Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson uses her expertise to help K–12 schools and districts develop sustainable, site-based professional learning communities and understand and implement the Common Core State Standards.

PLC Teams Discussing the Common Core

A number of collaborative teams in PLC schools across the country are waging quality conversations as they begin to feel the implications and mandates of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on their instructional practices. According to Dr. Richard DuFour in his article “Leading Edge: ‘Collaboration Lite’ Puts Student Achievement on a Starvation Diet,” the major emphasis in PLC teams should be to:

  1. Identify essential learning outcomes.
  2. Develop common assessments around the essential learning.
  3. Score and analyze the assessment.
  4. Use the results of the assessment to drive continuing instruction to meet the diverse needs of students.

As I train teams that have not yet begun to have these critical learning discussions, I would recommend all K–12 teachers begin to pull apart the CCSS Anchor Standards in Reading and Writing. Once this is done, they can use Dr. DuFour’s four steps using the anchor standards to start the meaningful PLC process.

A major emphasis of the reading anchor statements is to gather evidence, knowledge, and greater insight from text. This skill is integral to every classroom no matter the grade level or content area. In fact, 80–90 percent of the reading standards at every grade level require text dependent analysis through a close read.

While there is no specific litany to how a teacher conducts a close read, the following process will serve as an effective tool to create text-dependent questions to get to the core meaning of the reading passage.

Step l:  Identify the Core Understandings and Key Text Ideas

  • “Beginning with the end in mind”, a teacher question might be, “What do you think the major points or key concepts are in this paragraph?”

Step 2:  Start Small to Build Reading Confidence

  • Begin asking questions that “hook” students and keep them invested in the passage.
  • A teacher question might be, “What part of the reading stood out to you and why?”

Step 3:  Target Vocabulary and Text Structure

  • “What are the power academic words you find in this piece?”
  • “How are these words connected to the key concepts?”
  • “How would the text meaning change if we changed the vocabulary?”

Step 4: Let Students Struggle With the Text

  • Find specific paragraphs or sections that could have multiple meanings, and craft questions that support and illuminate new understanding.
  • Allow students to dialogue in pairs or small groups to broaden the meaning.
    • “Look at the meaning through the eyes of another character.”

    • “How would the key concepts change?”

    • “What application of this text can you make to your own life?”

Step 5:  Create a Culminating “Check for Understanding”

  • A number of activities can be generated to produce evidence of student proficiency.
  • Exit slip or a prompted writing for students to “show what they know” independently.

Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp, coauthors of Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives, suggest a “part to whole” process when doing a close read.

  1. Begin with general understandings using words.
  2. Examine a sentence to find key details.
  3. Use a paragraph to examine vocabulary and text structure.
  4. Discuss segments of the reading to determine the author’s purpose.
  5. Take an entire text to determine inferences/predictions.
  6. Across multiple texts, generate opinions, arguments, and intertextual connections.

Collaborative teams of teachers are developing common assessments across grade levels and content areas beginning with close reads. Given that text-dependent questions are not about recall and recitation, these strategies invite students to deeply investigate text, compare it with others, and gain new perspectives and understanding. The anchor standards can begin these deep discoveries as a “systems team.” Enjoy the journey!


DuFour, R. (2003, Summer) Leading edge: Collaboration lite puts student achievement on a starvation diet. Journal of Staff Development, 24(3).

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2012). Teaching students to read like detectives: Comprehending, analyzing, and discussing text. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.



I enjoyed this article and strongly support the idea of working as a team. I truly believe that the collaborative will produce a more productive environment in which the students will have the experts of more teacher. hence the issues and challenges faced by an individual teacher can be handled by many. This will bring better solution for both students and teacher. In a team environment the teachers are better able to reflect on their own teaching strategies and make the necessary changes to benefit their students and their own profession growth.

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I really enjoyed this article! My students are about to take the Common Core ELA exam next week and the Math the week after. It has been very difficult to switch over since the Common Core is more demanding and rigorous. These steps will help us prepare the students for the next two weeks and for the rest of year. Thank you!

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I really enjoyed the article! My colleagues and I are going to begin the task of aligning these new Common Core standards to our curriculum this summer. This article really put all of the minutia into a laser like focus. It really helped me to see the big picture and I look forward to the challenge/results!

