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The Common Core In My Classroom: A Teacher's View

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By Catherine Tighe

As we leave our morning meeting, my kindergarten students decide which learning center they will go to. Some mumble a quick outline of their plan: "I'll go to the Lego area to finish making the tower I started yesterday," Jasmin says, while Michael considers going to the writing center to see who is in the daily story problem. They approach the centers with excitement and vigor; they have work to do, and they want to get started right away.

I overhear a conversation from the block area. Leo exclaims that he wants to make a huge football stadium. Ani latches onto the enthusiasm and suggests that they make all the seats, and the people, and all the lines on the field. Two others join in the conversation with suggestions of how to make it. They decide they need a huge foundation, so they should start with the biggest blocks and then use the smaller ones to make it taller.

They seamlessly divide and conquer: two students start the foundation, another goes to a book to look at some ideas of football stadiums, and another goes to the writing center to collect tools for making signs and labels for the construction. As they are all at work, they use words like bigger, smaller, taller, wider, more, and fewer, and they estimate the number of blocks they will need. They talk about which teams will be playing, and determine the sounds in the team names to make the score board.

There is then a discussion about the score. They are determined to have their beloved Patriots in the lead, and they agree on a final score of 31-7. The student writing the score looks to the number chart to write the 7 and then writes a "13" for "31." Another student chimes in and says the three should come before the one because that means three groups of ten and one single, and "13" means that there is only one group of ten and three ones. The others join the discussion and there is a consensus that yes, it should be "31" because that is a much bigger number.

This is the Common Core in action. It's not about preparing for a test. It's not about sitting down and doing rote paper and pencil exercises for the entire day. It's about students taking the understanding of well-crafted lessons into their daily life and play through authentic learning experiences. There is evidence of all of my students learning and integrating math, literacy, and interpersonal skills through tools and conversation that they will continue to discuss for the entire day. These are the 21st Century skills that the Common Core is asking teachers to teach to across the country.

The Common Core establishes high expectations for all students. It can be daunting to think about how this shifts our practice as educators. However, we have plenty of experts—teachers—in classrooms right now who are doing it right, and we have much to learn from one another. As educators, we are best positioned to lead the rollout of the Common Core. We are experienced practitioners who know our students well. Educators hold the knowledge of how to deliver well crafted and purposeful lessons and weave the content into intriguing, developmentally appropriate materials and classroom environments. The conversation and construction I witnessed at the block area are a reflection of a number of lessons delivered in math and literacy. The students integrated the information in ways that are authentic to their lives and experiences.

I have been part of leading professional development for my district, in which we have been aligning our lessons with the Common Core, since the shift began in 2011. We dedicated time and effort to work on grade-level teams as well as cross-level teams to ensure that we created lessons and units that effectively integrate all the standards in a meaningful and purposeful layout. Teachers, the experts, created the curricula that align to the standards. And it's working really well.

Teachers like me, who have experience and training with implementing the Common Core, should now be leading our colleagues in professional development across the country. This fall, I've had the opportunity to do just that through the Core Collaborative, a teacher-led professional development program that gives teachers the opportunity to learn from other teachers who are more experienced with the Common Core.

Teaching and learning should be based on authentic, developmentally appropriate experiences. The Common Core establishes what we should be teaching, but we, as teachers and experts, are the ones who determine how we teach them. The Common Core is an opportunity to let our creativity and expertise as teachers shine. Teachers who need support should have pathways to learn from other teachers, and then, most importantly, to share their new found learning with others. Our students deserve it. They are the engineers that will design the stadiums of the future. If my students are any indication, those stadiums are going to be pretty awesome.

Catherine Tighe teaches kindergarten in Somerville, Massachusetts, and is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.