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Shifts in Instruction as a Result of the Common Core State Standards: Advice for Math Teachers

written by: Donna Ventura • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 5/28/2014

Common Core has more to do with how you teach than with what you teach. Gaining a better understanding of the focus, fluency and application will help teachers adapt and, in turn, make the transition smoother for their students.

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    The Purpose of the Common Core

    Shifts in Instruction as a Result of the Common Core State Standards: Advice for Math Teachers For over a decade, research studies of mathematics education in high-performing countries have reported that students in other countries are outperforming students in the United States. Students in the States are not entering college or the workforce with the necessary skills to succeed. They do not possess critical thinking skills; cannot solve problems creatively; nor do they have strong communication skills that are vital for success in higher education and in the work environment.

    The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) investigated the performance issues of students. To improve mathematics achievement in the United States, they concluded the curriculum must become substantially more focused and coherent. The result of their research was a description of what students should know and be able to do in mathematics; the document is known as the Common Core State Standards.

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    What Is It?

    The Common Core State Standards are a clear and consistent set of expectations for all children across the nation to achieve prior to entering college or the workforce. The Common Core State Standards support and encourage the skills students must acquire and develop to achieve success in the 21st Century.

    Think Critically

    Solve Problems Creatively

    Communicate Competently

    The Common Core State Stan dards require modifications to the K - 12 mathematics curriculum, instruction, and assessment. With the implementation of the standards, there is greater focus to the content at each grade level. No longer are teachers required to teach a curriculum that is a mile-wide and an inch-deep.

    The focus for kindergarten through grade two curriculum is concepts, skills and problem solving instruction and activities that relate to addition and subtraction. The focus for grade three through grade five is concepts, skills and problem solving instruction and activities that relate to multiplication and division.

    It is vitally important students are proficient in solving problems that require addition, subtraction, multiplication and division by sixth grade. In grades 6 and 7, the curriculum centers on solutions to problems in which students are required to utilize ratios, proportional relationships, early algebraic expressions and equations.

    By eighth grade, the curriculum is focusing attention on linear algebra and linear functions.

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    Implementing the Standards: What it means for Teachers & Students

    Implementation of the Common Core State Standards will have an impact on the classroom, on instructional strategies and student learning. Although the scope of the mathematical content has narrowed for each grade level, it has also deepened.

    This shift in the curriculum will require teachers to possess a deeper knowledge of critical mathematical concepts in order for them to employ instructional practices that engage students in learning.

    Grade level meetings should afford teachers a safe environment and the time to read, discuss, explore and understand each standard. The goal of these meetings should be that all teachers return to their classrooms with a clear understanding of the content of the standards and the expected student outcomes. During these meetings, teachers should unpack the content of each standard to determine all the skills that students must know and be able to do in order to achieve the expected learning outcomes.

    Once teachers have a clear understanding of the content of the standards, they will need to offer differentiate instruction and provide multiple opportunities for all types of learners. They must have strategies, instructions and activities that offer opportunities to expand the content for those who are ready for an even deeper understanding of the standard.

    In addition, they must be ready to intervene with strategies, instructions and activities for students who need further instruction and remediation. Students should be provided with a multitude and a variety of activities in which they interpret, analyze and solve real-world problems.

    Teachers must offer students a variety of opportunities that reinforce their understanding of the key concepts by requiring students to share their knowledge with others, discuss the process they used to solve the problems and justify their answers. Students should be allowed to demonstrate their learning through all means of communication including verbal, written, artistic and use of technology. As a result, a student should be able to clearly communicate in all types of media to support their thinking and to analyze and integrate the reasoning of others.

    Assessments that align to the Common Core State Standards require a shift away from an entire test composed of the traditional multiple-choice items. Assessments aligned to the standards should contain items that allow students to use their knowledge to demonstrate their learning in project-based activities. Traditional multiple-choice items with four possible answers –only one being correct—will be replaced with assessment items that have multiple correct choices and assessment items in which students need to organize the data following specific guidelines.

    As educators align their curriculum, instructional strategies, student activities and assessments to the Common Core State Standards, educators, as well as the public, should concentrate their efforts on the goal, which is to provide all students with the necessary skills to be successful in school and in the workforce throughout their life and their career.