Benefits and Drawbacks of Common Core Standards

June 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Posted in Content Area Literacy | 4 Comments

(Stephanie Thaler)

There is much debate over the changes from the current standards to the new common core standards. While these shifts all have potential benefits in literacy and education in a content area there are also some potential drawbacks.

The reading (Subjects Matter) mentioned that federal standards encourage teachers to teach a few topics in depth as opposed to many topics superficially. This is an idea that is often echoed in graduate level teaching courses. However previous state standards expected teachers to cover a wide array of material before the standardized test in June. These standardized tests were also designed in such a way that it favored those with a superficial understanding of topics and “deep-thinking” students often performed poorly and/or under “superficial-thinking” students on those tests (http://testcritic.homestead.com/files/standardized_tests.html#f7). According to Robert Rothman the new common core shifts promote this idea of teaching topics more in depth and promoting a deeper, more lasting understanding of the content. These shifts encourage teachers to only teach a few topics over the course of the year, instead of many (http://hepg.org/hel/article/543#home).

The ELA/Literacy shifts also focus on introducing more nonfiction trade books, newspaper articles, journals and primary sources into the classroom to encourage a more interesting and relevant approach to content areas while improving the literacy of students. Looking at a science classroom the benefits of incorporating articles and research on the benefits of a topic as well as their downfalls can easily be seen, for example students reading articles both for and against nuclear power will be able to better make up their own mind about the controversy. In addition having students read the journals of Madame Curie or Charles Darwin, instead of giving them a pre-digested version, will help students to form their own conclusions and to connect to the scientists.  These primary sources will help students grapple with tough ideas and feel more connected to the material, which will hopefully lead to a deeper understanding.

Other shifts outline that students must bring in more text-cited sources into their writing. The benefits of the students incorporating more evidence into their writing to better make an argument can also easily be seen. There are two literacy shifts that deal specifically with using text-based responses to make claims (shift 4 and 5). In science it is very important to support your claims with credible evidence; however it is also important to push what has been done before further and to think outside the box. To wonder about things that haven’t been explored yet and to develop new theories and ideas that have no or few current resources to cite are fundamental in not only science, but mathematics, literature and the arts.

The change of standards to the common core seems to have both obvious benefits and potential drawbacks. In order for success with the previous standards teachers needed to instruct a wide array of topics superficially. The new standards encourage a deeper, more lasting, learning of the material by shifting the focus to a few key concepts and building off of them. There are also many potential benefits of bringing in outside reading sources into the classroom. This material may help to spark deep thought and debate, like in the example of nuclear power, or help students have a better understanding of how scientific theories such as evolution were developed by reading Darwin. While it is important for students to cite sources and back up their arguments with credible evidence it is also important for students to think creatively and pursue paths that do not already have pioneers or trailblazers. By disallowing students to make claims without already explored evidence to support them a concern is raised.  Will the common core rob students of their ability to think creatively by forcing them to only think about what can be cited from sources?

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  1. While being creative is important, I think that being able to form arguments based on evidence is also important. I think there is a time and a place for using creativity like when creating fiction pieces or artwork. When it comes to the shifts in the CCSS, I believe the dependence on evidence needs to happen when students are learning about content area from texts.

    The standards in math focus on reasoning, constructing arguments, and critiquing others’ reasoning. If a student is “creatively” hypothesize something, they will have to use already proven facts or theorems to back up their hypothesis. With a focus on fewer topics in math, students are able to focus on these few topics year after year or at least that seems to be the aim of the standards.

    So basically, I believe that the creativity comes into play when making predictions, but evidence and experiments are needed to back them up or support the findings. Having multiple text sources with different perspectives will also allow students to decide their opinions on certain topics and make interpretations.

    The Core Standard’s website says “Modeling links classroom mathematics and statistics to everyday life, work, and decision-making. It is the process of choosing and using appropriate mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, to understand them better, and to improve decisions…” Without evidence, we cannot apply what we’ve learned in the math classroom to actual situations in the world.

    I can definitely see how it may seem like we are ignoring creativity, but in this article on Education Week Teacher, by Nathan Sun-Kleinberger, he says “How do I use nonfiction texts to inspire my students to be creative? I prove to them that when a writer makes purposeful choices to achieve an effect, nonfiction can be as creative a genre as any other. When students mimic great writing, they learn the DNA of writing great prose. Here are three examples of how I encourage this in my classroom.” Then he goes on to give examples of assignments he gave using “important” primary sources and connecting them to things teenagers like to get them into the assignment.

    In conclusion, I guess it is up to us as teachers to decide how to bring that creativity in the classroom. It’s going to be hard, but I think it’s possible.

