From Chaos to Curriculum

Readiness requires Common Core alignment of real-world content.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kevin Baird

CREDIT FollettCollege and career readiness requires new content — real-world content. Aligning that content to curriculum, analyzing current resources and determining what to buy can be chaotic at best. How do we know what part of the “real world” to bring into the schoolhouse? One of the primary ‘shifts’ in the Common Core is the integration of “real world” content into our curriculum. Essentially, the definition of college and career readiness has changed from “mastery of a multiple choice test” to “your ability to apply classroom skills to real world problems”. Our challenge is to pair up school-based resources like basal readers and textbooks with real-world content, which aligns to the requirements of new, more rigorous standards.

At the Center for College & Career Readiness, we recommend the following steps for alignment:

  1.  Understand that your library is your biggest “real world” resource and a window to authentic learning.          

Where do students go to complete a research paper? Where do students explore their own interests among non-fiction texts—the key ‘stretch’ reading that leads them to College & Career Readiness? Who among your team is an expert in new literature, non-fiction, video and new web-based resources? The answer is clearly the library and the media specialist, of course. The library, along with online databases and electronic curriculum, serve as the window to the world outside of the classroom, and offers the deepest level of skill application or cognitive demand.

  1.  Know what you have. Analyze it for range and interest.

You cannot align your authentic curriculum—the library, electronic databases, and other resources—to your textbooks and scope / sequence without first analyzing it. Analyze your collection for a range of reading levels within key areas of interest, aligned to your core curriculum topics. Several companies will help you do this on some level for free, such as Follett School Solutions, who makes Destiny Library Manager software.

  1. Use your tools – fully. And get rid of what doesn’t work.

Speaking of software, most schools use very little of the real analytical power its library management systems provide. There are tools available that can assist with real analytical data to further the effectiveness of “real world” resources. WebPath Express is a portal within Follett’s Destiny that helps users find resources, including educator-approved websites, allowing users to locate the resources that align to individual student needs – authentic, real-world texts that stretch their learning and teach them to apply their thinking to real-world problems (the kind they might find on a PARCC, AIR or SBAC exam!).

Another tool is IXL, one of the most effective math fluency software programs on the market – but only kids and their parents seem to know about it. Achieve3000 propels students to 200% of normal reading growth in a year’s time, but the software is often marginalized to intervention programs. Find out what you have and what’s working, and expand on it. Get rid of what doesn’t work. Alignment is as much about leaving things behind as it is about embracing a brave new world.

  1.  Explore and connect – without the vendor guiding you.

I was recently doing an alignment of a basal series with real world, authentic text. It wasn’t hard to find the keywords and topics, but finding content to pair with the basal (and at different reading levels, as well!) was no easy task. I used Titlewave to search for audiobooks, math word problem sets, and a variety of non-fiction explorer texts to go along with Chomp! And I used Curriculum Tags, a feature in Titlewave, to easily find real-world content within targeted categories.

Self exploration, although it took time, actually led me to more resources faster than listening to another vendor presentation about canned content.

  1.  Alignment means nothing without measurement.

If you don’t have a district-wide Lexile based assessment for reading ability, get one. Run, don’t walk. And if you haven’t yet heard of Quantiles, call the people at Metametrics and ask for a free demonstration. Comprehensive targeted assessment, from grades preK to college, allows you to precisely match students with just-right math skills and text difficulty levels (not subject matter complexity, mind you). Use your library system, online databases, and free resources like Lexile.com and Titlewave to build your content for more perfect alignment.

  1.  Curriculum mapping: It’s not what it used to be!

Join me on EdWeb in coming months as we look at how to map curriculum for College & Career Ready outcomes, or join a Common Core Black Belt graduate course. Rigor means integrated difficulty and complexity across a variety of texts exploring a topic from multiple angles—and creating your own ideas and arguments about it all. From Performance Tasks to Depth of Knowledge Four, you won’t want to miss it.

Above all, beware compliance and mandated teacher activity. It might seem like one way to achieve constancy from chaos, but it’s really just a mask for mediocrity. If students are supposed to find joy, and excitement by engaging their brains in real-world content, the same goes for teachers.

For example, I was at Dailey Elementary Charter School in Fresno, California recently—one of the poorest zip codes in America. Every one of their teachers helps to write the curriculum, including songs that reinforce hard skills. I left a first-grade classroom unable to speak from watching students sing about and then “solve for X”. My sixth-grade son has yet to learn algebra. These six-year olds were doing it fluently. Their teacher was alive … with the sound of creative, passionate instruction. This is what we need in our teachers to take College & Career Readiness to the next level.

Kevin Baird is chairman of the Center for College & Career Readiness. He has been a technology teacher, education policymaker presenting to state and federal governments, and founder and former executive director of several nonprofits in education, healthcare and the arts. He was a vice president at Renaissance Learning and has worked with schools on every continent, having participated in some of the largest research studies in education ever conducted. He hold degrees in Sociology and Anthropology and an MBA in Global Management, and is a regular speaker and consultant working with schools and districts to create effective school management systems and processes. Write to: kevinebaird@gmail.com

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