Follow Core 4 All on Twitter

Implementing the Common Core

We hope to think that most everyone by now has probably seen if not read and perhaps even analyzed the CCSS as a first step to curriculum restructuring. If you haven’t, why not?  You have probably also noticed the higher level of these standards compared to what students are presently doing in their schools. One look at the student exemplar models in Appendix C and the quality and level of sophistication is a little intimidating. Some teachers may be asking themselves…

How do we get our students to a higher level of expectations?

The Common Core State Standards have obviously set high expectations for students of the United States and it is our job to help our students become proficient in these standards.

Setting high expectations is one thing but we must think about. So, how can we support high expectations in our classrooms and schools?

8 ideas to support high expectations

1.  Clarity and Purpose
As stated time and again, determining clear learning outcomes per grade level and course team and sharing those outcomes with students is vital as students move towards proficiency.  Mike Schmoker’s brand new book Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning is a must read.  He discusses the foundational elements of curriculum and instruction that schools need to focus on first before implementing new initiatives.

2. Use of Instructional Strategies to Build Skills
The CCSS clearly indicate that some skills students will be working on may need appropriate scaffolding.  School or district-wide literacy strategies highlight the importance of literacy and the need for all students to access the curriculum regardless of learning level or language level.

3.  Feedback
Formative, immediate and ongoing feedback on how students are doing against a standard is one of the highest-yield strategies a teacher can use (Hattie, 2009).

4.  Student-teacher relationships
When teachers take the time to build trusting, productive relationships with students, student performance increases.  Students need to know you care and want them to succeed.  There is no time to play the role of  “Gotcha Police”.

5. Engaging Content
Students need to be challenged with fiction and non-fiction texts that engage them in their world and are relevant to their lives.

6. Parent Support
If parents understand and support the curriculum at home, students will perform better. This isn’t always possible but every effort that can be made to include parents in their child’s education will improve their ability to learn.

7. Professional Development
The most effective types of professional development include job-embedded observation, micro teaching, video feedback and practice with peers and mentors (Hattie, 2009). The adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the focus on literacy is a great impetus to revamp professional development practices.

8.  Professional Learning Teams and Common Formative Assessments
Teachers need to rally around the expectations and work toward common goals. Common formative assessment data gives interdependent professionals the tools they need to make sound classroom and school-wide instructional decisions that will improve student learning.

These are truly turbulent times in education.  Education has been on the front page for months now.  The country is expressing its opinions about the tenure process, merit pay, and college readiness.  It is unfortunate that quality teachers, who care so much for their students, are being put on the defense.

We ask that we all come together and agree that setting high expectations for students and ourselves will make for a better future for all of us.  There has been too much finger-pointing lately, blaming one another for not preparing our students well enough to succeed.  Let’s put the fingers away and create a system that ensures the success of the greatest resource of ours – our children.

Please share our blog with your colleagues, parents, friends and neighbors.

Follow Core 4 All on Twitter

I swore to myself that I would never start a sentence off this way, but I am. Being in education for 21 years…. I can’t continue. I worked with a colleague that began just that way. Hearing the phrase “Being a social scientist for 35 years…” gave us the clue that a five-minute pontification was about to commence with really no end point. So I will just get on with my message.

I have experienced a plethora of school and district initiatives since I began in 1990. I am sure this is just a partial list:

4-MAT Lesson Design
Reading Across the Curriculum
Writing Across the Curriculum
Quality Classroom Assessment
Read to Learn/Learn to Read
Dr. Tim Shanahan’s Model of Reading
Understanding by Design
Classroom Instruction that Works
Cooperative Learning
Differentiated Instruction
Problem-Based Learning

What’s the point?

The point I want to make is that each of these initiatives was intended to improve our teaching. I was involved in a conversation not too long ago with a couple of veteran teachers. We were compiling this list of initiatives that have gone through our district. “What ever happened to these initiatives?” was a comment made by one of my colleagues. “We talk about it at an institute, maybe have a few in-services and then we’re done.” And this made me wonder. Is this a common thought in the minds of most teachers? Do teachers feel that these are just drive-by initiatives? In one year and out the next?

We’ve missed the point

When an educational initiative comes to us, the expectation is that we learn it, through professional development, through discussions, through collaboration, through reading additional resources. We then begin to incorporate it into our units and lessons. In order for us to fully prepare our students through their educational experiences, it is important for us to move out of our teaching comfort zone and learn new techniques, read the latest research, and implement them into classroom practice where it best matches the standards/skills being learned.

Newest initiative

Those of you that have been reading this blog post know that we are advocates for the Common Core State Standards. It is not meant to be a new flavor of the month, but rather the vehicle that will drive our new, revamped, revitalized 21st century curriculum. Implementing the Common Core and using the SACI unit design template will help build relevant and engaging units of study. The Common Core will improve student achievement. How am I confident? It is through the data that I have collected through my formative assessments. The Common Core has provided me and my staff with useful student information where we can make informed decisions about student achievement. We use this data to drive our curricular decisions. Our curriculum is not static, but rather fluid and flexible .

None of what we learn through our institutes and professional development is meant to be a passing fad. It is to help us become better educators which in turn will help us build the leaders of tomorrow.


I would like to give a shout-out to all my new friends I met in Chicago at the National Conversations on English Learner Education sponsored by the US Department of Education.  It was great to meet all of you! I hope we can keep in touch.  I have begun a group on Michelle Rhee’s site StudentsFirst.  The listserv group is called… you guessed it: Common Core.  We can use this group as a way to network and share ideas.

Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog (top right side of Home page) so you can get the newest posts via email.

Need to contact us?


As Featured On EzineArticles

Pitchers and Catchers report in less than two weeks!

Follow Core 4 All on Twitter

Like all of you, I have a variety of levels and students with special needs in my classes. Differentiation is not just a possible strategy for instruction but is an ethical responsibility. All students deserve to make growth and learn. Advanced students need opportunities for challenge. 

It is critical that teachers structure units and lessons so that all students can access a clear standard. Students who struggle must understand what they need to do to meet expectations and students who are advanced must be challenged to meet a more complex learning goal.

The Common Core State Standards are the foundation that teachers need in order to effectively differentiate to the various needs of their classroom.

Step One

Align with the SACI framework by selecting a CCSS standard, or the professional learning team, departmental or grade level designated standard.

Step Two

Break apart the standard and create a 4 point rubric. The rubric/scoring scale is an essential learning tool for teachers AND students (Marzano’s Formative Assessment and Standards –Based Grading). The rubric is an essential component to curriculum planning as it clearly indicates proficiency indicators so that when students fall under the proficiency level the teacher can use the rubric to identify the specific areas in which the student is not meeting. The rubric is an essential learning tool for students. Students can see where they fall on the continuum of the standard. If they are struggling they can see the specific areas they need to improve on. If they are advanced, the 4 on the rubric is a challenge level and allows students who have met proficiency to move ahead to a more complex and appropriate learning goal. The 4, or challenge level, on the rubric is simply the level up on the Common Core State Standards.

Example in Action

Last week my students were working on building research and paraphrasing skills while researching Shakespeare and the Renaissance. Using the research standards in the CCSS, I was able to determine what 3 proficiency should be for ALL students. If students met the clearly articulated goals they earned a 3 proficiency which would be 90%.  This was the goal for all students, regardless of level or special education status.  Interestingly, when the more advanced students met the goal, they packed up their books and said, “I’m done”. That’s when we pulled out the rubric and together walked through their research presentations checking for mastery against the rubric. This allowed students to reflect on the quality and accuracy of their work. If they were indeed “done”, I pointed out the challenge level expectations and guided them onward to the next level.

Was it easy? No.

Did it take time to plan clear learning outcomes and create rubrics? Yes.

Was my rubric perfect? Not yet.

Were there issues along the way that need to be addressed for the next time? Yes.

Were students completely comfortable with this way of instruction? No, but they will be.

Were they appreciative of the clear learning goals? A little!

Nonetheless, I will continue to work away in this manner as I feel that I am moving in the right direction of making sure all students are working to their potential.

