A happy tale from a Common Core classroom

March 5th, 2013

Lyn Cannaday, a 16-year veteran high school English teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, recently took to the pages of Education Week to detail her experiences implementing the Common Core State Standards in her classroom. Though not without its challenges, she writes, using the Common Core has helped her students better appreciate and understand the fiction they read precisely because it is paired with related informational texts. Her positive experience is good to hear, especially as leading educators remain divided by the Standards.

How have [the Standards] changed my classroom over the last two years?

I now have balance. Is it perfect? Nope. The first year of any new curriculum is always messy and amusingly disastrous from time to time. Today, however, I feel like my students have joined the real world. They are engaged and making connections across genres that I never thought would be possible.

Before reading All Quiet on the Western Front, my honors-level sophomores read three pieces on morality and ethics, written by Pema Chödrön, Thomas Jefferson, and Machiavelli—all of whom propose certain ethical standards to live by. As we then read All Quiet, the moral dilemmas came into sharp focus as students considered how Erich Maria Remarque created his own ethical code. Thus, students developed a deeper understanding of a complex issue that then allowed them to better understand the fiction that they were reading.

And instead of the usual drilling of isolated skills, my intermediate students looked at how words engender power. They read Taliban propaganda and then the Declaration of Independence. We looked at how people use that power, both legitimately and illegitimately. As we looked at the rhetoric, we started discussing how these authors used language. That is the exciting part of studying literature. . . .

I have heard many critics lament that the common core is taking fiction out of the classroom. My curriculum is living proof that this is not true.

From where I’m standing, the core has supplemented the fiction in my honors class with high-quality nonfiction, which, in turn, helps my students understand the world and the fiction they are reading that reflects the world.

In fact, in my intermediate class, fiction is moving back into the room, pushing out drill-and-kill exercises that may have taught students to memorize, but did little to make them better readers, writers, or consumers of the English language.

Read Cannaday’s entire account at Education Week.

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