The Common Core in Action



Teaching Students to Dig Deeper: The Common Core in Action
By Ben Johnson
(Eye on Education/Routledge, 2013 – Learn more)

RLauraVonStadeneviewed by Laura Von Staden

As many states move to something akin to national standards in literacy and mathematics, books on the topic are in high demand. Ben Johnson, a Texas principal and instructional coach, aims to fill this need with strategies to use in teaching the Common Core.

Johnson divides his book into 13 chapters in 4 sections:

I.   Creating Thinkers
II.  Creating College- and Career-ready Learners
III. Building Resiliency
IV. Creating Communicators

teaching students to dig deeper von stadenIn the first several chapters, Johnson focuses on the identified skills, the expressed need for critical and analytical thinkers and problem solvers, and the capacities necessary for teachers to create these types of thinkers. He provides strategies and techniques for helping to promote these skills. He also helps us shift our prospective on learning and education by pointing out the importance of cognitive dissonance to correct misconceptions and noting that sometimes reinventing the wheel results in a better wheel. (Read an excerpt at Johnson’s Edutopia blog.)

In the book’s second section, Johnson addresses types of learners – inquisitive, opportunistic and flexible – and provides a number of strategies and techniques to use with each group. While many of his strategies are sound learning approaches, most of them are commonly used, tried and true. Furthermore, the descriptions of each of the strategies/techniques are very short, which are perfect if you are familiar with the technique, but lacking in necessary depth if you are not.

Persistence and communication

In the third section of Teaching Students to Dig Deeper, Johnson discusses building resiliency. The chapters in this section are short, and he only provides a couple of strategies for each. Chapter 7: Willingness to Accept Critical Feedback focuses on peer review using a rubric, while Chapter 8: Willingness to Adjust Based on Feedback focuses on setting clear learning goals, providing detailed timely feedback and allowing students multiple opportunities to be successful by applying the feedback. The final chapter in this section focuses on helping students to be open to failure.

The final section is titled Creating Communicators. Johnson begins with a discussion of the importance of vocabulary to be able to understand and convey meaning. He then addresses the skills necessary to be effective communicators in both oral and written forms (Chapter 10) and ties this discussion very nicely to the oral and written communication standards in the common core. Chapter 11 addresses gathering information and building informational literacy skills, while Chapter 12 discusses helping students to draw inferences and reach conclusions.

Johnson then finishes the book with a discussion of using technology to enhance learning. He cites the growing availability of technology and encourages us to help students learn to use these tools productively to help them become college and career ready.

Good on theory, but short on practical detail

While Johnson provided many strategies and techniques throughout the book, the ones included in the first two sections were mostly tried and true, and so for this veteran teacher, did not provide a lot of new resources. The third and fourth sections of the book seemed much more focused directly on the Common Core standards and the needs of students, but had considerably fewer strategies and techniques than the earlier sections.

Additionally, throughout the book the descriptions of the strategies and techniques are quite short, and thus as a resource for strategies and techniques, I did not find the book very helpful. However, in terms of rethinking how we look at education and learning in the face of the common core, the book posed some thought provoking perspectives.

Laura Von Staden has a Ph.D. in Molecular Immunology and a Master’s in Special Education. Dr. Von Staden is a Special Education Middle School Teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district and works closely with the local university where she serves as a master mentor. She also serves as a facilitator for an online teacher learning community sponsored by her local teacher organization.


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