We have received great feedback from fellow educators who have created units of study around the SACI Unit Design Template.  Thanks to all of you who have begun to revamp curriculum around the Common Core State Standards.  As Susan stated, it may not be easy at first, but the more you use the Common Core to create your units, the more opportunity students have to master the skills needed to be the leaders of tomorrow.  Implementing the Common Core will provide you with the skill-set to transform and energize your curriculum.

Don’t Forget:
You still have time to submit a grant proposal through Next Generation Learning Challenges (Building Blocks for College Readiness).  Next Generation is offering up to $10 million in grant fund opportunities.  Deadline is March 4, 2011.    Have a great idea?  Instead of letting it just sit in your brain, make it come to life.

Follow Core 4 All on Twitter

The last four months have not only recharged, but significantly reshaped this teacher’s view of lesson planning.  How?  Happenstance and collegial banter about a desire to write books and share literacy strategies with the teaching community plopped her right into the arms of Core 4 All and one of the coolest e-booksfor teachers on the market today.

This teacher’s awesome plan

Analyzing and using the SACI template has shown me how to rethink my lesson planning, on both the unit level and the day-to-day level.  A rebuilt unit plan was my goal for the start of “The Next 100 Days”.  Yes, I did know the text title upfront that my students were going to read.  Yes, the SACI model recommends that teachers first choose and complete a “T-chart Analysis” of the Common Core Standards to be taught, secondly design assessments and finally, choose appropriate reading materials.  However, because my students had already purchased their text last summer and it is part of the required course curriculum, I did design this unit knowing the text to be read.

The big change 

I put the novel aside while analyzing the skills my students should master this unit.  I forgot the novel while designing my assessments.  So now my lessons are built on a firm foundation of skills as delineated by the Common Core State Standards.  My lessons are no longer simply a variety of engaging activities to take us through a novel, but are lessons specifically tied to skills my students have been told to master in order to successfully complete the final assessment.

Step One 

The goal for my classes this year is success with the Common Core’s Reading Standards for Literature – grade 10 – #10 (CCSS 38).  “read and comprehend literature…at the high-end of the grades 9-10 complexity band independently and proficiently.”  In order to accomplish this I know we must read and read and read some more.  Therefore the skills students need to acquire must arise from their experiences with the written story – both fictional and nonfictional.

Step Two

I completed the SACI Design Template in order to better understand how to achieve increased skill growth in areas with which my students struggle greatly – understanding how a writer finds and puts ideas to paper, locating evidence in a text in order to draw conclusions, and drawing inferences in order to understand messages below the surface.  The SACI Design Template shows specifics on the three Common Core Standards selected for this unit of learning.

The Core 4 All SACI Unit Design Template provides teachers with a systematic approach to creating great units of study, focusing on the Common Core State Standards.  In fact, this template can be used with any skills-based standards (College Readiness, ISTE, ACTFL).

Bottom Line

This particular English teacher took it upon herself to make a change in how she teaches.  This change is happening right now. She did not wait until the beginning of the next school year.  She did not wait until all of her daily lesson plans and activities for the unit were neatly copied and packaged in the Xerox box. She did not wait for a national policy to be implemented. This teacher had the courage to realize that her current system of teaching/learning could be improved.  Even though she is a veteran teacher who has loads of experience working with all students, from learning disabled to gifted, she continues to improve her craft as an educator, preparing her students for their post-secondary experiences.

If you have a story to share or a question to ask  Core 4 All, please comment or drop us an email at

Please continue to share this blog with your colleagues. The positive feedback we receive continues to energize us.

Follow Core 4 All on Twitter

You probably have somewhere in the vicinity of 100 days remaining until the final school bells ring and summer vacation begins.  I’m sure many of us are asking ourselves, “Where did the first semester go?”  In a blink of an eye, we have already completed one-half of the school year.

Reflect and Task

Before we move forward and focus on these next 100 days, let’s reflect on what your students learned this past semester.  Take out a pen and paper and create a three-column table. I’ll wait. Title the first column Standards/Skills, the second column Content Curriculum, and the third Pre/Post Assessment Results. Focusing on column one, write down the major skills/standards students were expected to master during the first semester.  In column two, write down the content that was taught during the skill building.  Finally, in column three, write down the percentages of your pre-assessment and post-assessment results based on student proficiency of skills learned.  The link below will open the table of my first semester results:

Semester One Skills and Proficiency Table

There were other minor skills taught during the semester, but the table shows the three major standards I focused on this semester in my class.  The first number in the last column of the table represents the percent of students that were already proficient in the skill prior to instruction and the second number represents the percent of students proficient after instruction. (Note: The post-assessment material on the final exam was brand new text that students read for the first time.)

What I learned

Based on this data, I can see that I need to revise my method of teaching how to write an argument since only 50% of my students were able to master all components of an argument paper (bright side;  none of my students were able to develop an argument essay before instruction). In addition, we’ll spend more time practicing theme and central idea, a difficult concept for my students and continue working on making inferences.  The bottom line is that I have hard evidence of what my students are able to do. This will help me guide my instruction for semester two.

Moving Forward

It is vital to focus around the skills we want our students to master.  When we concentrate on content and instructional activities, skills and standards take a back seat.  Try this:

Choose a standard from the Common Core State Standards.

Create an assessment that will measure proficiency of this standard.

Add content curriculum that is relevant and engaging.

Incorporate proven instructional strategies that will help build the skills.

Implementing the Common Core will guide you through the SACI process of unit design focusing on standards.

It is only by re-shifting our focus around standards that will better prepare our students to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Do you want an overview of our SACI unit design process? Email us at and we’ll send you the pdf of Overview of SACI.

Follow Core 4 All on Twitter

Written by Susan Savage

The Common Core State Standards are more than a document. They are a new way of thinking, a substantial mindset shift, a vehicle to move our students to bigger and better things. The document in itself is meaningless unless teachers implement the standards-based approach to teaching with fidelity.

How do you ensure that real change is happening and that students will begin to perform better?

It takes more than a document. One of my current obsessions, in my role as instructional coach working on a large curriculum restructuring project, is getting everyone to come to consensus on standards. I want to have a nice, neat, school-wide document that clearly states our priority standards per quarter and that the various disciplines align, supporting one another.  As you can imagine this takes some doing. But upon some reflection, I realize that it really isn’t about the document (although, come hell or high water we WILL get one done)!  A document is a piece of paper that is meaningless unless authentic change happens at the same time.

So what does that look like?
What could be more important than the “document”?

Here is a list of what I see happening at our high school that means more than a document.

1. Teachers talking about and analyzing standards together.
2. A growing comfort with data and using data to make instructional decisions.
3. Questioning previous practices and discussing more effective ways to assess and instruct.
4. Teams of administrators working with sending schools.
5. Teachers reading books on teacher leadership, literacy, assessment and differentiation.
6. Collaborative scoring.
7. Meaningful discussions about teaching and learning in the hallways, faculty offices and cafeteria.
8. Interdisciplinary professional learning teams setting school wide goals.
9. A desire and commitment to observing each other teach.
10. A constant student focus.

So as we toil away at creating the “document”, we must remember that like any journey the real work is happening along the way.

Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit which one undertakes and continues the journey.
Alex Noble

Feel free to contact us (  If you would like a free copy of our ebook, Overview of SACI, please email us and we’ll send a pdf copy your way.

Follow Core 4 All on Twitter

Last week during winter vacation, I was reading some educational blogs and forums.  I wanted to see what types of topics were being discussed.  One particular forum caught my eye.  A teacher raised a question concerning the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and asked what educators were doing now to implement them into the curriculum. As I was reading through the replies and comments, I was amazed at some of the responses.  It actually saddened me to see how intimidated we are as a profession.  We continue to be provincial, skeptical, never truly allowing ourselves to move into 21st century teaching and learning.   In my eyes, the Common Core State Standards will provide students with the necessary skills to be ready for the 21st century global workplace.  But back to the comments I read.

I am overwhelmed with new initiatives and new curriculum.

