Leadership and the Common Core: English Language Arts

School leaders face a significant challenge in implementing new reforms, which seem to come with increasing frequency.  While the Common Core Standards hold promise for shaping a deeper, more thoughtful curriculum for students in English Language Arts (and Mathematics), they arrive on top of several decades of reforms and innovations which can leave faculties wondering about where the next new thing is coming from.  This makes it difficult to generate excitement about the Common Core, even though standards in both English Language Arts and Mathematics have much to commend them.

academic dialogue 3For more than a decade CTL has committed itself to furthering adolescent literacy development, so we view the Common Core Standards (KCAS in our state of Kentucky) with a sense of enthusiasm, pleased to see that nationally the view of literacy corresponds to key features of our Adolescent Literacy Model (ALM).  In particular the Common Core recommends these aspects of literacy development that are central to CTL’s approach:

  • Including listening and speaking as part of an overall literacy framework. In our training and guidebooks that accompany our model, we emphasize reading, writing, speaking and listening in every class, each day that students are in school.  Listening and speaking contribute to students’ cognitive development as well as their ability to read and write.  When students engage in academic dialogue, describe their ideas verbally to others, and listen and weigh the perspectives of their peers, they increase their understanding, knowledge and skill.
  • Applying literacy strategies in service of learning all content areas. Our ALM engages whole faculties in professional learning, sharing content literacy strategies that work across the subjects to help students to master content.  The model also provides discipline-specific support, helping teachers to adapt literacy strategies most appropriate to their content area. Since the vocabulary of the discipline can pose a barrier to students, emphasis on vocabulary development, fluency and comprehension is important in all subjects.
  • Focusing on text complexity. CTL’s model incorporates the Lexile Framework from MetaMetrics, so that teachers can match the sophistication of text materials to students’ reading level, providing them enough challenge to grow but not so much challenge that they fail.  Text complexity is central to literacy development efforts, encouraging teachers to ensure rigor and also to differentiate the resources they provide students.  This is important not only in English Language Arts classes but in all content areas.

I offer these three points from the English Language Arts standards not just to mention how our model addresses them (!), but also to suggest that a way to tackle the standards with school faculties is first to look for those features that make sense, fill a need, and provide direction for improvement—an entry point into this reform that might reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.  Finding critical attributes that address student needs and represent best practices can calm the waters, inspiring confidence that this latest reform will indeed make a difference in student learning.

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