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The Common Core Classroom

Emily Stewart, M.Ed.

Guest blogger Emily Stewart, M.Ed., is a third grade teacher at Murch Elementary, a public school in Washington, DC. During the 2012-2013 school year, Emily will be sharing the real-world strategies, challenges, and successes of implementing ELA Common Core standards in her classroom.

Making the bridge: instruction after state testing

April 15, 2013

Testing is over … so does that mean I don't have to teach anymore?!?!?

When the mints have been munched, and those newly sharpened testing pencils (as opposed to the nubs we usually find lying around) are now part of your classroom pencil collection, we know state testing has come and gone. We have spent the last eight months pulling our hair out to help each of our students master each standard, and now there's a silence in the air, begging the question … what do we teach for the next month and a half? Well, let's not kid ourselves, there's NEVER silence in a classroom!

The Next Level

The beauty of the Common Core Standards is they are always evolving. They move with our students! The Common Core Standards were not designed to teach specific skills, but rather incorporate critical thinking that can be utilized in a variety of different genres and tasks, and tackled through a variety of different strategies. As our students are making progress throughout the year, we can simply take their thinking to new levels, based on their progress thus far. So many of the same strategies we have taught throughout the year can still be utilized with a variety of more complex texts, including one of my favorites: poetry!

The latest poem my kiddos and I are tackling is "Dropping Keys" by Hafiz. If you have never read it, do yourself and your students a favor and read it together. The poem offers such a strong message about building each other up, and creates an opportunity for a great class discussion!

Dropping Keys
the small man
builds cages for everyone
he
knows.
While the sage,
who has to duck his head
when the moon is low,
keeps dropping keys all night long
for the
beautiful
rowdy
prisoners.

If you're looking for poems to read and study, here are several websites that can help:

Poetry resources from Reading Rockets
Spring Poetry
Shel Silverstein

Critical Thinking & Collaboration

I find that the weeks following state testing allows for ample time to have students work in collaborative groups on critical thinking projects. Some are smaller, isolated opportunities, and some are extended over multiple days.

Some of the strategies I use each year after testing include:

Marilyn Burns: Math and Literature Lessons
Logic puzzles: challenge students' deductive thinking skills
Funny puzzles and brainteasers
Figurative language: Idioms, metaphors, similes (especially in poetry)
Research projects
Expert projects

Defend! Argue! Defend!

One of the essential strategies that is supposed to become innate to students within the Common Core is learning how to defend an opinion in a debate using evidence. I find using a complex text, especially one concerning a topic that hits close to students (e.g., video game violence, sports salaries, movie ratings, or seatbelts) helps students to use their schema and build their argument with fact-based text. From here, students can form opinions about a posed question, put together teams, and begin to research and defend their argument in a debate format. An Introduction to Classroom Debates is a great website to help organize your thinking about how a debate should run.

There are also many YouTube videos that can help students to understand the difference between arguing and debating.

There are endless numbers of ideas for instruction after state testing. The key is to remember that our job is to get our kids ready for their next grade, and within the Common Core, we can vertically align to prepare and scaffold our kiddos before they even get there!

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