CORE ACADEMIC QUARTERLY
CORE ACADEMIC QUARTERLY
Dale Webster, Ph.D., Chief Academic Officer, CORE, Inc.
The Common Core State Standards express what students should master, but they are not a curriculum. The work of creating a local curricular framework, which informs the sequence and breadth of instruction (usually referred to as a scope and sequence), is complex. The absence of such efforts to move from the standards themselves to a coherent and sequenced curriculum will hamper many states and local district common core implementation efforts. Standards themselves do not answer questions such as how much instructional time should be invested in helping students master a particular skill, what strategies will be effective, what is the progression of learning and how should it be assessed, what to do for struggling students, and how instruction correlates with previous units. Luckily, the new California English Language Arts/English Language development framework offers sound advice on how to progress from standards to a coherent instructional program that addresses the question of access to the Common Core for all students.
One of the unique aspects of the California framework is the full integration of CA CCSS for ELA/Literacy and the CA–English Language Development Standards (for English learners) both adopted by the California State Board of Education. These standards provide year-end outcome statements for student knowledge and abilities and guide instructional planning and observation of student progress. The integration of ELA/ELD, which was made easier in California because the main ELD development group headed by Dr. Kenji Hakuta of Stanford based its standards on the Common Core, addressed what EL students would need to succeed in learning the Common Core and offered specific suggestions on how to accomplish that goal. The framework provides examples of classroom practices in which ELD teachers, ELA teachers and content area teachers collaborate to provide equal access to the rigorous instruction required by the CCSS. The document addresses the need for both designated ELD instruction (a special time) and full integration of English language support in ELA and content area classes and includes a full discussion of assessment of English learners.
California’s five key organizing themes of the standards and the Framework are meant to influence instruction: meaning making, language development, effective expression, content knowledge, and foundational skills. These five themes help organize the standards into useful areas of instruction. They should be taught where possible in an integrated fashion. All are about developing the ability to understand text and apply knowledge and reflect the transition to a more active, engaging classroom envisioned by the CCSS. The five themes are discussed in general in Chapter 2 and become the organizing components for the grade level clusters in Chapters 3-7.
The foundational skills theme which is further explicated and summarized in a white paper on foundation skills, addresses ways teachers support students to get meaning from quickly recognizing printed words already in the student’s vocabulary—a major task of instruction from mid-kindergarten through mid-second grade. The framework provides guidance on helping children learn to decode in order to become automatic with a growing number of words during these early years and develop fluency. It suggests using a linguistic progression of sound/spelling correspondences from easier and transparent to the more complex ones (because of the complex and non-transparent nature of English linguistics). The framework recommends decodable text to be read by the student at the beginning, which should match and provide practice in the sound/spelling correspondences which have been taught. As students become sufficiently adept at recognizing enough words and letter/sound combinations to comfortably read them, students make the transition to trade books. Parallel to this decoding strand of instruction is a rich oral-reading and discussion program.
The language development theme addresses how to support students in understanding a growing number of vocabulary words, learning academic language, and negotiating syntactical complexity. It offers advice on how to organize a research-based curriculum in these areas.
The meaning making theme aims to help students infer, connect, and use strategies such as close reading or meta-cognitive techniques to help understand both literature (including novels, biographies, essays, plays, and poems) and discipline-based informational text.
The content knowledge theme advises how to develop student background knowledge, provide support and motivation for the discipline areas such as biographies of key figures and events in history or science, and assist students in tackling the different text structures in the disciplines all of which improve comprehension.
The effective expression theme provides suggestions on deepening understanding by having students write, argue, or discuss in argumentative, explanatory/informative, and narrative styles. This theme also includes writing and speaking conventions and spelling.
Each of these themes encourages an active, engaging curriculum with multiple opportunities for students to apply what they are learning in a variety of ways. The framework is chock-full of exemplars of this type of instruction by incorporating numerous vignettes and snapshots of classroom strands and examples of the connection to content areas.
The framework has separate chapters for Transitional Kindergarten through Grade 2, Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, and high school. Each is organized around these five themes. Foundation skills, which eventually cover syllabication, morphemic analysis, and fluency, are included in every grade span through high school with the recognition that teachers at all levels must be aware of foundational skills to provide support and intervention strategies, when necessary, at later grades. The framework also has chapters on formative assessment, interventions and equity, criteria for adopting materials, professional learning and leadership, and 21st century learning.
The assessment chapter emphasizes the role and provides guidance for immediate and short-term formative assessment and the intervention and equity chapter stresses the importance of intervention (RTI and multi-tiered instruction) for all students who are below benchmark to prevent failure. The professional learning chapter underscores the crucial importance of professional development and collaboration across disciplines, team building and learning communities, continuous improvement, and the leadership structures necessary for system-wide support in the implementation of the active and engaging classroom instruction envisioned by the common core standards and this framework. The framework contains multiple exemplars and vignettes as a guide to professional learning.
Appendix A of the California Framework written by one of the authors of this commentary, Carol Jago, deals with the important role of literature in the CCCS. The appendix also addresses the issue of the level of text complexity students should encounter and suggestions for accessing complex text for all students. There are suggestions and links to compendiums of the best literature and informational text by discipline. The Framework has taken a balanced approach that some material should be at independent and instructional reading levels, and some text should be challenging but supported through scaffolded instruction.
We hope this framework will help provide useful assistance in the nationwide effort to improve the quality of instruction for all children.
Jo Ann Isken, Chair, California Instructional Quality Commission
Bill Honig, Vice-Chair, California Instructional Quality Commission and former California State Superintendent
Carol Jago, Education Professor, UCLA, past president of the National Council of Teachers of English
Issue 14 | Spring 2019
Help your team develop skills so all students become strong readers. This facilitated online course includes Assessing Reading: Multiple Measures & the Teaching Reading Sourcebook. Grad credit available. Next session starts Sept. 19.