Fighting…and WINNING…the Common Core Implementation Game

In last week’s article, I walked you through where we’re getting teachers started with Step 1 of Implementing the Common Core Standards – we started with a big picture plan for the year – one domain at a time!

We received a slew of responses to that blog straight to my inbox – – and here was the gist of most of them: “But Jill, I like what you wrote, but we have SO MANY STANDARDS to implement – – how can you guide us to just start with one domain?”

Well guys, I have news for you.  Just because you HAVE to implement all of the standards, doesn’t mean that by biting off a HUGE chunk right away, you’ll have success with it.

In fact, our schools and teachers tend to have the best success with the “go slow to go fast” mentality.  Here’s what that sounds like. “Hmmm….I’m totally overwhelmed with all of the things I need to be doing right now with the Common Core, but I know that if I’m trying to manage too many brand new pieces and parts each day/week/month, I’m going to burn out super quickly and I can’t afford to do that.  So, I’m going to push aside my Common Core-frenzied thoughts and I’m going to focus on getting really good at a couple of standards.  This way, I’ll not only be great at implementing these particular standards, I’ll also build my confidence to bite off the next chunk that I need to.  Slow and steady and well-done wins the race with a massive implementation like the Common Core.”

If you have to re-read and repeat that conversation to yourself 10,000xs a day, do it.

You won’t get farther by going faster when so much is new.  You’ll only be racing toward overwhelm.  Fight it.

So, onto our task at hand…planning lessons to align your current curriculum to the Common Core.

Here’s where I’d like you to start: Create a very simple 4 question assessment.

This will make it easier to organize the lessons that you need to.  Starting with the end in mind means we end up where we want to because we’re NOT taking a shot in the dark!

Here’s where you’ll start:

  1. The assessment should incorporate the language/academic vocabulary from the Standards – this is critical.  For example if the standard that you’re assessing uses the term “describe in detail”, then your assessment should do the same.  (This is important because we will write this into our lessons, which is our next step)
  2. The assessment should incorporate written response and extended response questions – remember the Standards are focused on depth, not just breadth, and you want your assessment to represent this.  Design open-ended questions where students have to explain and give specific connection back to the text along with their ideas.  How you craft the question is critical in getting the right responses/information from your kids.
  3. The assessment should incorporate some sort of discussion and perhaps a rubric that you develop and use to gauge that discussion this is a new concept for some – we need to get familiar with it!
  4. The assessment should take 15 minutes or less – we need a good measure of what our kids know – BUT we shouldn’t have to put ourselves into assessment purgatory to do so!

Warning: DON’T DO THIS ON YOUR OWN!  Make it part of the work that you do weekly as you meet with your team!  It’s these common assessments that will drive the success in your grade level/department!

Five Sure-fire Steps to Implementing the Common Core Without Losing Your Marbles!

The Common Core Standards are freaking me out.

There.  I said it!

What I really mean is that I’m slightly freaking out over the fact that the Common Core Standards conversation is happening…in all the wrong places.

What do I mean?

Well, I hear Superintendents talking about ‘em.  I hear Curriculum Directors talking about ‘em.  I hear principals talking about ‘em.  I hear instructional coaches talking about ‘em.

But I don’t hear an overwhelming number of teachers (the ones who actually DELIVER THE DANG THINGS!) talking about them!!!  And I don’t think not talking about the Common Core is the teachers’ fault!

Side note: It’s common that, given a new, fandangled implementation of something in education, we forget to bring the teachers into it.  And this fact is the very reason we get frustrated about money spent on reform – we forget to bring the teachers and their practice into the discussion so there’s not much change in the classrooms.  It’s the bane of existence in public education.  I mean….DUH!

We have a chance to transform our collective instruction in ways that we never have before so that we can catapult our students to success in ways we never have before!  Or we can choose to just do business as usual while we wait for the pendulum to swing the other way.  Take one guess as to which I’M going to do!

Here’s where we’re starting the Common Core conversation with the TEACHERS WHO WILL ACTUALLY ADJUST, CHANGE AND DELIVER THE INSTRUCTION TO THE KIDS!

Step 1: Read the standards from the top to the bottom and back up again.  Sounds super simple, I know.  But just do it.  They’re awesomely set up.

Step 2: Focus on ONE CHUNK of the Standards.  No – not two.  Not all of them.  Just one.  I like to focus on the one domain that we’re closest to implementing – something about being “almost there” makes me feel accomplished!

Step 3: Comb through – okay, who am I kidding…SCOUR, OBSESS OVER, LIST, DISCUSS AND FUSS ABOUT – your current curriculum.  Figure out where you’re directly teaching that domain.  Figure out where you’re indirectly teaching it.  Write all of these things down somewhere and guard it with your life.

Step 4: Analyze where you are teaching the domain well, where you’re kind of teaching it and where you need some major additions.  Write this down and guard it with your life.

Step 5: Then start to plot a big picture plan for the school year of where you’ll continue doing what’s already in your curriculum for that domain.  The focus on where you’ll need to make some adjustments for the weaker standards in that domain.  And finally plot where you’ll add opportunities to teach, model, practice and apply that domain through the year so that you’re geared to end-of-year mastery.

Then come back and read next week’s article
where I’ll lay out how to design lessons/assessments for these things you’ve added, tweaked and obsessed over…

What is Scaffolding Instruction and How Does It BOOST Mastery?