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I also enjoyed reading this article and the ideas for each step to take in the process. My school district will be moving to common core next year. Learning to implement all of the new standards can be a bit overwhelming. The steps in this article and other people's comments, however, make me feel like I can do this too.
William, my district purchased for each teacher the book "Pathways to the Common Core" by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman. I have enjoyed reading it and discussing it with my colleagues. We have been able to share ideas and examine the process of rolling out the standards as a result of our reading.

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It seems from many of the comments that at first aligning the Common Core Standards and creating new assessments is difficult. Additionally, many users are asking about a simple easy to read text to help explain the best practices to make this transition. My first question is has anyone found a book or a video tutorial that helps explain this transition? Secondly, there is a lot of apprehension in our school since we are switching to Common Core next year and not many people know how well it is going to go. I want to thank all of you who had positive things to say about their experiences, your stories have lessened my own apprehensions for what is in store for us next year.

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I enjoyed reading the article on Common Core. Common Core has become the basis for curriculum instruction this year. I have been able to really see a change in the ways our students are able to comprehend. I love using text dependent questions and having the students relate back to their text. It really helps them to develop understanding.

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D. Bush

Working with the cross-texts in our ELA units has been an excellent piece in helping with comprehension. If any one aprticipated with the CommonCore math this year, let me know if it as effective as ELA. We will actually start next school term.

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This post is so relevant to the work that we are currently doing at my school. We are in the first year of implementation of the CCSS standards, and at the beginning of the year it was a bit too overwhelming to really dive into the anchor standards. Now that we are becoming more proficient with our grade level standards, we have been working on deconstructing the anchor standards and making cross-grade level connections. I really enjoyed reading the breakdown of steps you provided for conducting a close read! I will be using these in my planning and with my students. Thank you for your insight!

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I enjoyed the article! I love that people are talking about Common Core and how to use it to the fullest. At my school, I teach kindergarten and since I am a young, new teacher, I decided to dive in 100% into the new standards! I think they are challenging and rigorous and I think that is just what this new generation needs, especially here in Louisiana! Since I started doing this at the beginning of the year, my other colleague that teaches kindergarten jumped on board with me! I think we are doing a pretty fine job of using the standards correctly in our lessons! Also, the kindergarten teachers around the parish/county have been meeting up every couple of months to have us all get on the same page with CCSS. The others had a slow start, but it is truly coming along now! Keep up the great work with posting CCSS articles!

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Enjoyed the article. I liked that it was right to the point, and had some valuable information.

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I like the idea of having "common assessments" based on the essential learning items students should know. This is the first year that I have been asked to create a "common assessment" for my classes. The only problem is that I am the only teacher for my grade level and subject in my district and don't know where to look to compare my assessments. I could talk to another teacher in my subject, but it would be at a different grade level.

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What is the difference between Common Core and Next Generation Standards?

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My state is working on implementing the Common Core. They have grade level training in the common core, and teachers seem to like what they are seeing. I am a school librarian, but I teach more reading and language arts skills. I would like to get the training as well, or at least a overview of the grades I teach. However, as of right now, my county isn't offering it to librarians. But it would be helpful.

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We just started the CCSS. As a grade level we are trying to determine how to fit these new standards into our existing curriculum. It seems challenging and we are finding discrepancies between what the kids know and what they are suppose to know. This last semester report cards were hard for some parents to deal with. Hopefully as the year goes on we will be better alinged with these standards and next year will be easier. I did enjoy reading the tips about how to unpack the reading and writing CCSS and will try them in my guided reading groups.

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Thank you for this article. I also am interested in learning more about CCSS. Working with younger students, of K age ,assessments for the CCSS is a little hard to figure out. CCSS was first introduced to our district last year.Right now, we are using DRA2 as the assessment for the CCSS.

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D. Bush

I have enjoyed reading your blog. We started "Common Core" at our school this year. It has been trail and error, but rewarding for our students. Our students are being exposed to various texts to achieve the success we are receiving. We have a team that work on ELA at each grade level for our school. I will be sharing some of your ideas in our Community groups we have once a week.

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We are in our first year of the common core. I just finished up a meeting and we were saying that it would be great to have a protocol school that video tapes so we can see that standards being taught. I think the common core is a great idea, the launching is the most difficult part.

Johna, how have your students been doing on the common core assessments? We have been adding 5 - 10 higher order questions per assessment. The grades are starting to go up but it was a struggle at first!

