It’s Like Riding a Bike: Writing, Research and the Common Core

RideBikeChartSo, here’s something you might not know about me.  I LOVE analyzing the progression of learning standards across grade levels.  I’m not sure what it is about it.  Maybe it’s the chance to see the big picture… starting something with a young student in kindergarten and knowing that the experience will lay the ground work for something he or she will do as a senior in high school (and beyond).  Maybe it’s being able to recognize the intentionality that is built into the sequence of skills that students will acquire as they progress.  Maybe it’s realizing the gradual release of responsibility that occurs as the standards develop and the grade levels increase.  Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m just THAT much of a standards progression nerd.  At any rate, it never gets old for me and I learn something new every time.

My most recent chance to engage in analyzing learning standard progressions was at the May Network Team Institute in Albany.  Expeditionary Learning was presenting a session about the research process, which is located in the Writing Standards (W.7, W.8 and W.9).  As participants, we were asked to look at one standard and sequence them from grades K-12.  Most importantly, though, we were asked to highlight the nuances in the wording of the standard and determine what distinguished one grade level from the next.  When charged with creating a graphic representing how the standard evolves in complexity over time, my group said that Writing Standard 7 is like… learning to ride a bike.


BigWheelStudents in the earliest grades begin with shared research, which starts as an exploration of books and develops into shared research that involves reading several books on a single topic, writing a report and recording scientific observations.  It’s like learning to ride a bike… starting with the support of a big wheel and then graduating to training wheels.


Students then begin to conduct their own short, independent research projects until they are able to use several sources to investigate different aspects of a topic.  The training wheels have come off… Do you remember your first two-wheeler?


In middle school, the standards require researchers to answer a question.  The evolvement of the standard in 7th grade acknowledges the iterative nature of the inquiry cycle; once we begin asking questions and seeking answers to them, more questions arise.  By Grade 8, students are following their own sense of inquiry (through the use of several sources) down multiple paths of exploration.  They are able to switch the gears on the ten -speed to go where they want and need to go.


BikingBy the time students are in high school, students who started by exploring a lot of different books, will be able to conduct research projects to solve real-life problems.  Just as a mountain biker is able to tackle rough terrain, young adults will be ready to tackle the situations that they will face in their college, work or personal lives.

Try this activity at your next staff or team meeting with any standard or set of standards.  What kind of a story do they tell you?

  • Work in small groups to sequence the standards.
  • Compare your sequence layout to the sequence of the K-12 standards. Rearrange if necessary.
  • Next, highlight the nuances in vocabulary that distinguish one grade level from the next.
  • Then, create a graphic with markers and paper representing the standard you sequenced and how it evolves in complexity.
  • Finally, share your graphic with other groups.

No matter how many times we’ve looked at the Common Core Learning Standards, analyzing standard progressions can help us to deepen our understanding of what our students need to know and be able to do.  Hopefully, the skills that we help them acquire will become like riding a bike… Once they learn, they’ll never forget.

Catie Reeve
Instructional Support Services

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