Making the Common Core More Common...In Our Classrooms

By on April 25, 2013

I'm not sure what is happening at your schools around the shift to Common Core Standards (CCS), but I do know that it is a BIG topic at my school right now. We are moving past the point of being introduced to the CCS and beginning to analyze sample performance tasks and discussing how to prepare our students to succeed on these new assessments. It is a big and sometimes overwhelming shift in pedagogical practices. However, I was recently reflecting on a unit we just completed in my 8th grade Social Studies class and realized this may not be as dramatic or difficult of a shift as I thought.

A few weeks ago my students and I completed a unit on the Worlds of North and South. As a sub-topic within the unit we spent some time learning about the industrial revolution. We made a lot of connections between the industrial revolution in the United States during the 1800s and what is happening in China today. My assessment at the end of the unit was for students to write a paper making connections between the U.S. and China. As I looked back at the skills my students used in order to complete this work, I realized we had addressed many of the CCSs and participated in a performance task similar to those they will face under the new Common Core assessment model. Here are the details behind what we did:

1) First we read two primary sources about the Lowell Mill factory. One was an excerpt from a letter written by a young factory worker name Mary Paul. The other was from an account written by Charles Dickens after he toured the Lowell Mill factory. Students had to analyze each primary source and draw some conclusions about what life was life for factory workers during the industrial revolution in the Unites States. Next, I asked students to make generalizations about the industrial revolution in the U.S. They came up with statements like "During the industrial revolution in the U.S. many workers faced long hours with very little pay."

2) Then we watched a 17 minute video clip produced by Frontline on the Foxconn factory in China.

I paused the video at all the commercial breaks and had students discuss and take notes on what life was life for factory workers in the Foxconn factory. After finishing the video I had students write generalizations about what they learned about the industrial revolution currently going on in China.

3) Now we were able to compare and contrast the industrial revolution that occurred in the US with the one in China. However I wanted to push my students beyond comparing and contrasting and move them to doing some work with synthesizing information. So, I now had them generate a list of common historical trends that tend to occur during an industrial revolution despite time and place. They said things like "During industrial revolutions workers often move from rural areas to urban areas to work and improve their lives." And "Workers are often exploited during industrial revolutions."

4) Finally I asked students to write a paper that discussed what they learned about each specific industrial revolution, compare and contrast the two, discuss historical trends and finally explain why it is important to know about these trends. I wrote my prompt for the paper using the LiteracyTA Writing Prompt Builder. Here is the prompt:

For this assignment you will synthesize ideas from two or more sources to create new conversations about industrial revolutions. Your paper should account for the central claims expressed by Dickens and the letter written by Mary Paul of the Lowell Mill factory. Use ideas from the Foxconn factory news report to extend, clarify, and illustrate the ideas from the first two texts. As part of your discussion, explain the common historical trends between the industrial revolution in the U.S. and China. Conclude your paper with a statement of significance--this is the "so what" of the text. Why is it important to recognize and understand these trends?

LiteracyTA Writing Prompt Builder.

All in all I was quite proud of the critical thinking skills students had to use in order to complete this writing task. It was a wonderful culmination of all the discreet skills we have been working on all year. But this unit also made me realize that I can provide my students with many opportunities throughout the year to practice completing performance tasks like the one they will see on the Common Core assessments. 

I also want to say that my students loved this unit. Their engagement was extremely high, they learned an incredible amount, and we never had to open the textbook once! (Always a bonus to my students, but that's another post.)

I hope you all can use this post as a springboard for creating units in your classroom that will support students as we move into a new model of education under the Common Core Standards.

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Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; and cite specific evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital resources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
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