Really?  New curriculum? Shouldn’t curriculum in its purest and most authentic form be a living document that continually evolves to best meet the needs of our students?  What kind of service are we providing our students if we continue to teach the same curriculum we have for years? The definition of daily teaching needs modification. Teaching as a profession is much more than the instructional component. It also includes professional goals, using student data to inform decisions, collaborative scoring and curriculum design.

The Common Core State Standards are more difficult than current state standards.

And the problem is?  We need to raise our expectations of our students.  Recent studies have shown that college remediation rates are staggering, where over 40% need to take at least one remedial course at a junior college, college or university (reported by the College Board).  In addition, it shows that 23% of young people who try to join the military fail the enlistment test of basic math, science and reading skills (reported by The Education Trust).  Why? Partly because the textual demands of college and career have remained steady or increased while the K-12 reading levels have declined. “Despite steady or growing reading demands from various sources, K-12 reading texts have actually trended downward in difficulty in the last half century.”  See more details on declining text complexity and the consequences for American students.  Also encouraging, the common core puts a heavy emphasis on reading informational text and critical literacy skills in the content areas.  These are the type of literacy skills that students will truly need for college, career and citizenship in a democratic society.

I don’t want to be told how to teach.

Teachers have been independent contractors for too long.  It is time for us, as a profession, to collaborate more, peer observe more, and critique more to improve our craft.  We cannot have carte blanche to just teach the content we like to teach. This is unfair to students and leaves what should be an expectation of students receiving a solid educational foundation to chance. We all know stories of parents anxiously waiting to find out if their child will get the “good teacher”.  I really hope these days are coming to an end.  Parents should feel confident that all teachers are working collaboratively toward common goals and that when Johnny finishes 8th grade, regardless of his teacher, he will have had fair and equitable access to the same curriculum as all students.  There must be a systematic approach to designing our units of study around the Common Core State Standards, and incorporating 21st century skills. We have always had standards for teaching. The problem is that standards, or clear learning targets, have not been the foundation of our teaching. We don’t teach subjects we teach students and students need clear learning goals and consistency in schools across subjects and grade levels.

Adopting new standards is demanding work but it is essential to our students’ improvement, the profession of teaching and the future of our country that we embrace this movement.

Core 4 All advocates a standards-based approach to improving the achievement of all students.  For a clear framework on implementation check out our e-book Core 4 All: Implementing the Common Core.

Special Offer:  By subscribing to our blog, we will send you our free e-book titled Overview of the SACI Unit Design Template.  If you are a current subscriber, and would like a copy, please email us at

There will never be that ideal moment, that magic pill, that ultimate cure to improve education in one shot.  What we have created is a process to systemically change our own curriculum around the Common Core State Standards to build capacity in our students to become better learners.

As we stated in our blog on Core Training, we must continue exercising our brain and bodies regularly to improve ourselves.

Ready? All right, on the floor and give me 25 Common Core Crunches.


As Featured On EzineArticles

As we begin the new year, we can’t help but be excited about the connections we have made during our first four months of existence. After the creation of Core 4 All, we began connecting with educators, edupreneurs and bloggers throughout the United States. Each one has something in common: A passion for what they believe in and a calling to share their ideas with others. Communicating with each one of our new friends have rejuvenated us in pursuing our dream to improve student achievement.

Walter McKenzie
We connected with Walter McKenzie through ASCD EDge. Walter is a passionate educator from Virginia whose interests are in 21st century learning. His blog on Mavericks, Martyrs, and Canaries, asked for a call to action among educators all across this country. He called on each one of us to be a ripple in the ocean. Each ripple would then cause a “tidal transformation” in education. We agree with Walter. Each one of us can make a difference and improve the state of education. Will you jump in and add a ripple to the cause?

Scott Messinger
We connected with Scott and his colleague Andy Hlavka because we wanted to know about their wonderful site Common Curriculum. Common Curriculum helps publishers and school districts publish their curriculum online and connect to the teachers that use it. Publishers use their platform to create and sell electronic editions of their curriculum. School districts, charter school networks, and after-school groups use their platform to distribute their instructional materials to teachers. They can also create curriculum maps and scope and sequences. Curriculum creators can align their resources to the Common Core standards and allow teachers to search for resources that are aligned to them. Take a look at their site. It is amazing.

Stephanie Fortson
Stephanie works as a social media partner with the PTA. She is a strong supporter of the Common Core State Standards. She is working with parents to better educate them on how the Common Core will better prepare our students for their post-secondary opportunities. One of Stephanie’s goals is to make parents aware that the Common Core is not just a national level agenda, but will affect each child locally. We need to ensure that parents are made aware of the great changes that are taking place.

Everett Bogue
Everett is a very successful blogger. He is a minimalist. If you don’t know what that means, check out his web site Far Beyond The Stars and one of his books The Art of Being a Minimalist. He taught us to write from the soul. He advised us to show a passion for what we believe in. We cannot thank him enough for his wisdom.

As we begin the new year, let us each look for ways to connect with people beyond the four walls of our classroom, school or district. The Common Core State Standards create a solid platform for teachers to connect and share ideas, speak the same common language and support one another locally and nationally. Implementing the Common Core will guide you in creating great units of study around the Common Core State Standards. Don’t wait for state policy to dictate the implementation of the Common Core. Revamp your curriculum using Implementing the Common Core.

The holiday season is a time for rest, renewal and reflection but a new year is here. A time for positive renewal and action plans. What is your plan for 2011?

Written by Susan Savage | Follow Core 4 All on Twitter

It’s that time of year again when everyone winds down a little bit to enjoy the holiday season with family and friends and rest from the demands of our daily work as educators.
One of my favorite movies of all time is the seasonal and timeless It’s a Wonderful Life. The positive messages of dreams, goals, hard work, relationships and the power of collective action are truly inspiring. As everyone knows, the grand finale of It’s a Wonderful Life demonstrates the power of collective action. George Bailey is saved from economic ruin and personal despair because everyone in the community contributes just a little bit to a larger cause. I always find that scene incredibly moving and trust me I’ve seen that scene a lot!

After a busy semester, I am deeply immersed in my own professional reflection of change, curriculum and professional learning teams. I can’t help make the connection to the power of collective action and the changes that are occurring in our schools and country right now. Regardless of the imperfections in our public education system, we must look positively at changes as opportunities. It is the mindset we must cultivate if we want to move forward. Right now, we have a wonderful opportunity to create anew with the Common Core State Standards. To do this we must set aside our skepticism and weariness and focus intently on what we want for all of our students and then set forth to work uncompromisingly and collectively toward shared goals. If everyone makes a commitment to contribute just a little bit to this larger cause great things will happen- maybe even miracles.

If you are doing any planning over the break take a look at the SACI template and eBook Core4All: Implementing the Common Core. Try it out and let us know how it goes.
Just like George Bailey had his challenges, we have our challenges. But, in the midst of all that we must remember that we are standing in the middle of a wonderful opportunity, provided we all have “enough brains to climb aboard”!

Enjoy this holiday season and we will see you in 2011 for the best year yet!

If you haven’t yet, subscribe to our blog and please share with fellow colleagues.

To contact us, e-mail us at

Written by Alan Matan and Susan Savage | Follow us on Twitter

Looking for passionate, talented, creative and dedicated teachers willing to take risks in improving their own learning to meet the needs of the 21st century student.  Is this you?

If so, please read on.  If not, I wish you the best of luck continuing your path of complacency, your status quo mentality and “this-is-how-I’ve-always-done-it philosophy”.

For those of us remaining, which I hope is the majority, let’s make a promise. Raise your right hand and say, “I, state your name, promise to prepare our students to be self-reliant, productive global citizens that can think, innovate, and be inspired to achieve.”

Good. Feels refreshing, right? Now we can get down to business.

A must tool for the 21st century teacher: Implementing the Common Core

We have been hard at work writing an e-book that focuses on helping teachers develop curriculum around the Common Core State Standards.  At the time this post was written, over 40 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a rigorous set of skills that will better prepare our students to be the innovators and leaders of tomorrow.  If you haven’t taken the time to look at them, please click on Common Core hyperlink.

What is included in the e-book Implementing the Common Core?

