We recently blogged about our summer reading list. Now that our hiatus is over, we can start sharing some of our reviews with you.
First up is a book that we highly recommend for K-12 teachers faced with the challenge of transitioning to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts (ELA): Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman (Heinemann 2012).
As you know, the CCSS is a topic we’re highly interested in. The first phase of the process, in our opinion, has to involve thorough, in-depth research (preferably in a collaborative nature) into the standards. When it comes to the ELA standards (which have a deep impact for social studies and science teachers, as well), this book is a great place to start.
One of the best features of the book is the clear language the authors use in unpacking and unraveling the standards. In both reading and writing, they explain the standards in a way that makes sense. This is hugely important because as the demands on teachers’ and administrators’ time increase, we need ways to tackle new, big ideas efficiently. In Pathways, whether it’s the reading literature standards or writing informational text standards, the information makes sense. The complexities and the changes are written about in a way that is easy to understand.
In addition to clear language, Pathways also provides numerous insightful recommendations for CCSS implementation. So many teachers we talk to feel like they have no idea what to do when it comes to the CCSS, or they view the transition as an insurmountable task. It seems as if it’s these folks for whom the book was written. Interspersed throughout are worthwhile pieces of advice and suggestions for implementation, from the specific such as tips on how to read the standards (Start with kindergarten and read the standard. Then read the same standard for first grade and underline the differences. Then repeat for grades 2-12 to understand the vertical alignment and progression of the standards) to more general “Pathways” such as conducting needs assessments and building a continuum of student writing to serve as exemplars. This is definitely a book you’ll be marking up with a highlighter or flagging with post-its. You’ll be reading and rereading this book as you move forward toward CCSS transition. My copy is only about a month old and it looks like it’s been manhandled. That, in my opinion, is the sign of a good book.
In all honesty, my only concern is that teachers familiar with Lucy Calkins and her work (mainly elementary teachers) might see her name on the cover and see this as “yet another book by Lucy.” Yes, she is prolific and yes, not every teacher agrees with her methods. However, don’t let that keep you from buying this book. It’s a useful read and not heavy-handed or didactic in any way.
Finally, I also want to recommend reading this book with peers. In a vacuum, it’s still a great book. But I think it’s one of those books that becomes even more valuable when you read it with a study group. It’s value is increased exponentially by conversation and discussion. For example, last night on twitter, one of the authors, Chris Lehman, moderated a twitter chat about chapters one through five. It was a fascinating and enlightening discussion, one of those you didn’t want to end. These are the things that will help teachers. For an archive of the chat, click HERE. And to join in on the discussion, follow #pathccss on twitter. The discussion of chapters six through 11 takes place July 31 at 9:00 PM EDT.
So many teachers feel “in the dark” about the CCSS. And many are resentful about another top-down change in education. Pathways to the Common Core is a good starting point for easing concerns and gaining information. Give it a try and let us know what you think.