  2. After reading Stephanie’s blog regarding common core standards, I was left with two major questions: Are teacher’s ready to teach the Common core standards or will our students suffer? Two, are the tricks to learning literacy running counter intuitive to content area strategies to understanding the material?
    .
    Are teacher’s Ready?
    Stephanie mentions that common core standards portray a shift from dependency on text books to more nonfiction trade books, newspaper articles, journals and primary sources. The idea behind this is to get more interesting ad relevant approaches to content areas while improving literacy of the students. However one might argue, where do teachers get these resources from? And will there be a large discrepancy then between schools with budgets to spend on nontraditional readings and those that do not have funds for such things? Is the teacher prepared to decide what is considered quality reading material for the students? Is the teacher expected to change the readings depending on the students in the classroom? The answer to these questions is yes! However, many teachers will find themselves woefully unprepared. In an article by Kelly Searsmith called Solving the Textbook-Common Core Conundrum she states, “States, school districts, professional-development companies, and educational organizations provide webinars, in-service sessions, and courses on implementing the common core. But most of these don’t include any discussion about curriculum. Instead, they focus on educating the 3.2 million teachers as if they were individually responsible for revising their curriculum”.
    Further, do teachers know what “big ideas” to teach. If teachers are directed to cover fewer topics in order to free up time to dive into deeper understanding of other topics, who decides what topics should be covered? In my assessment class, we are learning from a book called Understanding by Design, which helps teachers plan out lessons for students. This unique way of teaching using backwards designs aims to help teachers stay in line with common core standards and shifts. Yet even this resource doesn’t tell us what topics to cover. And coming from an era of schooling where we were not taught through the big ideas makes it even harder for us to understand what topics are important for our students. Since there is no set guidelines, the opportunities to learn the in the content areas could be drastically different from teacher to teacher.
    Both Stephanie and Andrea touched on the fact that teachers are responsible for making sure the creativity lives on in our students. With the focus on finding the evidence in the text and using sources, are we giving our students the strategies they need to be able to think for themselves, formulate arguments, and uncover the unknown? This leads directly into my next question.

    Are the strategies for literacy at odds with those for content areas?
    The common core standards help link literacy to content area teaching. As I learn more and more strategies for building literacy, I can’t help but wonder if they are at odds with the strategies we are learning to provide opportunities for understanding in our content areas. One of the most glaring differences is with vocabulary. In literacy class, we learned that giving students the vocabulary words upfront can help students find purpose and connections to the material during the pre-reading stage. However, in other classes where we are using inquiry, we are taught that giving students the vocabulary is not as effective as allowing the students to uncover and discover the material first. This is just one example of how the strategies that we are learning are at odds with each other.

    In conclusion you can see that I am left with more questions than answers. I myself am struggling to get on board with common core standards and find a way to get through to my students. I can even imagine how difficult this must be for teachers who have been teaching for a long time through traditional methods. Maybe on a bright note for all current up-and-coming teachers, the demands and pressure will be too much for the current teachers to handle and they will retire. This leaves opening for us to fill and big shoes to follow.

  3. When thinking about this topic, I thought about how I thought that it would be slightly easier for people who are going to teach science subjects to adhere to the ELA standards of the CCSS. There are many more materials that can be used to bring outside texts into a science classroom versus a math classroom where a teacher would have to do a little more digging to find quality, relevant materials. However, when I searched for more information on this topic, I found that there are more standards than the six shifts as far as literacy in science. According to Common Core State Standards Initiative/a>, there are 10 standards that apply specifically to science and literacy in grades 9 and 10. These standards range from having students at an appropriate reading level by the end of the year to being able to follow a protocol correctly.

    This will put more wrinkles into the curriculum than just asking better questions about materials that the students just read. Granted some of these science standards are things that science teachers should already be doing as good practice. But, the CCSS makes them explicit and wants all teachers to do them.

    Ever since hearing about the CCSS, I have always been confused and wondering where the standards for science are. I always see Literacy/ELA and Math, but nothing else, so for a while I thought that CCSS didn’t apply to science. Not until that I learned more about them last semester did I realize that the “science standards” are incorporated into the Literacy standards. That’s where I thought it ended for science. When I search EngageNY/a> for “science standards” nothing of significance comes up. So, I’m wondering when these science standards that are listed on the CCSS website are going to be incorporated or even mentioned by NYS. I guess my biggest message is to make sure that you know what is out there and what is expected of you with these new changes being implemented. Ignorance is not an option!

  4. Ok lets try this again….

    When thinking about this topic, I thought about how I thought that it would be slightly easier for people who are going to teach science subjects to adhere to the ELA standards of the CCSS. There are many more materials that can be used to bring outside texts into a science classroom versus a math classroom where a teacher would have to do a little more digging to find quality, relevant materials. However, when I searched for more information on this topic, I found that there are more standards than the six shifts as far as literacy in science. According to Common Core State Standards Initiative (http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RST/9-10), there are 10 standards that apply specifically to science and literacy in grades 9 and 10. These standards range from having students at an appropriate reading level by the end of the year to being able to follow a protocol correctly.

    This will put more wrinkles into the curriculum than just asking better questions about materials that the students just read. Granted some of these science standards are things that science teachers should already be doing as good practice. But, the CCSS makes them explicit and wants all teachers to do them.

    Ever since hearing about the CCSS, I have always been confused and wondering where the standards for science are. I always see Literacy/ELA and Math, but nothing else, so for a while I thought that CCSS didn’t apply to science. Not until that I learned more about them last semester did I realize that the “science standards” are incorporated into the Literacy standards. That’s where I thought it ended for science. When I search EngageNY (engageny.org) for “science standards” nothing of significance comes up. So, I’m wondering when these science standards that are listed on the CCSS website are going to be incorporated or even mentioned by NYS. I guess my biggest message is to make sure that you know what is out there and what is expected of you with these new changes being implemented. Ignorance is not an option!


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