Benefits of using the Common Core State Standards

  • Purpose of implementing the Common Core State Standards as a vehicle to drive new 21st century curriculum
  • In-depth unit design process around Common Core skills, focusing on:
    Common Core State Standards
    Common Formative Assessments
    Relevant Content Curriculum
    Research-based Instructional Strategies

Interested?  Click here.

We are confident that this e-book will provide you with a structured framework that will help you build engaging and relevant units of study.

Core 4 All is a grass-roots endeavor created by teachers for teachers who want to make a difference in the lives of our 21st century learners. Pass the message on.  We cannot wait for policy. Let us make the policy.

Since the roll out of the Common Core State Standards in June of 2010, over 40 states have adopted them.

Here is the Common Core State Standards mission statement:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Experts in the field of education are weighing in on this topic, both positively and negatively, but it is the negative perception that seems to be winning out (for now).

Here are the negative perceptions out there:
The Common Core will lead to a national curriculum and a national assessment.
The Common Core will take over our children’s minds.
The Common Core will take over state control of education.
The Common Core will turn our educational system to that of the European-style socialism.
The Common Core lacks specific content.

My objective is to show you how the Common Core State Standards will better prepare our students for their futures, but why listen to me?

First, I am a parent of two daughters, on in high school and one in middle school.  I have been an educator for 21 years as a classroom teacher and currently as a school administrator.  I have not only reviewed the Common Core State Standards, but have revamped my curriculum around the Common Core and have guided my staff in revising five courses, moving from a content-driven curriculum to a skills-based curriculum.  Since our revisions, we have data to show that our students have learned specific skills that will help them succeed in school and in their future.

What are the benefits of the Common Core?

Moving from a content-based curriculum to a standards-based curriculum will provide students with the necessary tools to prepare them for post-secondary opportunities.

The Common Core State Standards, aligned with college and work expectations, focus on learning expectations and will improve the academic achievement of all students.

The benefits of the Common Core State Standards will positively impact both teachers and students alike.

The Common Core State Standards will provide students with the necessary skills to access higher education and to compete globally in the workforce.  The Common Core is a vehicle that will assist educators in creating quality and fair skills-based instruction for all students. The 21st century skills embedded in the Common Core will pave the way for students to think, reflect, analyze, influence, evaluate, and communicate.

The Common Core State Standards will enhance teacher collaboration.  When teachers across the nation use the same standards and common language, collaboration becomes more meaningful.  Professional development at conferences, professional organizations, and across networks will be more powerful than ever.  When teachers share best practice, students benefit.

The Common Core State Standards will provide more stability for the mobile student.  In order to close the achievement gap once and for all, educators need consistency with learning targets for each grade level.  Clear expectations across each county, state, and nation will help create constancy for students who move due to economic and personal reasons.

Let me provide a rebuttal to the negative statements from above:

The Common Core will lead to a national curriculum and a national assessment and will take over state control of education.
The Common Core is not a federal initiative. The states and local school districts will have the control over implementation and assessment of the Common Core.

The Common Core will take over our children’s minds.
Please review the Common Core and read its standards.  They are rigorous. I want them to take over my children’s minds because I know they will then be ready for the 21st century global workplace.

The Common Core will turn our educational system to that of the European-style socialism.
Once again, the Common Core is a set of skills that will better prepare our youth.  If we all understand what our children are expected to learn from kindergarten through 12th grade, we can help them succeed. A strong connection can be built between teacher, student, parent, school, community when we all have a shared knowledge of the skills being taught.

The Common Core lacks specific content.
We live in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips.  The Common Core is designed as a systematic roadmap to develop a set of important skills that will help students understand, analyze, apply, and synthesize content.  Yes, I understand content is important, but it has been the driving force for too long in education. Let’s use the Common Core as the driving force teaching skills in school and provide content that is necessary, relevant, engaging.

The Common Core State Standards will help our students become the thinkers, innovators, and leaders of not only the United States, but the world.

Feel free to share this with parents who may not understand how the Common Core will help our students in today’s world.

This past week 40 teachers and administrators in a large suburban high school made presentations to the faculty during the November Institute.  The message was simple, yet powerful:

How can we, as a community of educators, help prepare our students for the challenges they face after high school?

The team concentrated on four topics; the Culture of Poverty, Professional Learning Communities, specific reading strategies, and a common argument writing rubric.

Since 2002, student achievement has remained stagnant and there continues to be plenty room for improvement.  Instead of teaching the same curriculum, hoping that our students would magically understand the material, our principal and administrative team challenged our faculty to restructure our curriculum, moving towards a skills-based approach to better prepare our students for post-secondary opportunities.

So, what are we doing to improve student achievement?

1. Challenging the status quo

We refuse to teach the same way as we have been taught.  There is too much compelling educational research that supports a change in curricular methodology.  We understand that a skills-based approach will better prepare our students for the 21st century workplace.  We have read and implementing Robert Marzano’s What Works in Schools and John Hattie’s Visible Learning.  We see the importance of Tony Wagner’s essential skills in the Global Achievement Gap.  We are having the difficult conversations with our own colleagues regarding best practices in the classroom.

2. Creating a community of teacher learners and leaders

Receiving a degree in our content area may make us content experts, but it does not prepare us for the 21st century classroom.  We are committed to improving ourselves through a system of support through an embedded professional development community.  We have key staff members who are expert trainers in Cooperative Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Problem-Based Learning. Teaching is more than content regurgitation.  We must focus on a set of agreed-upon skills we must teach our students to master.  It is the skills that drives the curriculum, not content.

3. A shared vision

What is the vision of your school?  Our vision is to improve student learning.  In order to have a common vision, we must also have common practices in place that all staff must be committed to doing.  As I said at the beginning, we had a teacher institute that focused on key pieces in the continued improvement of student learning.  These are non-negotiables that all teachers will implement.  For example, our staff has agreed to use four reading strategies with the freshman class; annotation, 2-column notes, concept mapping, and question-answer relationships. We have also agreed to use one rubric when assessing our freshman argument essays. Targeting a handful of strategies will help our freshmen remain focused.

Final thoughts

Student achievement will improve only until we reform our way of thinking, our way of planning, our way of assessing.  This work will be difficult for both teachers and students. As teachers, we live our lives going to school.  We put in countless hours of work trying to mold the minds of our students that are seated in front of us each day.  Reflect on how you have taught these last five, ten, twenty years.  There is no magic wand that will improve academic achievement.  We will only prepare our students for what lies ahead of them through a committed effort of our learning, reflecting, and our commitment to excellence.  Our students deserve the best.

Please pass on this message to colleagues who you feel want to be change agents in your school.  We do not need to wait for state or federal policies. Change can happen and will happen with dedicated edupreneurs.

Also, there are two important links on our WordPress blog site. The first is a link for a free subscription to our posts that are sent automatically to you.  Finally, there is a link to download our first two chapters of our ebook for free: Implementing the Common Core.

Our main web site is and you can contact us at

When it comes to classroom instruction, there is a tendency for teachers to overdo instructional strategies by including in their daily lessons a concoction of various strategies in the hopes of improving student comprehension or simply alleviating boredom.  It is true that, as educators, we have obtained many different instructional tools along the way.  But, have we really stopped and analyzed which instructional strategies actually produced the desired results we were looking for? In the SACI process, instruction is just as vital as the standards being addressed, the assessments being developed and the content curriculum being implemented.  We can ensure student-met learning goals by using specific, proven, research-based instructional strategies that match with the skills we want to teach, the assessment we develop, and the content we ask our students to learn. Not all strategies work with all standards. As skills are taught, it is important to focus on two or three instructional strategies per skill.  This specific focus allows teachers to gather “causal data” to make a determination of the success of the particular strategies. How would we know which strategies contributed to student learning if ten or so were used to teach a skill?  This data can then be used along with student data to reflect on their teaching and share successes in their professional learning teams.

