A Big Need for Common-Standards Curriculum Resources

By Catherine Gewertz — September 06, 2011 4 min read
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Educators are yearning for instructional resources to help them turn the common standards into curriculum and instruction in their schools. That is no surprise, given the big change that the new standards require in teaching and learning. But the yearning came through loud and clear during a webinar we hosted last week on implementing the common standards. (If you missed the webinar, you can see it here.)

Of all the questions that came pouring in before and during the webinar, one of the most frequently asked was some variation on this: Where can I get sample lessons to help me teach the new standards?

The quick answer is that it’s tough to find stuff that’s been collected in central places for easy retrieval. Eventually, these sorts of resources will be available in digital libraries being built by the two federally funded assessment consortia. But those are still under construction.

I’d been hearing that some of the lead writers of the common standards had videotaped sample lessons, but even some of those who had worked on them couldn’t tell me where I could find any more than a couple lessons. Eventually, I found a bunch on the website of the Council of Chief State School Officers’ group that focuses on common-standards implementation. The link on its page takes you to a YouTube video collection of lessons in math and English/language arts, put together by the James B. Hunt Institute, which has worked to promote the common standards. And judging by the number of times these videos have been viewed, I’m not the only one who had a hard time finding them.

The New York state department of education has assembled a clearinghouse of resources for the common core, as well. One page on that site is devoted to curriculum exemplars, which include sample units in math and English/language arts. It also has a series of videos explaining key aspects of the common standards, including a sample lesson by David Coleman, one of the two lead writers of the English/language arts standards, on Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” Presumably, more of these clearinghouses will crop up as states and districts develop them.

A video of two sample lessons is posted on a Vimeo page put together by one of the assessment consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. In addition to the lesson on the “Gettysburg Address,” the video features Coleman teaching the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” They were presented at a June gathering of states in the consortium as they met to discuss transitioning to the common core.

The other consortium, SMARTER Balanced, pointed me to appendices of itsdraft content specifications, which offer examples of the kinds of questions students are likely to see on the assessments the group is designing. See Appendix D for the English/language arts, and Appendix C for math. The consortium’s “materials and resources” page features the content specifications, but that’s the only resource at the moment that could offer real curriculum and instruction guidance to educators.

I see that PARCC has a section of its website devoted to the classroom teacher. It has put its draft content frameworks in there, but the rest of the resources it lists there are described in future tense, including sample instructional units and assessment tasks, a tool to help teachers gauge text complexity, and a course to help high school seniors beef up their skills.

In case you missed it, we wrote about PARCC’s draft content frameworks and SMARTER Balanced’s content specifications, and about publishers’ criteria written for the English/language arts standards. We’ve mentioned many times the publishing world’s clamor to create or adapt materials for the standards. Some folks are creating resources and giving them away for free, such as Common Core‘s curriculum maps and Core Knowledge‘s curriculum sequence.

The lead writers of the math common standards are developing an array of things to guide educators, as well, and have now put out a document intended to guide those developing curriculum resources, as well.

It will be interesting to see how many good-quality curriculum and instructional resources are made available to states and districts for free, and how much ends up carrying a price tag. The consortia have articulated plans to make a boatload of resources available for free, in centralized locations (although not without controversy, since some see the federal funding of that work as blurring the line drawn to protect local decisionmaking). How much states and districts will have to invent for themselves, and whether that is actually a good thing, will bear watching.

By their nature, the common standards are shared—states are putting them into practice in their own ways, but with overlapping experiences. And clearly, they are meeting and talking about implementation, through such forums as the CCSSO’s common-core implementation group, and the meetings of the states in the assessment consortia (some of those sessions are captured on PARCC’s Vimeo site, which I mentioned earlier).

Even as states meet and talk, though, thousands of principals and teachers are trying to figure out how to start teaching to the new standards, and are clearly telling us they need help. Common standards was supposed to be about doing less reinventing the wheel, and more sharing of good stuff. Is it that very few good, aligned curriculum resources are available yet? Or perhaps that they don’t have a very high profile? Could it be that the lag time between need and availability is going to prove to be a problem?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.