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Unpacking the standards: Leveraging the shared language of the Common Core

Unpacking standard 9 is challenging on many levels. But as ANet coaches experienced on a Common Core call earlier this year, tackling it becomes much easier when you can share ideas, observations and experiences from a diverse network of schools.

“It doesn’t make sense to introduce this in A2… they haven’t looked at linked passages yet.”

“My schools are still at the stage of using informational texts as background reading for the larger, main text. That’s important, but it’s not what standard 9 requires.”

“0, 1, 3, 2, 1…”

That last would be the awareness, on a 1-10 scale, of Common Core Reading Standard 9 in schools from Louisiana to Massachusetts to Michigan. The two above? ANet coaches on a conference call, grappling with the best strategies to introduce the standard to their networks of schools in order to ensure that students would achieve grade-level mastery of it.

To be fair, it’s a doozy. Requiring students to read multiple texts and answer items tied to all of them, standard 9 has an impressive vertical progression—moving from simple compare-and-contrast of important points in two texts (in grade 2) to “analyzing seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance, including how they address related themes and concepts” (in grade 9).

As with so many of the new standards, mastery of standard 9 requires the integration of a foundational knowledge base, conceptual understanding, and complex skills. Implementing it is a challenging and highly contextual effort, based on schools’ needs and capacity. It helps that ANet coaches know their schools so well. It helps that standard 9 builds from others lower on the ladder.

And it helps that the coaches from around the country can hop on the phone together and describe what they’re seeing in their schools, share what they’ve seen work, and strategize together. And that an hour later they are armed with new tools, anecdotes, and key questions to support the teachers and leaders in their partner schools with a particularly difficult challenge.

During the conference call focused on standard 9, the questions flew. Was it better to incorporate the standard into planning meetings or at the data meeting? Were schools ready if they hadn’t yet fully addressed text complexity? Should they start with text choice? ANet’s coaching strategy team created a guide for implementing standard 9—three different versions, for schools at varying levels of readiness.

But first, the coaches had to unpack the standard, figuring out exactly what it was asking students to know and be able to do. What would items look like in grade 3, 5, 6? What were some likely student misconceptions, and what instructional moves would address each? Every coach shared ideas, resources from our online platform myANet, tactics for getting through potential obstacles. They piggybacked on each other’s thoughts and debated, working together to develop strategies (which were then collected in a protocol and example).

Days later, the ANet Louisiana team used content from the call to lead an entire session on linked passages for 50 educators from their network schools [see the session doc and presentation]. Those teachers and leaders rated the session positively for its potential impact. But more telling is the fact that many of them brought the training back to their schools, repeating it for their colleagues and deepening their own learning.

The challenges are shared. Responses, though, need to be customized in order to best impact student—and teacher, and school—growth. The standards may not be perfect, and there will be more grappling to come. But there is nothing quite like the lessons that can be learned and disseminated across a country-wide network when there’s a common language to start from.

Standard 9 vertical progression

Integration of knowledge & ideas

With prompting and support, compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in familiar stories.

Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories.

Compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story (e.g., Cinderella stories) by different authors or from different cultures.

Compare and contrast the themes, settings, and plots of stories written by the same author about the same or similar characters (e.g., in books from a series).

Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.

Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.

Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.

Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).


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