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I am a third grade teacher. Our district adopted the common core standards last year. The first year was a partial roll-out, with an emphasis on getting to know the standards (we called it "unwrapping" vs. "unpacking"). This year, our goal is to develop common assessments. This has been difficult. As a grade level, we are beginning to create some common assessments, but we have no idea if our assessments match what other schools around our district, or around the country, are doing. It feels like we have taken something that was supposed to be "common" and are back to doing it our own way anyway. I agree with the above comment from kittieux. I also wish there was an easy-to-read book outlining the best practices. Maybe with at least one assessment for each standard. Then, if we wanted to create more assessments we could, but at least we would know that we have one in "common."

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I am an 11th & 12th grade English teacher at a Title I school. We have been receiving 'training' in Common Core, but so far my colleagues and I haven't learned anything helpful. I would be interested in an easy-to-read book outlining the best way to unpack the standards, and how to apply them to curriculum. From what I've seen so far, there is very little information on curriculum specific to ELA.

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I love that this allowed for additional insight on Common Core Standards as Georgia has recently started using them. This is wonderful in giving step-by-step on helping to utilize the Common Core and being comfortable doing so!

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I would like to see this as a school-wide initiative. We meet weekly as a team, however we have a wealth of knowledge at our school and this would be an excellent way to share some of these ideas that work. Do you have any ideas of how we can get this started?

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I really enjoyed this article. I am very interested in learning more about Common Core Standards and how to best instruct my students. A number of my peers are considering meeting together to discuss and learn more about the Common Core Standards and how to implement the best instruction. We are trying to create a Professional Learning Community to avoid burning out before our time. Thanks again.

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I am insiried by this post and it make me critical of how important my role as a teacher is. This blog has outlined the key roles that my school's teachers networking is seeking to accomplish. There are a number of areas we need to look closely into but thus far we are making short steps in the completion of a long journey. I would like to share some of the ways we are incoroprating some ofthe major aspects outlined.
In my school, as a team we have a working and supportive professional learning community; where we are seeking to improve students’ performance based on the educational standards that were outlined by Dutch Department of Education for the BESS islands to have all schools operating on the same level throughout the Kingdom and its Public Entities.
As a team we are constantly engaged in Staff Development Sessions, Workshops Seminars, Teachers conferences, Clusters and Cycle meetings among other means via modern technology, with school Teachers, Principals, Board members, Coaches, Care Coordinators, Parents, Stakeholders, Government locally and from the Netherlands. These sessions ranges from daily interactions with subject teachers to weekly cycle meetings to monthly meetings with school staff, coach, care team, school boards and quarterly meetings with education directors and quarter masters to twice a year meeting with inspectorates and school development team. During these sessions many questions are asked and method followed to obtain a desired answer for the best implementation policy. All these entities that are involved according to (Nieto2003), we are constantly in communication which fosters the need for adult conversation, where teachers talk with colleagues and other educators about the problems they face. Then teachers are influence to write so that they can have a plan to work on. From the plan teachers are forced to rethink their professional development and work with school administration to restructure schools and developing new national priorities of operation. The national priorities of operations that we work around where highlighted by (DeFour2003) as the major emphasis a PLC teams should be. They are to:
1) Identify essential learning outcomes.
2) Develop common assessments around the essential learning.
3) Score and analyze the assessment.
4) Use the results of the assessment to drive continuing instruction to meet the diverse needs of students.
This community that my school is building acts as a positive driving force that keeps encouraging teachers and educators alike to find the joy and satisfaction in the task that they are engage in daily to be the most rewarding ever and ensure students learn as teachers engage them in an interactive process.

What are the implications and benefit that an individual can achieve from a professional learning community?

How the view outlined above help you in your professional learning community?

Give suggestions that can help me within my professional learning community.

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I love this post. thank you so much for the informative information. I plan to discuss this topic further with my fellow teachers and see where they are with the Common Core in their schools. I can only hope that I can find people to help me when I get to a school permenantly.

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We have been playing around with CCSS at our school. We are not a pilot school, but we have been experimenting with what it is going to look like starting next year. This blog sounds a lot like the conversations we have been having during our PLC time. One thing that I am currently working on was mentioned in Step 4 Letting students struggle. I have also been doing this during my math lessons. It takes some getting used to because as educators we are so used to sweeping in and helping those students that struggle. Looking at CCSS and the fast approaching tests that will go along with it, it is important that we let those students work through their struggles which will lead to a richer educational experience for them.

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