What is scaffolding instruction?  These are the kind of questions people ask me…and they say educators aren’t interesting!!!!  Well, I got to thinking about it and here’s what went through my head…

I remember when I first started teaching, when I would go to staff meetings or professional development trainings, there would be so many terms and acronyms that folks would throw around as if EVERYONE knew what they meant. 

Kind of like “DUH! You don’t know what YPJENSOF stands for?  Everyone’s doing it!”  (By the way, it doesn’t stand for anything, but didn’t you just wonder what it was…just for a second?)

I had a seasoned teacher friend that would translate for me during breaks and after the meetings so that I had some semblance of understanding of what we were supposed to do next!  Thank goodness for friends who have a clue!

But what I’ve really come to figure out is that sometimes we KNOW what some teaching or education terms MEAN and we often nod our heads like, “Oh yeah, I do that every day…” but when it comes down to it, we use the term without really knowing what it means.  The problem with that is, if we don’t know how to DO or USE it, then the teaching skill isn’t translating into the classroom for the kids’ benefit.  I know I’ve been guilty of it!

The term “scaffolding” is one of those terms.

I mean really – I bet you can explain it, but if I were to come into your classroom and ask you where, when and why you’re going to scaffold today, would you be able to be super specific with me?  The key is super specific…

So, let’s clean this up ONCE AND FOR ALLand get started using scaffolding instruction to benefit your kids right NOW!

Scaffolding is the process of GRADUALLY RELEASING RESPONSIBILITY and GRADUALLY DECREASING SUPPORT during a lesson or series of lessons so that kids are fully supported throughout the explicit teaching model. 

It is built on the idea that as the teacher releases responsibility, the students take more control.  So when you see scaffolded instruction work beautifully, there is a PLANNED and SEAMLESS transition from the teacher doing most of the work (through direct explanation and modeling) to guided practice (the teacher and the students are doing the work with the teacher giving a TON OF FEEDBACK) to eventually the students working to apply, apply, apply correctly their skill with the least amount of teacher support.

Here’s the cool thing: even if you’re using a scripted reading program or intervention program, you can still have fidelity to the program AND scaffold at the same time.  In fact, that’s what good teachers do! 

They organize the instruction around what their students know how to do and what they’re still learning how to do and what they’re brand new at doing.  They don’t skip parts of the lessons that students have mastered or spend forever and a day working to mastery and avoiding other content.

Excellent teachers that get great results have this kind of script going through their minds:

“Hmm…when I think of teaching this skill, even though the program tells me to assign this book to my students for a second read, I know they’re not quite ready for that because they made lots of errors in yesterday’s reading. 

So, what I need to do is a bit of hand holding and scaffolding here – I’ll start off reading the text WITH them and then, depending on how well they’re taking over the reading of the text and the number of errors they’re reading while they discuss the response questions, I’ll give them bigger and bigger chunks of the text to read on their own.”

It’s really that simple – BUT YOU MUST PLAN AHEADSuccessful scaffolding is planned, not incidental!

So, where do you start?

  • Look at the lesson ahead of time
  • Ask yourself if the students are mastered, getting mastered or totally un-mastered at the skills
  • Based upon your thoughts about the above questions, you’ll know where to start with scaffolding
  • If the students are mastered at the skill, you know that you can assign longer, more difficult tasks with fewer interruptions
  • If the students are getting mastered, you know that you need to structure the lesson with lots of student engagement and tons of opportunities for you to give big, academic based feedback before you have students work in small groups or independently for application of the skill
  • If the students are un-mastered or the skill is brand new, you know that you will be doing lots of super tight hand-holding and not throwing the kids to guided or independent practice because you know they don’t have a clue what that would look like!  In fact, this stage of scaffolding is a lot about YOU!

Here’s what I do: I look at my lesson and highlight in green where I am doing lots of observing as they’re doing the work – student control, less teacher control.  Then I’m highlighting in my lesson plan in yellow where I’m going to need to do some hand-holding but gradually move them to serious guided practice.  Finally in pink I’m doing the model, model, model kind of work – lots of teacher control and super major hand-holding.

Question for you: Would you come over to my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting) and post WHERE your students will benefit most from your scaffoldingI’ll see ya there!

Just Implementing Something Doesn’t Mean Your Scores Will Change!

I have many long-time clients who have been implementing their reading programs for over 6 years…and they’re still working on depth.

Deep program implementation comes from a complete mastery over several important areas:


  •     Classroom organization
  •     Preparation and planning
  •     Instructional delivery
  •     Collaboration with the leadership, coach and colleagues

I believe that one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves during long-term program implementation is this: What is the evidence that we are an XYZ school? 

In other words – do we look like any other school with any other program, or do we have obvious maturity and depth in the above four areas?  Trust me, it is possible to be implementing something new and have literally little to no evidence that you are implementing it – that’s not a good thing and surely doesn’t lead to results!

I was working with a client this year and they had been implementing a new language arts program and when we went to view the classrooms, overall there was little evidence that they had adopted their program!

The instruction, the management and the engagement looks pretty much as it had prior to the implementation. So, in this case, we had to admit that there was little to no evidence that they were implementing the program – the implementation indicators were not there, unfortunately.

The problem with that?  The scores won’t change if the instruction doesn’t look different.  They need to be using the new materials differently in order to get better results with the kids – just changing the materials won’t work!

Depth looks like what Joyce and Showers call “Exerting Executive Control” – we know what is going on, have engineered every step of the students’ day and what they will and should be able to produce because of the lesson and contingency plans if things don’t go as planned.

What areas of your reading/literacy work lack depth?  Talk to me by leaving a comment below…we can help!