For the past two weeks I have had a strange feeling—a combination of déjà vu and the sense that I am a visitor from the future. I say that because since November 2011, I have been traveling around New York with Sue Bartle presenting workshops about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In that time, teachers and librarians have gone from knowing that the standards were coming and preparing for the first tests to experiencing the fire of those assessments and planning ahead for the next round.
Most recently, I have been in New Jersey, where the Common Core assessments will arrive next spring. That state is just entering the territory New York has traveled—and I am sure that when I visit Kansas, Tennessee, and Nebraska later this year I will see some mixture of New York’s advance scouting and New Jersey’s sense that the game is now afoot.
So what lessons are to be learned from the states that have been through a full year of Common Core training, testing, and evaluating? My first suggestion is that if you are in a state new, or relatively new, to the Common Core, hunt around on the Internet. Go to EngageNY, or the Kansas State Department of Education site. There is everything to be gained from people who have already ventured down the Common Core road. Think about how to apply what they have learned, and experienced, to your state, district, and school.
The short form of what I have seen is this: the Common Core brings significant change to a school building. School librarians have the tools and position to be key players in this change—they understand inquiry and are eager to help students engage in research that goes beyond fact-finding missions. But to be essential participants in the Common Core initiative, librarians must know their nonfiction as well as their fiction. Nonfiction does not just mean subject areas, it requires that stakeholders become familiar with the different styles and approaches of a variety of authors.
Our past understanding of the phrase, “good for reports,” is meaningless. Under the Common Core, a report will not be three or five key facts, it will be facts plus sources that yield more than one point of view, or a comparison of approaches, or what one source presents against another. “Good for reports” is now understood to mean “good for thinking, questioning, and examining.” In addition, under the Common Core librarians must become even more assertive. Teachers and administrators must see the librarian as an agent active in meeting the standards, not a passive assistant to another’s plans.
I urge those of you who have been through a year or more of training and testing to share your experiences. What worked? What didn’t? What was difficult? What was satisfying? What did you learn? What would you do differently next time?
One of the wonderful things about the Common Core initiative is that we are in it together. We can and should model for our students our willingness to share, to learn from others, and to teach from experience. We face this challenge as a nation, not alone. One of the key experiences of the consciousness raising of the late 1960s was understanding that many of the problems we faced were systemic, not personal. Common Core offers us a national exercise in mutual education. I hope to hear your insights.
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