Common Core: Notes from the Classroom

About a year ago we released a report, with the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC that demonstrated in sharp detail the connection between Expanded Learning Time and the more rigorous, more robust set of learning expectations known as Common Core. The argument is pretty easy to summarize: learning more takes more time.  But, of course, the dynamic between time and learning is more complicated than that, especially because Common Core does not necessarily ask students to learn more what—the specific pieces of information that constitute knowledge—but instead to focus more on how to solve problems, to analyze carefully, and to apply knowledge across many contexts.  It is not easy to quantify how much time the development of this shift of the thought process takes.

Because of this uncertainty, I often find myself looking to educators to explain to me why it is that instruction aligned with Common Core expectations takes longer. In a recent conversation with a Colorado first-grade teacher who teaches in a school with an eight-hour day, I received one of the best answers I’ve ever received to this tricky—but essential—question. Here’s what she told me:

With academics becoming more rigorous because of Common Core, we’re asking a lot more of students; we’re asking them to become critical thinkers, not just to regurgitate information.  By that I mean, we are looking for them to identify how they relate to content and we also need them to be able to communicate what particular skill can be used to solve a problem. This process of learning is difficult and it takes time. As such, kids can get frustrated when we’re asking so much of them. You can ‘lose them’ really easily if they feel like they’re not making quick progress. That is why they need lots of other opportunities to succeed in order to offset those challenges of learning how to think. Within the longer day, I’m able to build in those experiences in which they can find the kind of success that transfers. I can literally ask them to name another experience in which they did succeed, even if it took a while, so that they can place the difficulty of a particular task like decoding big words in context. I want them to say, ‘OK I’ve been here before and I know I can do it.’

In other words, learning is as much about struggling to achieve success, as about succeeding the first time around. In turn, more opportunities to succeed in the short term will encourage students to push themselves toward longer-term and much more impressive success.

I want to thank this teacher for helping me to develop a deeper understanding of why the adoption of Common Core and the implementation of ELT go hand in hand. If we want to see our students succeed the way we imagine (and know) they can, we must provide more time for teaching and learning.