“We Used to Do PLCs. Now We’re Doing Common Core!”
Recently while attending a gathering of educators, I overheard a conversation between two teachers with one declaring, “Last year, we were doing professional learning communities, but this year, we are doing Common Core.” Hearing that made me think back to the start of our PLC journey at Sanger Unified. In May of 2005, Rich Smith, then deputy superintendent of Sanger, and I heard Rick and Becky DuFour for the first time. We were so impacted by the message we heard. The power provided by the structures for PLC work—"three big ideas (focus on learning, build a collaborative culture, and create a focus orientation)” and the “four key questions (What do we want our students to learn? How will we know they have learned it? How will we respond when learning has not occurred? and How will we respond when learning has already occurred?)” encompassed us as we returned to our district, began the journey, and never looked back. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, our district is a place where collaboration is a way of life, and the internalized focus on learning and results are what is driving the transition to a Common Core world of teaching and learning.
When I look at the transition to Common Core, I see again a powerful structure to guide the work and answer the four key questions!
- What do we want our students to learn? Having clarity around the essential skills that must be mastered on the learning journey is critical in the Common Core world. More and more I see units or modules of instruction being developed that will drive instruction for a quarter of the year and incorporate 10 to 12 standards into the learning journey. Before we begin that journey, it is essential that we take the time to “unpack” the standards, identify prior learning, note skills that we must tie into, and clarify the new skills that must be mastered by every learner on this journey.
- How will we know they have learned it? In the Common Core world, the end of the learning journey is a culminating student performance-based opportunity to prove that they know how to apply the skills they have acquired. To make sure that they are able to demonstrate their advanced depth of knowledge in this culminating activity, we must monitor their learning progress along the way. As we identify the critical learnings within the standards, we must also develop common formative assessments that allow us to monitor each learner’s progress toward mastering those skills on the learning journey.
- How will we respond when learning has not occurred? Building time for interventions along the way becomes even more critical in a Common Core world. Demonstrating deep understanding and depth of knowledge in a culminating task requires mastery of the essential skills before they get to the end of the journey! Using the data from our common formative assessments to identify the students who are struggling, providing them with additional time for learning, and an additional opportunity to demonstrate that they have learned the standards or skills, will assure that our students are able to apply these skills at deeper levels in the end.
- How will we respond when learning has already occurred? In a Common Core world, the measure of learning is how deeply our students can demonstrate their knowledge. For those who demonstrate mastery at high levels, why don’t we consider enrichment as an opportunity to again deepen their understanding? Engage them in activities that require them to generate a product that is evidence of even deeper knowledge. I was in a class recently where I saw an example of this. A group of fourth-graders were tasked with developing a learning chart for the class while the teacher was working with the students who had not yet mastered the essential learnings as evidenced by the results of the common formative assessment just given.
I am more convinced than ever that the road to success, especially in the world of Common Core, is the “Learning by Doing” journey of a PLC! A PLC is not something we do. It is who we are. It is the place where the world of Common Core will become a powerful learning journey for students and adults alike.