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What does Common Core look like in the classroom?

By Nicole Krueger
April 19, 2014
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Imagine if you could stop struggling to meet endless standards and simply teach the way you wanted. What would your classroom look like? How would you spend your class time?

Chances are, your vision isn't too far off from what a successful Common Core classroom looks like.

The prospect of implementing the Common Core State Standards may seem daunting, but it's not as hard as it sounds, said English language arts teacher and education consultant Catlin Tucker — especially for teachers who have been champing at the bit to introduce more student-centered learning into their classrooms.

"My goal is to make the Common Core feel accessible and to highlight what I see as a real opportunity to shift from traditional, lower-order thinking activities to more student-centered engaging activities that use technology," said Tucker, who presented a webinar on "ISTE Standards and the Common Core Integration in Action."

Here's her vision for what the Common Core looks like in action:

The teacher provides a goal and lets students choose how to achieve it.

The Common Core shifts the focus from what students need to know to what they need to be able to do — which is more representative of the world outside the classroom, where problems don't come with a clear set of directions.

"I think teachers need to let go a little bit," Tucker said. "A lot of times when we do a project we have them do it one specific way and use a specific tool. The more we can embrace their individual devices, the more we help them learn how to navigate the world outside classroom using the tools available to them.

"Give them a goal and allow them to navigate how they get to that goal."

Students are responsible for discovering and sharing information.

With a world of data at their fingertips, students no longer need to focus on accumulating information. Rather, the Common Core recognizes that it's more important to teach students how to find it, critique it and apply it.

"Instead of standing up and telling students everything I know about a topic, I break students into small groups and present them with a challenging research topic. They're responsible for generating information, making inferences together and sharing it with the rest of the classroom and community," Tucker said.

"The interesting thing about this situation is students surprise you when you shift the responsibility and power to them, and they do really dynamic things with it. Students become so much more invested in the class."

The teacher taps into the classroom's collective intelligence to solve problems.

One of the simplest ways teachers can implement the Common Core is to avoid falling into the trap of believing they need to be the ones who know everything. Letting students step up and help each other solve problems in the classroom — such as a technology issue — reinforces collaborative skills while allowing them to contribute to the learning process in an engaging way.

"I think students are the greatest untapped resources when it comes to solving technology problems," Tucker said. "So often kids share this physical space for an hour or 90 minutes, and they're so rarely asked to engage with each other or to really contribute their ideas. The more we tap into that the more rewarding it's going to be for them."

Students continually surprise the teacher with the work they create.

Moving from lower-order to higher-order thinking has become the driver of the Common Core State Standards. With creation sitting at the top of the Bloom's Taxonomy pyramid, projects that involve a creative element are critical in a Common Core classroom.

The beauty of technology is that it provides students with a wide array of new tools to help them unleash their creative potential. By letting students choose the medium that works for them, teachers can simply stand back and prepare to be amazed.

During a unit on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, for example, Tucker instructed her students to write their own tales and then turn them into digital stories in whatever way they wanted.

"As much as possible, I wanted the artwork and stories to be their own," she said. "Not only were their original tales phenomenal, but the digital output was incredible. I had kids do stop motion, and some did drawings that they manipulated on a background. They used iMovie, Lego Movie Maker or whatever apps or tools spoke to them. Overall, the quality was stunning."

To truly meet the Common Core, Tucker encourages teachers to stop treating the standards as a checklist and instead focus on developing robust learning experiences.

"If you design projects or assignments in a complete way and integrate technology, you'll end up hitting so many standards it's unbelievable."

Are you ready to redesign your curriculum to meet the Common Core and ISTE Standards? Join the Project ReimaginED community to collaborate on updating education for the digital age.