Balancing passion with science

The primary view or “script” of American teachers is one of a passionate, autonomous, intellect transmitting knowledge creatively wanting students to succeed.  This view has value.  However, so much research proves that instruction is as much of a science as it is an art.  A science based on quantitative and qualitative data is what improves student achievement.  In addition, creating collaborative learning communities where teachers take joint responsibility for all students in reflecting, planning and assessing and moving away from our isolation “script” is the way to improved student performance.  When teachers focus on a skill they want students to master, develop the assessment that matches the complexity of the skill and use precise instructional strategies to teach the skill, they will provide their students with the greatest opportunities to succeed in and out of the classroom.  John Hattie’s 2009 synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement(Visible Learning) shows that along with teacher-student relationships and teacher quality, teaching strategies are proven to be among the top indicators of student achievement (Hattie 2009).  Robert Marzano’s research on instructional strategies that work continue to be confirmed best practice (Marzano, Pickering, Pollack 2001)

Based on the combination of Hattie and Marzano’s research, we have crafted the following list of best practice instructional strategies that can be embedded in curricular units of study.

  • Clear goals for learning
  • Formative assessment for learning and feedback
  • Concept mapping and non-linguistic/graphical representation
  • Summarizing and Note Taking
  • Cues, questions, and advance organizers
  • Early interventions for struggling learners
  • Reciprocal teaching
  • Modeling exemplars

As you continue to work with the Common Core State Standards, choose instructional strategies that match the skill being learned.  This compact approach will provide a clear focus for students as they move from the beginning level of proficiency to that of mastery.

It is hard to believe that a little over one-quarter of the school year has passed.  It is true what they say, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”  A retired teacher in our school coined the phrase “Every day is a holiday” and we cannot agree more working in the district in which we work.  But what makes it so great?

First, it is a willingness to see the value of working collaboratively toward a common goal. Even more exciting is seeing the results of that collaborative work!  Each year, more and more “independent contractors” are beginning to understand that working in professional learning teams does improve instruction, student achievement and teacher fulfillment.   One team has restructured the entire curriculum of five courses in five months, focusing on skills and standards and agreed upon evidence of proficiency.  However, this could not have occurred without teacher leadership. The leadership came from the teachers within the professional learning team. These teachers are taking the initiative, learning from one another, holding one another accountable and moving forward so that it is a teacher–owned, sustainable change. This means teachers taking the lead in their grade level teams, departments or professional learning teams. After all, who has the biggest impact on students? Teachers do. This is why teacher leadership is essential as we move forward with the Common Core and preparing our students for college and career in a rapidly changing world.

In Awakening the Sleeping Giant: How to Help Teachers Develop as Leaders, Katzenmeyer and Moller (2009), touch on this as an assumption of teacher leadership.

Teachers should be engaged in the intellectual work of continuous learning through inquiry and reflection. Teachers who are leaders see themselves as researchers, scholars, and problem solvers for improving student learning. These are roles not of technicians but of professionals who use their skills to address the unique problems of their schools. Teachers enter the profession with the expectation that they will have the autonomy to be creative in their work with students. Given today’s emphasis on academic standards and accountability, these teachers are challenged and motivated by the notion that they will have responsibility for designing the instruction to help students meet the standards.

 Also, our school has change agents.  These change agents are teachers and administrators.  Our change agents read current research, learn about what other successful schools are doing well and share it with the professional learning teams. We understand teachers carry full loads and may not have the time to read the latest research book or article.  It is then the change agents within the school that provide that information in a meaningful way that can be implemented in the curriculum. These change agents are unique in the sense that they have a big picture concern that goes beyond their present classes and students.  These change agents feel compelled to impact their present AND future students. They are looking ahead and wondering what our country will look like in ten years and working to ensure our students will prosper in this future.

Change seems to happen very slowly in schools. Maybe it is time to speed things up a bit. After all we are already one decade into the 21st Century! We need to step out of our comfort zone and focus on what students need and not on what we want. We don’t teach subjects, we teach students. If what we are doing isn’t having the desired effect then it is our responsibility to change to adapt to our students’ needs. This past week, one teacher went through her filing cabinet and threw out years of outdated material of old lessons and units. How did she feel? She felt great. She felt liberated and ready to focus on the here and now without the baggage of the past.

It’s time to weed the garden to make room for new growth.

S is for Standards that focus on clear learning targets (see October 23 post).

A is for Assessment as indicators to monitor student progress and drive instruction.
Once teachers have determined the standard and broken it up into the essential learning components (concepts and skills), the next step is assessment.  It is crucial that assessment come next in order to develop an aligned and effective curriculum.  Many teachers skip this step and jump ahead to curriculum content and instructional strategies. Doing this creates curriculum misalignment. The result of curriculum misalignment may result in student failures, inflated grades and teacher frustration.
Assessment allows teachers to take the concepts and skills of the standard and create Proficiency(ies) per Standard (PpS). 
What will be accepted as evidence of mastery?
Do not assume that this is intuitive or obvious. When colleagues assume this is intuitive they are often grading student work subjectively and very differently. As a result, grades and data become meaningless. In addition, if evidence of mastery is not explicitly stated students will lose focus and motivation.


If students do not understand what they are expected to know, understand and be able to do they begin to feel confused and frustrated with the entire learning experience.  Also, we must differentiate between formative and summative assessment practices. Formative assessment gives students time to practice and receive precise feedback on their learning relating to the standard and student formative work also provides teachers with essential information on student progress to inform their instruction.
When teachers seek, or at least are open to, feedback from students as to what students know, what they understand, where they make errors, when they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged – then teaching and learning can become synchronized and powerful. Feedback to teachers helps make learning visible, John Hattie (2009).

For more information on the power of formative assessment you must see Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading written by Robert Marzano (2009).

Summative assessment, on the other hand, is the evaluative and end result assessment that demonstrates student mastery against specific standards.
Professional Learning Teams MUST collaboratively analyze standards and agree to specific and measurable indicators of proficiency for each standard using a four point rubric. This creates clarity for teachers and students and opens the door to begin thinking about what curriculum (content) needs to be gathered for students to access this standard in an engaging way.

If you haven’t subscribed to this blog, please click on the free e-mail subscription tab on the right side of your screen on our site at

Please pass on the site to anyone you feel wants to be a change agent in education.

What an opportunity we have right now; to restructure ELL methodologies in curriculum and instruction and create engaging, relevant 21st curriculum to better prepare our English language learners for post-secondary opportunities. Our English language learners deserve better curriculum, instruction and assessment and it is through the Common Core State Standards that can make their dreams come true.

But how do we build curriculum and ensure that a focus on language proficiency and academic achievement is realized?

Attending many ELL conferences over the years, I have come to the conclusion that teachers focus on finding classroom activities, activities that they can take right away and use in their classrooms the following day.  This is unfortunate because 21st century curriculum does not revolve around activities.  Today’s curriculum must revolve around skills.  The roll out of the Common Core State Standards is just what we need to better prepare our English language learners. But how do we use the CCSS as the vehicle to drive curriculum?

4 Step Process to Build Curriculum

Choose a standard

To develop literacy and proficiency, focus your unit of study around a set of skills you would like your students to be proficient in.  For example: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text (from CCSS Reading Standards for Literature).  The basis of the unit of study is around this skill set. So, students will focus on citing textual evidence, drawing out explicit information and making inferences during the curricular unit of study.  You can teach other skills and strategies, but the main focus must be on the standard we have designated.  Now that we have a skill, what is the next step?

Develop an assessment to measure the skill, not just the content

Too often we give assessments that ask students to regurgitate content that we expected them to memorize. In 21st century curriculum, the assessment should measure performance of the skill being mastered.  So, the second step is to create an assessment that measures the skill.  With our example, develop a pre and post assessment that measures if the student can cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. A pre-assessment gives the teacher base-line data and guides the instruction and activities of the unit.  The post-assessment will give a true measurement if the student has met expectations of the skill being learned.

Add relevant and engaging content

Having a plethora of information at our fingertips, choose content that is engaging and relevant to our students that would best help them learn the skill.  If we want to break free from the shackles of textbook publishers, it is this step that can do it.  Teachers can choose text that best connects with their students.  Traditionally, we have followed a textbook or curriculum and moved through the pages, not concerned with skill development, but rather content comprehension. Let’s promise to use text that best helps our students learn the skill.

