Planning and Common Core

Putting CCS at the core of your planning

By Rachel Wilser

If you’re a teacher, it’s likely that you have a planning routine. Maybe you like to plan alone, plan with a team, or plan at home. Or maybe you focus better at a coffee shop or your local library. I like to plan at a coffee shop with a medium amount of ambient noise, with my Claire de Lune Pandora station on headphones, a latte, calendar, laptop, and pens for color-coding close by. (I will say that as I got more efficient at planning, I did more of it at school, but even at school there was always coffee involved.) Whatever your planning routine, the Common Core Standards (CCS) can help you create daily, weekly, and monthly/unit plans.

Start with the standards

First, let’s talk standards. Most standards, CCS included, tell you the desired outcome but not necessarily how to achieve that outcome. So to really be able to use standards in your planning, you have to consider the outcome/standard as well as the subskills you need to achieve the standard — subskills that aren’t necessarily included in the standard itself.

Let’s look at some fourth-grade geometry standards. 4.GA.2 says, “Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles.” Right away, I find myself thinking that in order to achieve this standard, my students will have to be able to answer these questions:

  • What’s a two-dimensional figure?
  • What are parallel and perpendicular lines, and how are they different?
  • What are the different types of angles?
  • What is a triangle?

Some of this likely sounds silly, because it’s hard to envision a fourth grader who doesn’t know what a triangle is, but if you don’t know what a triangle is, then you also won’t know what a right triangle is. This type of breakdown is necessary to make sure that we’re planning high-quality content for our kids and setting them up to achieve success.

Generally, this type of planning happens at the month/unit level. Reading the standards and breaking them down ensures that you’re helping students build up their understanding so they can ultimately attain the outcomes delineated in the standards. While this work can be time-consuming, it’s also incredibly helpful. Unless you switch grades often, once you break down standards in this way, you don’t need to redo it very frequently. You might review it when you come back to that same unit the next year, but even during a review most of the heavy work is finished.

Build unit plans

Now that you have all the standards and skills mapped out, you’re ready to use those to build unit plans. You can create unit plans in a variety of ways — by identifying the skill students will learn that day (Students will be able to sort shapes into two categories: quadrilaterals and non-quadrilaterals); by writing a question that students will be able to answer (“How do we use a 100s chart to subtract?”); or by merely jotting down a few words to help jog your memory (i.e., protagonist/antagonist).

The great part about taking so much time to build your monthly plan is that it makes weekly and daily planning a snap! Once I have created this skill map, I turn it into a calendar or chart of statements guiding my students toward mastery of the standards.

When the best-laid plans … aren’t

Sometimes, though, you might find yourself in a real pickle: You followed your monthly and weekly plan, but for some reason your students still didn’t achieve the benchmark. Maybe you had a group of students who got it in two days, but other kids needed more time. Or you gave yourself two days to teach an idea, but your students actually needed three or four. Maybe you realized that something you assumed your students already knew is something that they did not already know.

In any case, what’s a teacher to do when the standards aren’t working? Deviate. Don’t ignore your students; they (or, more likely, their data) will tell you what you need to know.

All the CCS standards build from one grade level to another; there’s very little redundancy. This makes it really easy to both push and remediate your students.

For example, in first grade, students are asked to “tell and write time in hours and half hours on digital and analog clocks.” It’s important to note that there are no kindergarten time standards; it’s introduced for the first time in first grade. But in second grade students have to tell time to the five-minute mark: “Tell and write time from analog and digital clocks to the nearest five minutes, using a.m. and p.m.” This is a pretty significant jump, and it makes a great place to deviate or differentiate for your students. Many students are already familiar with time, but some still struggle, especially with using an analog face. There is quite a bit of room for variety between the first- and second-grade standards. You could push students to add a.m. or p.m. to hour and half-hour times. You could push students to the quarter hour, which is the next logical jump after hour and half hour. (This is also a great tie-in with fractions.)

The same idea works with ELA, as well. CCS breaks reading standards into separate strands for literature (fiction) and informational text (non-fiction). If you look at 2.RI.6, second grades are asked to identify author’s purpose (“Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe”). It’s likely that students are already familiar with author’s purpose before second grade, so students who are already adept at author’s purpose can make a push towards the third-grade standard, which is more nuanced: 3.RI.6 —

“Distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text.” Not only do students now need to identify the author’s purpose, they also now have to identify their own opinion — do they agree with the author? — and likely support their answer with text details (why or why not?).

The CCS build on each other from year to year and make a great tool to help differentiate instruction. It’s easy to help students prepare for subsequent years, as well as look back and help them solidify skills from previous grades. Standards should be at the heart of your instruction, and the Common Core makes it easy to differentiate in a meaningful way for all learners.

Rachel Wilser has spent the better part of a decade in classrooms around the country — in private, public, charter, elementary, and middle schools. Now, she chases twins and drinks coffee while planning her return to the classroom.