Sunday, September 22, 2013

Some Thoughts About Common Core Writing Skills

This morning, the Hartford Courant has a  feature article titled Common Core Standards to Change State's Education Landscape. The timing for me was perfect, because just yesterday, I called a good friend of mine who teaches in a neighboring district to talk about how much teachers really know and are talking about the Common Core State Standards. With a front page article in the local paper, teachers will want to pay attention because parents will be paying attention.

I am admittedly overly-consumed with the writing standards, but my job is coordinating our district's writing and social studies curriculum. Here's what I hope teachers know about the writing standards, not just because students will be tested on these concepts (and educators will be evaluated on their students' performance), but also because these standards require students to write and develop their understanding of language.
  • There are three types of writing that the new testing will assess--narrative, informational, and opinion. Once students hit sixth-grade, the opinion writing shifts to argument writing because at that age students should be writing about debatable topics. (If you want some great ideas for debatable topics, check out All three writing types can take different forms--I had a teacher ask me if students could present their research in the form of a powerpoint or feature article instead of a report. Yes, but the standards involved in informational writing remain in place, regardless of the format. 
  • Students should be writing a lot. Students should have opportunities to do quick research, as well as longer sustained research. The more that students can understand and appreciate that writing is an important way to communicate ideas and knowledge, the more success they will have on all of the pilot tests that I have seen, and, more importantly, the easier it will be to write up the quick email to a work colleague, the job application, the request for a day off, or the annual report.
  • Students should be writing on a keyboard. Yes, composing drafts and even generating ideas on the keyboard whenever possible. If you are in a district that is fortunate to have computers (that work and don't take ten minutes to boot up in order to work for eleven minutes before the battery dies), then students should be using those computers in writing whenever possible. Even third-graders will be taking the new assessments on-line and they will need to keyboard their responses. 
  • Language and grammar do not live in the writing standards but they flourish in the language standards, another sub-section of the Common Core. By the time that students are fifth-graders, they should be dashes, parentheses, correct pronouns, and correct spelling. (That's in addition to commas wherever they are supposed to be!) This means that all of the other skills have to be mastered in earlier grades, as they are enumerated by the language standards. 
We are no longer getting ready for the Common Core in schools across the nation. The Common Core is here.  This spring, many districts will be administering pilot tests and the more that we educators understand the CCSS, the better for all of our students. If other readers or bloggers have additions to make about what we should know about the writing standards, please share!


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