I don’t see the CCSS as a “flavor of the week” as many in education might be led to believe. The reason I say this is that the essence of the CCSS is not so much the content to be taught as it is the processes that should be used to help students simultaneously acquire both content and the ability to learn – across the board use of literacy skills in the classroom, with students doing silent reading for upwards of 90 minutes a day (or an average of 15 minutes in each of six classrooms) according to Lucy Calkins et al. (Pathways to the Common Core, 2012). According to Pathways to the Common Core, the CCSS
… emphasize much higher-level comprehension skills than previous standards.
… emphasize reading complex texts.
… call for proficiency, complexity, and independence.
… support cross-curricular literacy coaching.
… require that every student is given access to higher-order thinking and complex text.
… emphasize argumentative literacy.
… expect a minimum of 90 minutes per day of silent reading in the classroom.
If most teachers only knew what those of us who have been using these methods in our classrooms for decades knew, they would celebrate the change. But alas, this sort of change doesn’t come easily. We are stuck in what Joyce & Showers (2002) call a “culturally normative model” of instruction (p. 37). It is culturally normative because we all recognize it and have lived through it. It works for a fraction of students, but the fraction becomes smaller as the amount of knowledge out there, and the means of attaining information change. The culturally normative model is teacher-centered and knowledge-centered. It is generally not a way to help students to perform higher-order thinking. Rather, it is about conveying knowledge – often obsolete knowledge, or knowledge that may seem obsolete to the recipients of it.
Teachers who already use the techniques of content-literacy-based instruction (read CCSS) in their classrooms can easily identify with the following Martin Heidegger quote from the early 1950’s:
“Teaching is even more difficult than learning. We know that; but we rarely think about it. And why is teaching more difficult than learning? Not because the teacher must have a larger store of information, and have it always ready. Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than—learning… The teacher is far ahead of his apprentices in this alone, that he has still far more to learn than they—he has to learn to let them learn. The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the apprentices.”
Unfortunately, many in the teaching profession might completely reject this notion of teaching as “letting learn” because it is so far outside the culturally normative model, and because many teachers would not know where to begin to implement such a regime in their classrooms. Yet, the CCSS is asking of teachers exactly that. Through the use of content-literacy-based instructional techniques, any teacher can facilitate active student participation in discussions that cause the students to perform higher-order thinking as a routine way of processing ideas. To make this happen in a classroom, the teacher would need to feel confident in the abilities of students to think. (They can.) She would also need to feel confident in the use of classroom activities that might not be something she has seen much of in her lifetime. (Literacy-based activities work.) If a teacher has the experience – year after year – of watching students of all ability levels acquiring the joys of becoming successful learners, that teacher will never look back to the culturally normative model.
So, yes, the CCSS requires many to rethink what they do in their classrooms, and the changes required will need to be supported by schools and school systems. They are changes that will lead to college and career readiness, and the changes will prepare students of all ability levels for a lifetime of successful learning. The culturally normative model – designed for an era long gone – won’t. So don’t fight it; celebrate it, and watch yourself grow as a teacher.