This is the third in a series of blogs about school leadership and the Common Core Standards. The first blog explored the idea of implementing yet another reform and how school leaders can foster a sense of enthusiasm and openness. The second blog focused on the English Language Arts core standards in particular, and how an emphasis on content literacy—applying literacy strategies across the disciplines to help students to master new content—can result in increased student learning. The second blog also drew parallels between key features of the ELA standards and CTL’s Adolescent Literacy Model. This third blog explores the applicability of the standards in ELA and mathematics to other content areas.
Years ago I attended a conference session led by Dr. David Perkins of Harvard University which examined common concepts that support interdisciplinary instruction. During the session and in related articles and books, Dr. Perkins provided clear illustrations of concepts that advance learning in a variety of disciplines. For example, the concept of evidence is central to a variety of subjects: in science, evidence can support or dispute a hypothesis as part of an experiment; in mathematics, evidence is used in mathematical proofs; in social studies, evidence supports trends in political, economic or social thought; and in English, evidence provides a rationale for an author’s point of view or argument.
I cite this example because the Common Core Standards take a similar approach. While the standards currently are written for English and mathematics, with a draft document in science still in the refinement stage, these standards include concepts and skills that apply across content areas. To illustrate the point, the Standards for Mathematical Practice require students to “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” (Standard Three) Of course this makes sense in mathematics, where students if they are to learn at deep levels must do more than calculate answers. But this standard also has applicability beyond mathematics. The notions of constructing an argument to defend one or more solutions to a problem and offering feedback on others’ thinking are essential to critical analysis and the ability to apply knowledge to new and different situations, true in mathematics, the sciences, social studies, English and related arts. The emphasis in the English Language Arts standards on informational reading is another illustration of the applicability across disciplines. Informational text is a staple of most content areas, both traditional academic as well as technical disciplines. Knowing how to make sense of informational formats, compare approaches to communication of ideas, and understand unfamiliar vocabulary are important skills not only in English but in other disciplines as well.
Looking at what concepts the Common Core Standards promote across content areas is a useful approach for school and district leaders, in providing guidance to teachers in the implementation of the standards. These common concepts provide an opportunity for faculties to work together within and across departments, serving to reinforce and deepen professional learning for teachers. Moreover, encountering concepts in different subject areas enables students to make connections and increases the likelihood of their retaining new and complex content. For more information about district and school leadership and the Common Core, published by Education Northwest, follow this link: http://educationnorthwest.org/webfm_send/1166.