New Book Offers Common Core Standard Strategies
By Robert Schroeder
How divisive is the climate for teachers? National Louis University's Steve Zemelman, Ph.D., says America is nearing a teaching Armageddon.
"There's a lot of criticism of education, budgets are being cut, teachers are losing their jobs, and they are being given all these mandates from above without being sure how to meet them," said Zemelman, adjunct faculty in the National College of Education and director of NLU's grant-funded Illinois Writing Project.
Is there a superhero on the horizon to stave off Armageddon? Probably not, and at last report, Zemelman owns no capes. What Zemelman can provide, however, is a new tool for teachers to navigate the looming Common Core standards amidst this challenging environment.
Zemelman has co-written the latest edition of the "Best Practice" book series, with the recent release of "Best Practice: Bringing Standards to Life in America's Classroom." Zemelman and co-authors Arthur Hyde, Ed.D., professor in the National College of Education and Harvey "Smokey" Daniels, a former faculty member in the College, focused on strategies for teachers to successfully implement the new Common Core standards.
The book argues Common Core standards provide detailed and lengthy outcomes but little as to how teachers should go about reaching those outcomes. The primary focus is on what students should be able to do, as opposed to how teachers should do the doing.
"Looking at the standards and critiquing them was really essential," Zemelman said. "It's not only what's in them but to not just accept them without thinking, and understanding that the standards are actually only a starting point."
Zemelman, Daniels and Hyde detail seven major strategies for teacher success with the new standards. Among the strategies, Zemelman highlighted tips for helping students to work collaboratively, strategies for helping students to think strategically and using a classroom workshop structure as key tools for teachers incorporating the new standards.
One specific teaching approach is called gradual release of responsibility. Teachers demonstrate a task, then lead the classroom in a second round of accomplishing the task, and finally release students into small groups to independently work on completing the task. The teacher is freed to rove the classroom and provide more individualized instruction within the small groups.
"It's a very powerful approach because it combines both teachers using their expertise and their own adult competence at reading," Zemelman said. "It gradually helps kids to be able to work independently."
Another key feature resonating with school administrators is a collection of "more and less charts," a series of lists guiding administrators in how to best evaluate classrooms and provide guidance to teachers. One chart depicts a gradual process of shifting classroom instruction from a heavy stay-at-your-desk model to more collaborative group work.
Zemelman sees the new edition filling a critical niche. The challenges of budgeting, staffing and mandates are issues Zemelman views through a societal lens, an atmosphere in politics and the culture with less faith in government and larger social collaboration. The results are two-fold: one, teachers are expected to do more with less, and two, expectations for results are sky-high. Reflected in the Common Core, Zemelman says some of the people who wrote the standards imply that students are expected to master these new standardized concepts on their own.
"Rather than just saying okay, kids need to be able to write an argumentative essay, how is a teacher supposed to help them learn to do that?" Zemelman said. "The standards don't help with that."