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Working the (Common) Core

Posted on October 8, 2014 at 6:00 am

By Sheri Boggs

Working the Common Core by Sheri Boggs | Spokane County Library District

In late August, I was privileged to join three fellow SCLD youth librarians at a day’s worth of Common Core training sponsored by the Central Valley School District and the Washington State Library. Usually trainings are one of those workplace obligations that everyone has to do but nobody really likes. But the Teacher-Librarian Common Core Cadre (TLC3) training was different. I left feeling truly inspired. Not necessarily by Common Core (although I now understand it a lot better), but by spending the day with dedicated, enthusiastic professionals eager to rise to this new curricular challenge.

The Common Core State Standards definitely have both their proponents and their detractors. They began as a grass-roots effort in 2009 to ensure that students are developing the same competitive math and language arts skills at roughly the same time, regardless of which state the child lives in. There is also a strong emphasis on practical application and being able to synthesize information rather than merely memorize it. The Washington State Office for the Superintendent of Public Instruction phrases it well, I think: “The standards require a practical, real-life application of knowledge that prepares Washington students for success in college, work and life.” And finally, the Common Core standards are rigorous—encouraging a deeper engagement with and understanding of the material while building up the student’s skill set from year to year.

With Washington being one of 43 states that have adopted the standards—which will be fully implemented this school year—teachers and administrators are gearing up with targeted training. The two workshops (one for elementary and one for secondary) I attended were designed to support teacher librarians, who are in the unique position of providing access to absolutely necessary resources, information, and skills, but who might only be working with students and faculty in little bursts. As I listened to the trainers, I was gratified to see that public libraries are valuable partners in this ambitious effort — we can help parents and kids find content-rich (and fun) informational books, we are a great resource for ebooks and extra copies of popular titles, and we offer access to digital resources like NoveList that can help you find books that lend themselves to the building of specific common core standard skills.

Here are a few more takeaways and observations from throughout the day, along with tips for how SCLD resources can help:

  • The Common Core standards can be super intimidating at first glance. (No, seriously. Take a look at 5th grade English Language Arts, for instance.) But the “Big Idea” goals behind them are easy to understand. They’re designed to create 21st century thinkers, scholars and workers. In short, to educate students who demonstrate independence, comprehend as well as critique, use technology capably and strategically, value evidence, have strong content knowledge, understand other perspectives and cultures, and respond to varying demands of audience, task, purpose and discipline.
  • For parents and teachers looking for recommendations for a specific standard, NoveList K-8 Plus is an invaluable resource, and it’s available for free with your SCLD library card. The “Common Core” tab under “Professional Toolbox” suggests book titles and activities that meet specific standards. Parents can also use the “My Kids Have to Read For School” feature to find book ideas by subject and grade. Other useful digital resources (especially for middle and high school students) include Science in Context, Biography in Context, and Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
  • While there are numerous Common Core resources online (including these great fact sheets from the national PTA website), we have a handful of books on the Common Core, including Common Core Standards for Parents for Dummies —which offers a nice overview of the standards and how they came to be.
  • Finally, whatever your feelings about the Common Core are (and I’ve seen responses ranging from optimistic enthusiasm to outright hostility), know that the staff at your child’s school is committed to embracing the challenges of these sweeping curricular changes and prepared to help students become 21st century learners. I thoroughly enjoyed learning from, and brainstorming with, some of the area’s most dedicated teacher-librarians.

Sheri Boggs

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