common core

Seven instructional strategies for the Common Core

Adopting these strategies will help you integrate the Common Core standards into teaching

common coreAs significant numbers of educators, parents, and politicians push back on the Common Core Standards now that implementation has begun, many teachers are left to navigate the shift with little or no direction about how to change their teaching practice to accommodate the new standards.

Implementation challenges range from a lack of professional development and curriculum materials aligned with the Common Core, to inadequate technology infrastructure and changing assessment practices.

There is general agreement as to the intention of the Common Core Standards—to make our students more college and career ready—but many teachers and administrators argue that the implementation has been rushed, with little regard for practicalities. Leaving others to respond to the social and political implications of new standards, teachers are grappling with the practical realities of adjusting both the content they teach and the way they teach it, with minimal guidance.

For instance, in the new math standards, the scope of content has narrowed and deepened so that students achieve stronger mastery of critical mathematical concepts. New ELA standards emphasize the need for students to read progressively more complex nonfiction and informational text as they rise through the grades.

Also, responsibility for ensuring that students achieve reading proficiency now applies to all teachers across the curriculum, not just ELA teachers. This first-ever shift toward national, benchmarked standards is a massive change, and it is clear that many districts were insufficiently prepared.

Major curriculum publishers already have developed and continue to develop comprehensive professional development materials to help teachers transition to the Common Core. Some districts have minimal resources and have developed their own materials. Others are scrambling to provide support to their teachers. Some districts find themselves in a time lag between intention to purchase and authorization to purchase Common Core-related curriculum and professional development. Even though the new standards are national, implementation is up to the districts. This helps explain the inconsistency of implementation.

Underpinning the standards is a general goal of having students take more responsibility for their own learning. As teachers personalize and individualize their instruction, the Common Core requirements are aimed at empowering students to become lifelong learners—curating and creating interesting content for themselves rather than merely consuming curriculum content. The learning outcomes are based on applications of skill mastery, rather than rote memorization of content. For example, learning how to research, synthesize, and present information is a reusable skill, as opposed to memorizing important historical figures and dates.

It’s clear that the new standards require an adjustment to teachers’ instructional practices. Here are some recommended strategies to help teachers at every grade level successfully transition to a new teaching model:

  • Understand the expected student outcome for each standard. Unpack the standard to determine the skills that students must master in order to achieve expected learning outcomes.
  • Differentiate instruction. Personalize learning experiences for all students—not just those who perform above the expected learning outcome—but also provide intervention or remediation for underperforming students.
  • Break down lessons into manageable concepts, and provide multiple teach/model/practice opportunities for different kinds of learners.
  • Support grade-level reading of complex texts by providing students with appropriate reading materials, including vocabulary instruction that applies the Three Tiers of Words: (1) common words, (2) high-frequency words, and (3) domain-specific words.
  • Demonstrate all forms of writing with students, and provide detailed explanations so they understand different writing forms. Educators should model the writing process on a daily basis in the classroom.
  • Reinforce conceptual understanding of key ideas in math instruction, and require students to justify why an answer is correct.
  • Infuse instruction with cross-curricular concepts to embed key ideas, and take advantage of repeated opportunities to integrate, apply, and synthesize standards.

Application of these strategies will help all teachers implement the new standards, no matter the level of support they currently receive. As schools gain more experience with the Common Core, teachers will be asked to demonstrate a different set of teaching skills. These strategies provide a strong foundation for that change.

Judith Coffey is co-founder and CEO of Rainbow Educational Concepts, a curriculum development group (

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