offer evidence. We use this skill when speaking and writing in order to convince listeners/readers about our views/ideas. It is important to cite the source to give the writer credit for his/her work and avoid plagiarism, and so that the audience can find that evidence as needed.|
|WHAT SKILLS will students need?||
|How might you ASSESS this standard? What would mastery of this standard LOOK LIKE?||
|HOW might you teach this standard?||
|What are some RPM OBJECTIVES related to these skills?||SWBAT…
At the ASCD annual conference in March, I’ll be presenting a workshop that will lead participants through this process of unpacking the Common Core standards in ways that enable teachers to design rigorous, purposeful, and measurable units, lessons, and objectives. If you plan to be in Los Angeles March 15-17, 2014, join us!
This post is an excerpt from Sarah Tantillo’s forthcoming book, Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, June 2014). See another excerpt: “Skimming: the Overlooked Close Reading Skill.”
Sarah Tantillo is a literacy consultant who taught secondary school English and Humanities in both suburban and urban public schools for fourteen years, including seven years at the high-performing North Star Academy Charter School of Newark. She’s the author of The Literacy Cookbook and offers professional development help at her blog of the same name.