Tackling the Common Core
A great starting point for supervisors who are revising their curricula to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is to read Wiggins and McTighe’s “From Common Core Standards to Curriculum: Five Big Ideas.” I wish I had this two years ago to distribute and discuss with my staff. That being said, I unknowingly set out on a course that is, in my estimation, very consistent with the recommendations of Wiggins and McTighe. Here’s how I tackled the CCSS with the Social Studies Department at Hunterdon Central Regional High School.
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
In 2011, I launched a departmental PLC structure. Each of our three required courses (Global Studies, United States History 1, and United States History 2) has a PLC. We also have mini-PLCs for our AP and electives courses. The PLCs provide for collaboration, sharing of best practices, and the revision of our curricula. It is in the PLC meetings that teachers wrestled with and unpacked the CCSS while writing units using Understanding by Design (UbD). The PLC structure has yielded several positive externalities including increased teacher autonomy and ownership of the newly written curriculum units and assessments. As supervisor, the PLCs have allowed me to assume the role of coach. I visit each PLC and listen to their approach to the curriculum. I provide support and make suggestions where appropriate. My go-to resource on PLCs is DuFour and Marzano’s Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement.
Faced with the daunting task of overhauling all of our curricula, I looked for a web-based solution for the PLCs to collaboratively write and store our UbD curriculum maps. After ten of my teachers and I attended a professional development session on Rubicon Atlas, I acquired a license to pilot their curriculum mapping platform. Our Atlas pilot was a very positive experience and we now utilize Atlas district-wide. Since June 2011, 40 courses in my department have been mapped using Atlas with uploaded and/or hyperlinked formative/summative assessments, lessons, and resources. Jacobs’ Curriculum 21 has served as an excellent guide for our revision and mapping process.
As the PLCs embarked on writing their curriculum units, I researched resources to help us provide student-centered activities that target 21st Century Skills. I selected resources that emphasize relevance and rigor. The fact that these activities are aligned to the CCSS is a bonus. My teachers are making extensive use of the DBQ Project, Brown Choices Program, and Stanford Program on International and Cross-cultural Education throughout our curricula. Most recently, teachers have started experimenting with the lessons and formative assessments from the Stanford History Education Group. For details on each of these resources, see my recent blog.
This summer, the PLCs developed CCSS aligned common formative and summative assessments. The CCSS have empowered the PLCs to move beyond traditional summative assessments that focus only on recall of content. An example of these new summative assessments is our capstone PBL experience in our junior year Global Studies course. Students utilize evidence-based decision making to role play and apply for funding (via written proposal and oral presentation) from an international organization to help remedy a public policy issue. The project requires authentic inquiry and synthesis. Most importantly, students must draw upon and make connections amongst the essential questions and enduring understandings from their three years of high school social studies. Schmoker’s Focus has been helpful to the PLCs in designing writing assessments.
To scaffold and support the common summative assessments, each PLC developed a common formative assessment (often document-based questions) for each unit of every course. The common formative assessments provide the PLCs opportunities to discuss what is working in the revised curricula and share strategies for reaching every student. William’s Embedded Formative Assessment has provided me with many insights for guiding the PLCs in their use of formative assessment.
It’s Not Over
The PLCs’ activities up to now constitute the early stages in a cycle of implementation and reflection. This is the first year of fully CCSS aligned curricula. As our first quarter closes, the PLCs will be meeting to examine assessment data to determine what is working and what can be tweaked going forward. I am fortunate to lead a dedicated department that is fully committed to our collaborative curriculum revision work, the collegial sharing of resources, and the departmental PLC structure.