How to Balance Common Core Shifts and ELA Instruction

Katie Novak
Katie Novak
February 3, 2021

Having the Common Core Standards led me to modify instruction in a number of ways. I’ll discuss the major changes based on the instructional shifts outlined for the Common Core ELA standards:

Shift 1: Balancing Informational & Literary Text
Shift 2: Knowledge in the Disciplines 

These shifts require students to learn about the world through many different varieties of text, rather than through teachers and literature. They are encouraged to explore the world through a rich combination of fiction and non-fiction. To accomplish this, I recommend constructing text sets that allow students to examine a different part of the world or culture and all pertinent information about the area. For example, when I taught seventh grade I taught the novel Old Man and the Sea. Before the Common Core, we spent a lot of time just reading the novel, but in order to meet both the literary and informational standards, I had to shift. I created a text set that included text about the history of Cuba (the setting), deep sea fishing, and baseball and Joe DiMaggio (important symbols in the novel). We immersed ourselves in text, videos, and pictures about Cuban culture, the history of baseball and how fishing has evolved through the centuries. Students learned about many disciplines in one literature unit.

Shift 3: Staircase of Complexity:

I started paying closer attention to Lexile scores, or the measure of text rigor when selecting literature. I realized that many of the novels I was teaching were not appropriately challenging for my seventh graders so I worked hard to gather resources that met the level of rigor expected. For more information on Lexile scores and the Common Core, here’s a great link to start examining.

Shift 4: Text-based Answers
Shift 5: Writing from Sources

Before the Common Core, I would assign writing projects that were not based on text, especially when teaching narrative writing. After adopting the Core, I ensured that all my writing prompts were text-based, especially narratives. This is easier to do than you may think. For example, if a student wanted to write a story about a trip to the beach, he or she could read non-fiction text about shorelines, the movement of the ocean, the different species of animals near the shoreline, etc… the student could then incorporate this text into the narrative in order to establish a more realistic setting that moves the narrative along the plot curve. While focusing on this skill, you can support students as they use the text, and cite the text appropriately. The possibilities of incorporating text and narratives are endless. I also starting using the Literacy Design Collaborative’s “Tasks” which are writing prompt frames that can turn any piece of text into an opportunity to write a narrative, informative, or argument piece. You can visit the site here.

Shift 6: Academic Vocabulary

The focus on academic vocabulary lead me to begin using a Word Wall where academic words were given a place of permanence in the room and students were encouraged to use and reuse the words in writing every day. All you need is a blank bulletin board to make this happen. Every week, introduce the 5-10 words that are most relevant to the task, write definitions, and place them on the board in a colorful star or other cut-out. When students use the words in their writing, they highlight them so I can see how they incorporate the vocabulary but I can also focus on its use in the sentence. Many students love using multiple words in each prompt. Also, always model your lessons using the vocabulary you want your students to use. This can be done as early as kindergarten. The Teaching Channel has an awesome video about using college talk in kindergarten. You can view it here.

For more information on designing instruction to meet the Common Core State Standards, check out UDL Now!. Learn more here.

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