Will Someone Please Just Tell Us What to Do? Curriculum, Core Programs and Collaboration

It is March of the year 2016. It doesn’t seem possible when you really sit down and think about it. It was over four years ago when we first started looking at the Common Core ELA Standards and asking ourselves questions and challenging our understandings of how we make standards come to life in our classrooms. I was in a public school district at the time and we were wrestling with questions like:

  • Are standards and curriculum the same thing? If not, what’s the difference?
  • How do we go about figuring out what stays and what goes from what we currently do?
  • Do we adopt, adapt or ignore the modules?
  • Do we really have the time and level of expertise needed to write our own curriculum?
  • What are other districts doing?

Ultimately, we landed on this one question…

  • Will someone please just tell us what to do?

And we’re still wrestling in the area of ELA, aren’t we? There doesn’t seem to be a clear path and I still hear these same questions. We want guidance. We want answers. We want to stop building the plane while flying it through the sky! Let’s be honest, we want a PROGRAM.

So, we have to ask ourselves… Will a program solve our problems? Here are some of the pros and cons that I have identified through my time teaching and coaching.

Grade-level texts are provided Differentiation can be difficult, especially for significantly struggling readers
Consistency of materials and approach from classroom to classroom Too much “stuff” can result in picking and choosing what we think is most important, which may be different from classroom to classroom
Standards-Aligned Pacing of instruction is, many times, guided by the program instead of student learning which can result in a “coverage” approach toward standards

Many standards are addressed in a single lesson or unit, which can make it difficult to determine what we really want students to know and be able to do by the end

Assessments are provided Using formative assessment data to drive instruction from day-to-day may become less frequent than giving summative (end of unit, end of chapter) tests

Provided assessments may be primarily in a multiple choice format and, therefore, may not reflect a range of assessment types

According to Marzanno, a guaranteed and viable curriculum:

  • Is the #1 district level factor influencing student achievement
  • Gives students access to the same essential learning regardless of who is teaching the class
  • Can be taught in the time allotted

(What Works in Schools: Translating Research Into Action)

Having a core program will provide us with resources, texts, materials, questions to ask, target skills, target strategies, assessments and a plan for every day of the week complete with pages of correlating standards. But will it provide us with a guaranteed and viable curriculum?  

I can respond to that question with a solid…. I’m not sure. Maybe. But not necessarily. It depends. Not quite the answer you were looking for, right?

So, if a core program isn’t the answer to all of our problems, then what is?!? As I have supported districts in this wrestling match… this quest for a Common Core Aligned ELA Curriculum… I have become convinced that the best answer to the plea “Will someone please just tell us what to do?” is one, simple word.


Collaborate around the right work. Collaborate to determine what standards are absolutely essential for the students in your grade level or your course. Collaborate to figure out what those standards really mean. Collaborate to answer the question “This week/month/marking period/year, what do we really want our students to know and be able to do.” Collaborate to decide what it looks like when they can. Collaborate to develop and implement common formative assessments. Collaborate to decide which strategies are going to work the best. Collaborate to look at the work your students are creating. Collaborate to make a plan for those students who are not getting it, as well as for the students who already did.

Figure 1.1 Meaningful collaboration with the CCSS
Bailey, Jakicic and Spiller. Collaborating for Success With the Common Core

Reeve_Catie_WEBCatie Reeve
Instructional Support Services

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