Now it is time for the instructional activities

The last step?  Yes!  If we want our students to master skills, we must match effective activities that are based on research with the skills being learned.  “This is a fun activity” does not necessarily constitute an effective strategy.  Not sure which instructional strategies are based on research?  Please read the likes of Robert Marzano, John Hattie, Douglas Reeves, Michael Schmoker, and Virginia Rojas.  They have spent many years researching strategies that do make a positive impact on student learning.  The bottom line is that there are instructional activities that yield better results than others.  It is our job to focus on those strategies that help students learn the skill.

For whatever reason, the institution of education tends to move slowly.  We stick to the way we have been taught.  We don’t want to accept the ideas of standards-based curriculum, 4-point rubrics, differentiated instruction, alternative grading.  But if we want to better prepare our students for their futures, it is through the Common Core that we can start building curriculum that will better prepare our English language learners to be productive global citizens.  By creating units of study around the Common Core, we will build the leaders of tomorrow.

We live in a world of acronyms:  ATM, NCLB, AYP, JPEG, ACT, lol.  Core 4 All would like to add another acronym to our vocabulary: SACI.
SACI is a synthetic approach for analyzing Standards, creating Assessments, building relevant Curriculum and basing Instruction on high yield strategies.

Focus on the four pillars of SACI:

Standards that focus on clear learning targets
    Assessments as indicators to monitor student progress
        Curriculum that is viable, relevant and engages students  
           Instruction that is proven to work and aligns with standards

One of the minds that Howard Gardner discusses in his book, 5 Minds for the Future, is synthesizing.  

The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons. Valuable in the past, the capacity to synthesize becomes ever more crucial as information continues to mount at dizzying rates.   Gardner (2008)

The Core 4 All mission is to improve learning at higher levels for all using the Common Core State Standards and the SACI approach.

SACI is a synthetic framework using best practice drawing from all disciplines in education.

Let’s take a look at the S in the Core 4 All SACI Unit Design process.

Standards – specific criteria for what students are expected to know (understandings) and be able to do (skills) (Lexicon of Learning ASCD)

Successful teacher-created implementation of the Common Core State Standards will ensure that all students are prepared for post-secondary opportunities, whether a four-year university, junior college, technical training, military, or the workforce.  Although the literacy standards are divided into Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening and Language, Common Core insists that literacy development be a shared responsibility among all teachers and all content areas.  The content areas of English Language Arts, History/Social Science, Mathematics, Science, World Languages, Fine Arts, Physical Education, and Technical Subjects all share general, cross-disciplinary College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards; however, specific literacy standards are tailor made for each grade level and content area. Since interdisciplinary literacy development is the focus of the Common Core State Standards, these standards will provide consistency for teachers and students as they communicate their learning experiences with one another whether at the school, district, state, or national level. Common standards provide teachers with opportunities to discuss strategies at conferences, workshops, and in professional learning communities.  Common Core State Standards are the building blocks needed to create assessments, design curriculum, and implement research based instructional strategies.

Here is an example of how to begin with the standard when creating a unit.

Common Core State Standard:  Reading Standards for Literature, Grade 8, Craft and Structure (p.36)

Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.

The goal is for students to become proficient in this skill.  It is not to just place or “align” the standard into existing curriculum.  This is a shift in mindset.  In order to improve our students’ achievement, it is vital that we start with the standard and ask ourselves, “How are we going to ensure that our students master this skill?” It starts with breaking down and explicitly teaching the components of the standard.  This cannot be a guessing game for students.  Students need to be able to look at the standard as a whole, but also work with its parts. 

Back to our standard      

Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.

We must take the time, before delving into any content, to break down the standard into meaningful chunks.  Students must be taught how to compare and contrast.  They must be taught how to analyze. We can’t assume students are familiar with these skills. Also, students must understand and be able to use the words structure, text, differing, contribution, meaning, and style in various activities during the unit. 

If we are going to make an impact on student achievement, it must start with a solid foundation of agreed-upon standards that professional learning teams select when revising units of study.


Select a standard from the Common Core. Break it apart into meaningful pieces.  Think about three things.

  1. What is it that students will need to be able to do?
  2. What concepts need to be understood
  3. How would you go about teaching those components? 

If you haven’t done so, please subscribe to this educational blog by clicking on the link on the right side of the screen (Free E-mail Subscription).  The Core 4 All team is comprised of teachers and administrators in the field of education.  We are putting into practice what we are preaching and we are seeing great results.

The Common Core: 21st Century Approach for Teachers and Students

As with any new initiatives, there will be those who are against it, those who have better ideas, those who don’t believe in change and those who don’t know how to change. The launching of the Common Core State Standards in June of 2010 has stirred up some controversy. Some believe that those standards will lead to a national curriculum and a national assessment. Others believe that the Common Core State Standards will hinder the creativity of the teacher. Core 4 All believes the Common Core State Standards will create an opportunity for students and teachers to begin anew. This solid set of standards focuses on multiple literacies in English and language arts as well as in the content areas of history, social studies, science and technical subjects. It’s time to start looking at the Common Core. What would a solid Common Core curriculum look like in your professional learning community?

You have to take the lead and show people how to change. You have to become a change agent.


Becoming a Change Agent 101

Be Clear

Nothing stops a movement in its tracks faster than confusion, inconsistency and backpedalling.  Rick Dufour talks about the importance of “clarity before competence”. You must make sure you are crystal clear about the direction you are heading in order to see results. Make a commitment to begin using the Common Core Standards. Read through them carefully and as a learning team determine “priority” standards (Ainsworth, 2008). Set clear learning targets so that both teachers and students know exactly what they need to be able to do by the end of the unit. Be clear about the outcomes that the learning team will accept as evidence of mastery. If this takes a little time, that’s okay. This is vital. Be clear on commitment, goals and outcomes.

Behavior Before Beliefs

Motion Leadership: The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy (Fullan, 2010) provides evidence and examples of change in action. Contrary to popular belief change does NOT occur because of mission statements or buy–in. So, stop talking about buy-in and start doing something! Change occurs when individuals experience something new and as a result of that experience see positive results and begin to change. A school culture will not change by talking about change. The transformation begins when individuals within that culture begin doing things differently and see the positive impact these changes have on their students.  Pick a few high yield behaviors and create new routines, systems, or structures that provide opportunities for teachers to experiment with these new behaviors and practices. In his book Influencer, Patterson (2008) reminds us that “personal experience is the best persuader”.

Positive Peer Pressure with PLT’s

Professional learning teams provide a great collaborative structure to influence through experience and modeling.  Professional learning teams are powerful engines of change. PLTs provide support when experimenting with new practices, allow teachers to see the positive results others are having, and to reflect as a team on teaching and learning.  Authentic and sustainable change occurs from colleagues working together toward a common goal and holding each other professionally accountable. The old model of change through mandate with a supervisor holding a stick is long gone. Change happens when professionals motivate and support one another. It isn’t easy. It is shift in thinking but it is the only way. Do not let your team down.

Focus on Excellence NOT Perfection

Ready, Fire, Aim” (Fullan, 2010)

Lifelong “perfectionists” make this your new mantra! It is liberating and you get a lot more work done! Once we have clarity on commitment, goals and outcome indicators it’s time to begin the work of change by doingHoerr (2005) makes the distinction between excellence and perfection. Excellence is moving forward doing the best you can to meet the needs of your students. Perfection is getting bogged down, discouraged and drained by focusing on every small detail that may impede your work. There will always be issues that need to be dealt with along the way. We must spend less time worrying about why it won’t work and begin experimenting with imperfect yet promising actions. The change process in not about finding the “magic bullet” or “perfect solution”. It is about best practice, midcourse corrections, monitoring progress and analyzing results.


We are moving away from instruction as an isolated, mysterious, and sometimes secret practice. This is a good thing and this movement helps change agents everywhere. We must be transparent in everything we do for change to occur. We must be transparent in our teaching by modeling and peer observations, we must be transparent in assessment by analyzing data from common formative assessments and reflecting on what works and learning from each other, we must be transparent and honest with colleagues by holding each other accountable for all students and finally we must be transparent with the community by letting parents clearly know what skills their children have mastered and provide evidence of that learning.

