How open resources help infuse Common Core into lessons

Open resources can help design attractive, engaging lessons with a Common Core twist

open-resourcesIn 2010, my state, Mississippi, joined the growing list of states adopting the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math. This academic year has been especially pivotal, as we are now in full implementation. While the rigor of the Common Core will ultimately prepare our students for college and careers, implementation has its challenges. With more than 90 percent of the students in our school in Gulfport eligible for free or reduced lunch, we also have challenges in keeping them engaged and on track to meeting the new learning goals.

I teach sixth-grade reading to four classes of 20 students, most of whom have no internet access at home. We have some technology at school—a Smartboard, four computers in each classroom, and two busy computer labs that we use when available. While we may not have as much access to technology as we’d like, we take full advantage of what we have. Students today are so accustomed to videos, animation, and gaming that we need to look beyond our traditional tools—textbooks and lectures—to the true promise of what technology can offer in the classroom.

At the beginning of the school year, I set out to find online resources that were aligned to the Common Core but was largely disappointed. I couldn’t find the quantity or quality of resources I needed and resorted to of wading through multiple sites to find enough material for just a single class period (a time-consuming task, to be sure).

Next page: OER in action


Then I came across open educational resources (OERs), freely accessible media designed for lesson planning and use in the classroom. The site I use,, for example, features more than a million high-quality, curated resources–lesson plans, assessments, educational videos, and games. (The vast majority of resources on the site are free, but they also offer a very affordable Premium Subscription with content from premium publishers).

Now, with just a few clicks, I can create a lesson plan. For example, to teach my students about figurative language, I used several video selections from LearnZillion and YouTube that I found and stored into a lesson plan on my account. My students love the variety of media styles in the lessons and the interactive nature of them. The learning cycle doesn’t end there–I am also able to measure my students’ progress with OpenEd assessments. Because my class has limited access to computers, I print out the assessments or project them on my Smartboard. The questions match exactly to what I’m teaching.

I can customize the lessons for every student, identifying learning gaps and linking them to resources–from videos to interactive lessons. To do so, I begin my search with the standard I will be teaching and have a plan in place for where my students need to end up. I often begin with a video as it’s a great attention-getter and a novel way to explain a concept.

I use a variety of assessments for both quick checks and comprehension evaluations. For those students needing “a little extra,” whether remediation or enrichment, I assign homework that meets them where they are.

The Common Core is still very new to me. Without quality resources at my fingertips, transitioning to the new standards would take hours and hours of time every week. But with a few short keystrokes, I can create an interactive lesson that is highly engaging to my students. Sometimes this means using a lesson plan in its entirety—videos, reading materials, games, assessments and homework—and other times I select just a few pieces.

Since I have been using these resources, I have seen significant academic growth in my students. On the daily assessments, their understanding continues to rise. They are consistently progressing, from low-failing to passing and beyond.

The new, rigorous standards give us a tremendous opportunity to help our students reach new heights in learning so one day they can compete in a global workforce. By using engaging, interactive tools, we can ignite the love of learning, build confidence in what our students can accomplish and prepare them for the world that awaits them.

Clarissa Ratcliff is a sixth-grade teacher in Gulfport, Miss.

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