Common Core State Standards and Second Order Change: What Every Adminstrator Should Know

The great, seismic shifts in practice and understanding that occasionally happen in any profession or domain are examples of Second Order Change. These changes are unlike first-order change, which may be top-down, superficial adjustments in policy or procedure. Research points to reasons some schools may remain unchanged despite the reform efforts:

There is evidence that one of the reasons schools remain unchanged is that the reforms or changes have been superficial in nature and/or arbitrary in their adoption. Teachers and schools often went through the motions of adopting the new practices, but the changes were neither deep nor long-lasting. In other words, the outward manifestations of the changes were present, but the ideas or philosophy behind the changes were either not understood, misunderstood, or rejected. Consequently, any substantive change in the classroom experience or school culture failed to take root. The illusion of change is created through a variety of activities, but the qualitative experience for students in the classroom remains unchanged when the ideas driving daily practice remain unchanged. (Fouts, 2003)

The Common Core Shift

But the shift to Common Core State Standards is an example of second order change. It requires a shift in the way we think about the nature of teaching and learning. This shift asks us to reexamine the foundations of traditional teaching methods. Rather than asking students to memorize by rote, to accumulate facts and figures, Common Core calls for nuanced understanding, applicable to real-world problems. Common Core asks students to analyze, to generate and test hypotheses. It asks students to think like mathematicians rather than just do math. To think like writers rather than just churn out five-paragraph essays. To use complex cognitive skills to analyze the complex problems they face as 21st century citizens.

Most of us understand the argument for deeper learning intuitively. Any student can use Google to search out relevant facts and figures. But the cognitive skill to analyze and generate complex arguments or useful experiments must be learned with help from teachers. Once educators and students buy into the philosophical shift Common Core requires, they will stop resisting change.

However, Common Core does call for careful consideration when it comes to lesson planning.

The Common Core curriculum shares similarities with the lessons teachers have been presenting all along. The big shift will happen with how teachers teach that curriculum, what they do in the classroom to foster the higher-order cognitive skills that Common Core calls for, and how they guide students, step by step up the cognitive ladder, so that students are fully prepared for higher order learning.

The change to Common Core calls for lessons to go deep, not broad.Did you know: a recent study found that only five percent of classroom teachers taught analysis, generation of hypotheses, and critical thinking skills? Most teachers aren’t prepared for the incremental learning of skills, the slowly built up set of tools, that students will need in order to succeed with Common Core State Standards.

Teachers will need training to meet the challenges with this more complex system of learning.  It will be up to school leaders to make sure that they get it.

What plans is your school making helping teachers gain the skills for successful implementation of Common Core? Share your ideas and best practices in the comments section below.

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