In a change effort, culture comes last not first. A culture only changes when a new way of operating has been shown to succeed… the culture doesn’t change until the end of the process. (Kotter and Cohen, 2002)

Become a change agent today by using the top 5 strategies for change!

Now that the Waiting for Superman trailer has been seen by over half a million people and NBC finished devoting one whole week concerning the issues of education, America is in panic mode, again. Let’s all step back and take a deep breath and count to three. 1…..2…..3…… now exhale. Feel better?

Public schools are being scrutinized. By 2014, we will all be labeled “failing schools” according to NCLB guidelines. Teachers are accused of not preparing our students for the future. The government is being asked to fund more for education with its limited resources. What will it take for our students to become successful global citizens?

 By taking these four steps, we can ensure student success

  1. Common Core Standards: Close to 40 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core provides us with specific skills that we can teach our students to better prepare them for post-secondary opportunities. We must use the Common Core as the cornerstone of our curriculum.
  2. Common Assessments: As teacher-teams agree upon the skills to be taught, these teams must create assessments that measure student proficiency of the targeted skills. This piece forces us to assess for learning as opposed to assess of learning. Analyzing common assessments of students is powerful. It promotes healthy conversations as to how to improve instruction.
  3. Curriculum: We live in a world where we can Google an answer in under ten seconds. It is time to strip away the unnecessary content that has been our curricula. There is no need to rush through content. It is more important to provide students with an opportunity to get deep into a text so that they can make connections to their lives. Match the content to the skill being learned, not the other way around.
  4. Instruction: We have years of research that has been done by experts in the field of education. We know what works and what does not work. Take the time to read the following books:
    John Hattie Visible Learning (2009)
    Robert Marzano What Works in Schools (2003)
    Douglas Reeves Standards, Assessment and Accountability (2011)

Share these resources with your colleagues. Begin dialogues regarding best practices, not fun activities.

We cannot wait around for Superman to appear. If each one of us takes the steps to focus on skills, analyze and discuss student assessments, negotiate on the most important content to teach, and use only proven, effective strategies, collectively we will build a stronger, more powerful, and invincible superhero. Let’s take the initiative to develop tomorrow’s leaders today.

Thank you
Core4All would like to thank the readers that have subscribed to the blog. In the short amount of time in existence, we have had over 370 views. We hope you are finding the information useful. Please continue to pass the link to fellow colleagues who want to make a change in their curriculum.

How it all began
The idea of Core4All originated from a conversation at a Barnes and Noble one summer evening sipping lattes (or it may have been diet colas). Our original goal was to create a one-hour presentation providing ELL teachers with instructional strategies that would improve the proficiency and achievement of English language learners. At the end of the evening, we came away with the creation of a book and a design template to help all teachers build units of study around skills and standards.  We believe the Common Core State Standards (, aligned with college and work expectations, focus on learning expectations and will improve the academic achievement of students.  There is no better time than the present to initiate these standards to unify our students and teachers.

Top 3 Benefits of the Common Core State Standards
1. The Common Core State Standards will provide more stability for the mobile student. In order to close the achievement gap once and for all we need consistency with learning targets for each grade level. Clear expectations across each county, state and nation will help create stability for students who move often due to economic and personal reasons.

2. The Common Core State Standards will provide students with the necessary skills to access higher education and to compete globally in the workforce. The Common Core is a vehicle that will assist educators in creating quality and fair skills-based instruction to all students.  The 21st century skills embedded in the Common Core will pave the way for students to  think, reflect, analyze, influence, evaluate, and communicate; in other words, become an individual who will lead in the 21st century global society. Look around your classroom. Who will be the leaders of tomorrow?

3. The Common Core State Standards will enhance teacher collaboration across the nation. When teachers across the nation are using the same standards and common language, collaboration becomes more meaningful. Professional development at conferences, professional organizations and across networks will be more powerful than ever. When teachers share best practice, students benefit.

Last week, we asked that you look at the Common Core State Standards and begin to read them, visualize how they can become the cornerstones of your curriculum.  This week, Core4All asks that your teacher-team zero in on one standard you would like to work with.  In the next few weeks, we will analyze standards and show how the SACI design template will help build a stellar unit of study.

We may be familiar with the word “core” in terms of exercise.  Fitness experts state that the more we strengthen our core muscles (abs, back, pelvis), the easier it is to do physical activities.  Just as physical core training develops greater efficiency in movement, improves body control and balance, and increases performance, the Common Core State Standards ( also benefit a vital part of our bodies. THE BRAIN.  By using the Common Core as a vehicle to drive curriculum, students will improve their academic achievement; in other words, increase brain power.

What we have seen so far…

Since the adoption of the Common Core in June of 2010, it has been comical watching the “educational companies” send out their propaganda on how their materials correlate with the Common Core State Standards.  At least once a week, we have received email blasts from companies soliciting their products.

“Buy our product. It includes the Common Core State Standards!”
“No need to revamp your curriculum.  The Common Core fits right in!”
“Our educational program has already been aligned with the Common Core!”
“Partner with us and we’ll show you how to implement the Common Core into your existing curriculum!”

This is a weak attempt to try to profit from a new initiative. We saw this same approach when NCLB legislation was passed in 2002.  To put into exercise terms, you can’t get a 6-pack without changing your ab routine.

Education needs a fresh start

We must realize that the adoption of the Common Core does not mean plugging the standards into an already existing curriculum.  The adoption of the Common Core provides us with a great opportunity to start fresh, to begin with a new vision, one that puts student achievement at the core of the educational exercise plan.

SACI Design

In the coming weeks, Core4All will unveil its SACI Design Template, a systematized framework that will allow teacher teams to create units of study that puts the Common Core State Standards at the forefront of curriculum planning.  In a gist, the SACI process:
-Focuses on 2-3 standards that a learning team has decided that students need to become proficient in during the unit of study
-Creates a pre/post assessment to check how proficient students are prior to the unit of study and after instruction
-Incorporates non-negotiable curriculum content students must learn
-Uses only proven, research-based instructional strategies

We are beyond the point of reforming education. It is time to get into the gym and work our core before exercising the other parts.  By starting with the Common Core State Standards, we will build our foundation of learning which in turn will make our students stronger, ready to tackle the 21st century workplace.

What changes can you make to increase the brain power of your students?

Core4All hopes that you have been finding our posts to be useful.  If so, please forward our link to 2-3 colleagues who you feel would benefit from the information presented.  These are exciting times.  We believe that creating curriculum around the Common Core will build student capacity and brain power.  Whew!  Time to hit the showers.

What type of teacher are you?

  1. Are you focused on standards, student growth and achievement?
  2. Are you focused on creating an engaging atmosphere where students can become lifelong learners?

Did you pick?

I hope not, because these two categories are not oppositional.

If we want all students to learn we must nurture both elements in all schools and classrooms. Without a clear skills-based standard that creates a purpose for learning and system to monitor student growth we as educators will be aimlessly moving from one initiative to another and losing hope as students seem to become less and less capable.  Core4All challenges you to become a student growth and achievement activist.

The foundation of our system must be to:
     Prepare our students for the “real world”.
           Help students become successful in school and in life.

Students NEED a solid literacy and numeracy foundation. 

Years pass by and students move from one grade level to another without making enough growth. Why? Because measures aren’t in place to monitor and intervene until it’s too late. Then the cycle continues the next year and students fail again. Students, teachers and parents become disillusioned. We must STOP this cycle. This is why an achievement focus is crucial.

After we have established a solid structure that puts student growth at the forefront, then we must take a look at our classroom and our units.

Have I selected materials that will engage my students?
     Have I made connections to their lives?
          How will I motivate them?  

Create an atmosphere of engagement by allowing students to practice in cooperative environments and involve students in the assessment process. Why not have them create the rubric with you?  Allow time for self-selected reading for students to make meaning and share with others. When teaching skills and using best-practice strategies make sure that you are discussing a concept and using content that inspires not bores. Make sure your classroom is a safe place where inquiry is valued and students learn to question. Are you afraid of technology? Let your students take the lead (they love to see you learn and make mistakes) or go to that next training. Don’t have time? Then maybe something else has to go while we focus on what is important. When students are engaged they work. This is why promoting a love of learning is crucial.

