Subject Area Teachers and Common Core Literacy Standards: “Just Do It”

Bo Jackson, the first professional athlete selected to both the National Football League and Major Baseball League All Star Games, was a spectacular sports phenomena in the 80’s. In addition to racking up yardage on the football field and clobbering balls out of stadiums on the ball field, Jackson helped Nike popularize their slogan, “Just Do It.” “Just Do It” is a powerful message so apropos to those uncomfortable with change, fearful of failure, or distrusting of outside interests. And when it comes to Common Core Literacy Standards for teachers who don’t teach english, “Just do it” is especially salient.

On Tuesday I worked with a group of 25 mostly middle and high school non-ELA teachers on Integrating Common Core Literacy into the Content Areas. We also had two principals in attendance (I love having principals present for teacher professional development–they send a powerful message that the work being done matters). I blogged about developing the workshop a few weeks ago, and now that the session is over, I have some analyses and reflections to share. First and foremost, the group hung in there and worked hard studying the standards, reading the assigned tasks, working together in groups, and brainstorming strategies and sharing observations.

We began the day with a powerful video of Taylor Mali’s Poem “Totally like whatever, you know” read by Ronnie Bruce on  Typography about language. My favorite line is, “Speak with conviction,” which captures the essence of why we’re doing Common Core in this country. We want to develop students as thinkers, confident thinkers, thinkers who have something important to say and who can back up their words with data, evidence, and conceptual understanding. We want students who can tolerate frustration when wading through challenging text; who understand good writing requires graphical organization and iterations of drafts before reaching the beloved final draft; and who read and write for learning as well as pleasure. Regardless of the discipline, students can and must use language to convey their thoughts, passions, ideas,….and be able to argue and support their claims with the content of their subject. Beginning with Mali’s poem was an exquisite hook for the session.

After sharing the necessary essential questions, conducting a Know-Need to Know, and the obligatory directions to restrooms and exits, we reviewed the brief history of the standards and their structure. Besides the Taylor Mali poem, we looked at the unsettling research on high school graduates’ readiness for college and careers via data from the American Diploma Project. This was followed by a review of the 6-12 Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects and a brainstorming activity by disciplines on strategies for meeting the ten reading standards (we repeated this for writing later in the day). The strategies teachers came up with were self-affirming and justified the message, “Just Do It.” The anxiety many had at the start of the day was eased as they settled into the standards and closely read what the standards were asking of students.

The day progressed through Lexiles, qualitative and quantitative measures of text complexity, a Susan Tovani exercise on purposeful reading from her book, I Read it but I Don’t Get it, and two close reading tasks worth elaborating on here. To help teachers understand what close reading looks and feels like, teachers were organized by content areas and then given passages to read. Science teachers read a passage from Frederick Douglass’ famous speech, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July, and social studies/history teachers were asked to read about Eurasian Water Milfoil in the Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant Manual (Both passages were truly fascinating). Art and special ed teachers could choose from either passage. Teachers had to read the passage and circle words they were unfamiliar with, and jot in the margins things they thought were extremely interesting or important, and additional questions they had. After a very quiet 25 minutes of intense reading, teachers identified the standards the readings aligned with and then shared the vocabulary and notes with the main group. We later used the same texts to explore writing options.

At day’s end, we had thoroughly reviewed all reading and writing standards. We discussed the increasing rigor from grade to grade (a great structure for differentiation), learned how to access informational texts and associated Lexiles, looked at follow-up writing activities tied to the text passages, and brainstormed next steps. When all was said and done, the group left feeling good about the Common Core Literacy Standards realizing, when it comes to integrating Common Core Literacy into their subject areas, “They can do it!”

Oh, and before I forget, remember to thank a teacher this coming week to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week.

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