Common Core: Students Thinking about Thinking
By Carolyn Burica
This year, we introduced the ELA (English Language Arts) Common Core Standards to our students. I knew we were going to have to navigate the changes together. I felt fairly confident that I could teach using the Common Core Standards’ approach—I have inherently been using this style of “in-depth” teaching for six years. However, as the weeks progressed, I saw many of my sixth graders struggling to move beyond “I for Improving” marks on their assessments. I had to ask myself, “What is going on here? Why are they stuck there?”
I am a fourth-generation English teacher—teaching runs in my family. It is practically woven into my DNA. I write my own lesson plans, include plenty of differentiated methodologies, engaging lessons, active high-order questioning opportunities, continuous review and re-teaching; I also include well-worded assessments that require students to show what they know. So why then are most of my students struggling with my assessment and scoring lower than what they—and their parents were used to seeing?
It finally dawned on me that my students might not understand what I am asking them to do on their tests. I quickly decided to do whatever I could to remedy this situation. I noticed something about the verbs used in each of the Common Core Standards. Every single one of the verbs is a measurable, defendable and observable verb. These standards are designed to fit neatly into a customized rubric for each content standard I teach, whether it is in religion, science or literature. It should be merely a simple step to take these verbs and cut and paste them into a rubric to hand out to my students as my lessons begin. But, here’s the problem, they didn’t understand what the verbs meant. And that is what needs to change. In order for teachers and students to be successful with the Common Core Standards, both teachers and students need to understand what is being asked and measured. The teacher needs to understand where these standards fit into Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the students need to understand what these verbs are asking them to do. In other words, teachers need to focus on questioning and developing lesson plans that include the higher-order verbs, and students need to be given the opportunity to think about how they’re thinking.
Getting students to understand higher-order thinking
I decided to use Bloom’s Taxonomy and its list of action verbs that are–coincidentally enough–part of the new Common Core Standards. I created a PowerPoint that takes them through the chart, one category at a time, starting with knowledge verbs and working up to evaluation. Of course, I had to make the language understandable to my students. I also included examples of test questions from each category, using the topic “The Great Lakes” as the subject. I let students know that all my tests are written using verbs chosen from the application and analysis categories. I even printed out a list of the verbs under each category, and defined the categories. I told students that they could use these charts for the rest of the year, for every assessment they took with me. The ability to find those verbs on the chart would help them know exactly what I’ve asked them to do. Students would better be able to find the path for those assessments by understanding the terminology.
Students are pretty responsive to this new way of thinking. We’ve practiced questioning and answering according to verbs we’ve picked as a class. They now know exactly what I mean whenever I use the following the words compare and contrast, analyze, apply, illustrate, show and create.
I understand that not all students will get this new way of thinking about thinking at first. But hopefully, students will be show an interest in wanting to demonstrate synthesis and evaluation—the top two tiers on the pyramid—all because I have taught them to think about their thinking.
About the Author: Carolyn Burica, is a Catholic school teacher in Central Ohio. Carolyn is in her sixth year of teaching sixth grade. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications and a teaching certification in Middle Childhood Language Arts and Science. She is also a fellow writing consultant for the Columbus Area Writing Project (CAWP), a local chapter of the National Writing Project, an organization dedicated to helping teachers promote and improve student-writing skills. For the last five years, she has served as a 7th grade coach and judge at Power of the Pen competitions, where one of her former students had advanced to the state level in competition. Carolyn’s passion for, and knowledge of, the writing process has helped her to foster in her students a love of writing and a better understanding of how the writing process works.