Friday, May 2, 2014

Explore the Core (Common Core State Standards)

There is a lot of debate surrounding the CCSS but that’s healthy; after-all, in education you can be sure of one thing—change will happen and you can’t always be certain it’s for the best. Programs and approaches often cycle through our school systems with new names, minor (or major) changes and a big price tag. It makes sense to take a close and appraising look at the changes before hopping on board and spending our limited resources to do so.

That said, since the majority of the states in the US have adopted the standards, and we need to get on with our job of educating children, I’d like to look for creative ways to implement them. We don’t need to make extravagant purchases to begin. There are wonderful resources around our schools that will do the job effectively: good books, involved parents, dedicated teachers and librarians, like our very own Allison Brown who used her creative talents to raise funds to purchase new books for our students. She is aware of the new standards and was inspired by them to increase our selection of non-fiction books and refresh our selection of fiction. 

Besides a shift to more non-fiction in our schools, the Common Core State Standards bring other changes.  I’ve been poking around the CCSS website to identify some of them ( When I read, “[t]he Standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school,” I realized that I too share that responsibility. I’m not a classroom teacher but I do support students in my role as a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). Looking at the standards from my SLP perspective, I was surprised to discover that language skills are at the heart of most of them.

I work with students from kindergarten to those out of high school and it’s obvious to me— these kids are going to need strong language skills in order to meet the standards at every age. From the very first kindergarten reading standard, “With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text,” a child will need appropriate language skills to achieve the goals.

This need is even more obvious when you come to the “Speaking and Listening” standards, like this one where second graders are expected to, “[t]ell a story or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking audibly in coherent sentences.”  And how about the language standards, with their emphasis on grammar? That falls neatly in the SLP’s domain.

Even the math standards have a language component—first graders are expected to “Distinguish between defining attributes (e.g. triangles are closed and three-sided) versus non-defining attributes (e.g. color, orientation, overall size . . .) These kids are going to need a healthy vocabulary to be able to meet that one.

I was a little worried when I first read through the standards; I thought my caseload might jump to about 900 students.  But then I remembered; I’m just support staff and lucky for me, our classroom teachers infuse language instruction throughout their days.

But this all brings me back to the reason for this post.  Kids benefit when the responsibility for their education is shared across a school campus and within their homes. I’d like to suggest the responsibility spreads even further. I’ve introduced my students to some wonderful stories and non-fiction books written by authors from around the world. Each author has impacted the students in one way or another. And you can be certain; these books have provided a perfect springboard to work on several standards.

Last week, one of my first grade students came in asking for a story. He said, “I want the one with the carrots.”

“Which one?” I asked, “Tell me more about it.”

“You know, the one where the carrots followed the Rabbit everywhere and scared him, only he didn’t know for sure, he just saw orange all the time and then he’d turn around and it was just stuff like a bottle or curtains or a rubber duck.”

Of course, I quickly realized he was asking for Creepy Carrots! By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown, but I didn’t want to interrupt his retelling of this fabulous tale. Little did Jacob know, he had just demonstrated impressive growth toward the second Reading Standard for Literature where first grade students are expected to, “Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.”

I don’t think implementing the new standards needs to be a tedious proposition, at least not in the speech room. And since educating children is a shared responsibility, I’d love to hear suggestions from others, of how we all can effectively support children in meeting their goals, and ours for them.