Prior to the Common Core, state standards were typically very long lists full of broad, vague statements. If you asked a teacher or even a curriculum specialist to give an overview of their state’s standards, they might have been able to provide highlights, but there was typically no overall story, theme, or progression from grade to grade. Rather than driving instruction, previous state standards were typically just a checklist of isolated skills. The Common Core State Standards, in contrast, were designed in response to the challenge of building a K-12 system that prepares students for college and careers. There is a story, a theme, a call to action in that challenge – and that story is best captured through the Shifts.
If you only study the individual standards, one by one, it is difficult to appreciate the themes the Standards embody – or why they lead to college and career readiness. There are three Shifts in literacy and three in math that serve not as a shortcut to the Standards, but rather as a description of how the Common Core State Standards are different than the state-based standards that preceded them.
The power of the Shifts is that they give us a frame to describe implications of the Standards across multiple areas, including instructional materials, assessments, and classroom practice.
1) Regular practice with complex text and its academic language
2) Reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational
3) Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction
1) Focus strongly where the Standards focus
2) Coherence: Think across grades, and link to major topics within grades
3) Rigor: In major topics, pursue, with equal intensity: conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application.
By starting with a firm understanding of the Shifts, you keep the most critical themes at the center of your work. In the classroom these Shifts can help us understand what to look for in teacher practice. For instance, in a 1st grade classroom you might see a teacher beginning a math lesson by asking her students to share strategies they’ve learned to solve word problems. As students bounce excitedly in their seats, proud to prove their knowledge, the teacher is setting the foundation for a lesson that will build on previous knowledge (Shift 2 – Coherence). In a high school English classroom you might see students examining the concept of “exile;” practicing academic vocabulary by using words like “adversity,” “oppression” and “potent” to describe photographs of refugees (Shift 1 – Complex Text and Academic Language). The Shifts also provide an important grounding in understanding what instructional materials and assessments should look like if they are to support students in meeting the expectations of the Standards. How would you evaluate a textbook series for ‘rigor’ in mathematics, or for ‘use of evidence’ in literacy? The Shifts help you ask the right questions.
For more information on the Shifts, read the attached document “Three Core Shifts to Deliver on the Promise of the Common Core State Standards in Literacy and Math,” an article authored by David Coleman, Susan Pimentel, and Jason Zimba, three of the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards or visit achievethecore.org for additional resources and professional development tools.