Common Core Standards: What Do They Mean for Your Kids?
Chances are, if you have been to a back-to-school night, you have heard mention of the "Common Core Standards". Depending on your perspective, the arrival of this education reform is either the path to a brighter future or the road to mediocrity. Regardless of your camp, if you live in one of the 45 U.S. states or 3 territories that have adopted the standards, they're coming.
What do these standards mean for your kids and how can you help them meet and exceed the expectations?
Truth is Stranger than Fiction: In English Language Arts, expect to see more non-fiction. This may actually be good news for reluctant readers. As much fun as a good novel is for avid readers, many students struggle with the denser literature taught in schools. They'll still need to tackle works by the greats, such as Shakespeare, but that will be balanced with reading for information. These skills will help students read texts in other subjects.
- How You Can Help: Non-fiction should not mean dry. Help your child select age-appropriate science, history, and biographical reading that matches and expands their interests. Some of the biggest names in educational publishing have non-fiction texts for students of all ages, including gorgeously illustrated nature books.
Multi-Media: Classrooms will be using more forms of media in literacy instruction. Beyond traditional texts, students will be expected to analyze and interpret video, infographics, advertisements, and other multimedia. There will be a greater interaction with "real world" texts.
- How You Can Help: Magazines and newspapers provide a wealth of multimedia and many offer online sites with enriched interactive and video content. Pick up a newspaper and discuss some of the graphics used in the story. Watch documentaries on topics of interests. Explore safe video sharing sites with your child. Try to make an instructional or information video together. Discuss how these different media package information and evaluate the messages critically.
Take the Challenge: In response to a concern about the decline reading level of grade school texts and the gap between high school texts and college texts, students will be reading materials in their original form, not simplified versions.
- Discuss some of the features of more challenging texts, like headers and sub-headers, footnotes and end notes, and captions, that help readers better understand the text. Interact as much as possible with the text by trying science experiments and recipes, going on local "field trips", or doing more research.
Go Deeper: The approach to math is being described as going "a mile deep and an inch wide" instead of a "mile wide and an inch deep". Instead of covering a wide variety of topics, teachers will be exploring a few topics in greater depth.
- How You Can Help: Help your kids focus on process, rather than the results. If your child asks if an answer is correct, ask him how he arrived at that answer and if there is any way to check the answer (besides asking an adult). Bring out blocks, coins, buttons, and other "math manipulative" to help your child develop a method of solving the problem. The goal is for the child to problem-solve and to play with the question from a variety of angles, rather than to just memorize the "right" way of answering a question.
Solving Problems: At the high school level, there will be a greater emphasis on mathematical modeling. To address a real-world problem, students will be expected to select the relevant skill from the many they know and develop a method for determining a solution. For example, students might be expected to estimate how much wood they need to build a shed, design packaging that produces the least waste, or estimate the amount of water a charity run will need to accommodate the runners.
- How You Can Help: The emphasis will be on students creating their own method of problem solving, not just reaching the correct answer with a provided method. Allowing your children to problem solve and test their theories at all ages will help develop these skills. If your child wants to raise money, ask how she can determine how much she needs. Ask her how she can figure out how many lemons she will need to buy for her lemonade stand. Ask her how she can decide on the best location for her stand. Provide access to a variety of mathematical tools, including rulers, calculators, maps, protractors, compasses, etc., and plenty of opportunities for children to figure out and test their own problem-solving models.
The Game of Life: The core will emphasize real-world applications across subjects.
- How You Can Help: Look for opportunities in daily life to practice language and mathematics skills. Have kids weigh produce at the grocery store. While shopping, ask them to estimate the total bill for several items of varying prices. Look at their bank statements with them. Go to museums and read the informational plaques. Build a bird house. Look for the opportunities for learning in the every day.