So, what kind of teacher are you?  

Next time you feel you need to pick a side, make this your answer.

When students achieve, they become enraptured with learning.

Let’s go.   

We encourage you to join by clicking on the Sign Me Up  link to the right.  Also, please share this article with your friends and colleagues.

Do you teach English?
Do you teach US History?
Do you teach Math?
Do you teach Biology?

 Teach. The more you look at the word, the weirder it looks. Teach. If you teach English, US History, Math, Biology, Spanish, how are you preparing your students for their future?

Teach……………. Teach………………… Teach………………..


Let’s look at English. Freshmen across the country are reading a variety of literature, some great pieces of work.  But what are these 14-15 year olds taking away from their readings? Ask English teachers about student goals. What answers would you hear?

“I want my students to appreciate literature.”
“I want to prepare my students so that they are able to read very challenging text in college.”
“I want my students to become life-long readers.”

These are admirable goals, but none of these goals are skills that can be taught and assessed.

Its the focus of skills that must be explicitly taught and assessed in any classroom.

 Let’s look at a skill from the Common Core State Standards ( for 9th/10th grade Reading Standards for Literature:

 Analyze how complex characters develop over the course of the text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

 This goal is teachable and assessable.

To break down this standard, we would first assess the students’ ability to analyze. If they have not achieved proficiency in analyzing character development, then we would teach students to analyze character development.

We would also pre-assess student knowledge on the terms of this standard:

complex, character, text, interact, plot, and theme.

And again explicitly teach these terms with the goal that all students attain mastery of these terms.

 Standards drive curriculum

 It should not be the literature that drives the curriculum, but the agreed upon standards that we want our students to master. Teachers can use Of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, Lord of the Flies, or whatever great work as the content, but the focus must be on the standard we want our students to master.

It is the standards that are the anchors to the lessons of a specific unit of study.

 The focus on standards has been discussed for many years. The quick fix has been to take standards and shove them into already established curricula and move ahead as we have always done. If we truly want to make an impact on student achievement and prepare our students for the 21st century workplace, it is time to start from scratch and focus on the Common Core State Standards as the backbone of our curriculum.

Yes, it will be hard work, but our future leaders deserve a quality, skills-based curriculum to prepare them to be productive citizens.

According to Dr. Robert Marzano, Marzano Research Laboratory,,  teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement. Abundant research makes clear that teachers using best instructional practices and sharing those practices with others is the greatest approach to enhance student learning (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). The combination of the Common Core, along with proven research-based strategies and the creation of common formative assessments to measure student growth will enhance student achievement. Core4All advocates for a transformation in teaching using the Common Core State Standards ( as the foundation of classroom curriculum in the 21st century.  It must also be emphasized that the key to improved student performance is teachers creating, sharing, and delivering a relevant and engaging curriculum. Kathryn Au of the International Reading Association states:

It’s the expertise of the classroom teacher that will allow standards to elevate the achievement of each and every student in the classroom. Let’s keep in mind that standards don’t teach—teachers teach (Au, 2010).

Core4All agrees with Kathryn Au in that teachers do teach, but it goes beyond the lessons planned and activities presented in class. It is time for educators across the United States to begin reading the most current research and not only rely on past educational experiences in the classroom, undergraduate studies and masters programs  to teach. Robert Marzano, John Hattie, and Doug Reeves have put in countless hours researching and analyzing data with the hope that educators would read and implement their findings into their classrooms.  

Common Core State Standards +
Common Formative Assessment +
Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum +
Proven Instructional Strategies =
                 Student Achievement

It is the combination of these four pillars that will elevate achievement. 

Teachers play a key role in taking the Common Core State Standards and making them work in their classrooms everyday so that all students have the greatest opportunity to learn skills that will help them in the 21st  century global workplace. Yes, we are artists, continuing to mold and shape our students for successful futures.  Core4All urges teachers to become artistic scientists; use the Common Core State Standards as the curriculum base, create common formative assessments to guide instruction, implement a rich curriculum for students to master, and execute instructional strategies that are proven to be successful.

Core4All is confident that with the combination of the four pillars,
          Curriculum, and
students will become the leaders and innovators of the 21st century.

Soon, Core4All will provide a framework for teachers to help create units of study to improve student achievement. 

Please sign up for free updates of this blog and keep an eye out for the framework.

As with any new initiative, there will  always be those who are against it, those who have better ideas, and those who do not believe in change. The launching of the Common Core State Standards ( in June of 2010 has stirred up some controversy. Some believe that this will lead to a national curriculum and a national assessment. Others believe that the Common Core State Standards will hinder the creativity of the teacher.

Common Core State Standards will create opportunities for students and teachers.

If viewed in a positive way, the Common Core State Standards will provide opportunities for teachers to begin anew with a solid set of skills focused on literacy, not only in language arts, but also in the content areas. Incorporating the Common Core State Standards into course units of study will engage both students and teachers in the journey of becoming leaders in an innovative nation. As stated in the Common Core Mission Statement:  The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”  The Common Core State Standards will guide classroom curricula into providing students with the much-needed skills to successfully access post-secondary opportunities and help students achieve confidence in competing in the 21st century workplace.

We need standards not standardization.

Teachers must have the autonomy in their professional learning communities to create authentic standards-based units of study that will improve learning for their student population. In order to do this, teachers must develop their skills in designing standards-based curriculum and provide leadership in their schools. Teachers shouldn’t settle on prepackaged or off-the-shelf curriculum. It is important that teachers think about how they can meet the needs of all students.  Meeting the needs does not come from buying a product and implementing it into the curriculum. Improving student achievement begins with focusing on the Common Core State Standards.  This will help students master the skills needed to become prepared for the 21st century global workplace.  It is vital that educators focus on the Common Core and create authentic units that respond to their specific student demographic. 

As educators, we must find the balance of continuing our passion for our craft while also focusing on clear learning targets. 

Thank you for your part in spreading the knowledge of how the Common Core State Standards can truly make a positive impact on student achievement.  If you would like to continue being updated on the benefits of the Common Core, please sign up for free updates or e-mail us at

Urgent!  Danger, Will Robinson. We have a crisis on our hands, let’s bring it down to DEFCON 4 and see what the heck is going on.  It is 2010, and we are still a Nation at Risk,  leaving children behind.  It’s time to refocus our attention to the task at hand:

Help today’s youth become the innovators, thinkers, and leaders of tomorrow. 

What is important for our students to be able to accomplish? 
          What is it that we must focus on in the classroom?

Can we honestly say that we are preparing our students to be productive, global citizens? 

Are we teaching the necessary skills of:
influencing, questioning, creative thinking, analyzing, and evaluating?

Are we successfully educating our diverse learners so that they are ready for post-secondary educational opportunities?  

Data shows that diverse learners, especially our Latino learners, generally perform below the national averages, so we must take the initiative to provide them with the academic tools to succeed in the educational setting and beyond.  We must also strive to improve our own teaching practices and take the time to read the most current research and  implement what instructional strategies actually work in the classroom.  If we continue to educate in a traditional model, as we have done since the one-room school-house, will the US still be the economic, social, military power of the world? 

We must focus on creating leaders.  Our economic, social, and political future of this great nation depends on the success of educating all students!   We must not only focus on the gifted student or the remedial student, but all students. 

What can you do?
The first step is to restructure your curriculum by implementing the Common Core Standards.  It is imperative that you read through the Common Core Standards ( and become familiar with them.  These standards truly hit the target and point us in the right direction to promote academic achievement among all our learners.  In a few years, many state assessments will revolve around the Common Core Standards .

The world is changing at a fast pace.  Thomas Friedman informed us that The World is Flat and Tony Wagner explained to us how we can minimize  The Global Achievement Gap. It is time for the educators to rethink how to teach our youth of today.

By focusing on the Common Core Standards and using them as the vehicle for student achievement, we will begin to create the thinkers, innovators, and leaders of tomorrow.