Special education teacher Adie Buchinksy has been immersed in the new Common Core State Standards as part of a teacher team at CHIME Institute Charter School in the San Fernando Valley. Adie and her colleagues have unpacked the CCSS, analyzing the knowledge, skills and learning targets they point toward. They also have used the CCSS as a lens to analyze the school’s current curriculum and assess new materials and resources for students.
In a recent presentation at the Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers conference, the team noted the differences between the CCSS and California’s state standards. Most striking, according to Adie, is that the CCSS “help teachers teach all students in a way that the state standards didn’t.”
In Adie’s words, “The Common Core is linked across grades and you can see how the cognitive demands increase over time. The state standards, in comparison, were more isolated at each grade. Before, teachers needed to figure out what the progression of skills was supposed to be when we working with students below or above grade level. Now, we can see the trajectory of skill development and can use it to bring kids to the next levels. I would call the CCSS a road map for how we are going to develop student skills.”
CHIME Charter School pulls students from 40 different zip codes using a lottery system. The school maintains a ratio of 20% of students who have disabilities and 80% of students who are general education, which includes children who speak English as a Second Language and/or students who are considered highly gifted. All special education services are provided within the general education classroom, and in Adie’s words, the school is “committed to providing the students who receive special education supports with whatever they need to succeed with their peers.”
To help teachers differentiate their daily lessons, the school is implementing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach. UDL applies the architectural concept of universal access to products and buildings to teaching and learning. According to the teacher team, “When lessons are universally designed, all students can access the content which means that that lesson is naturally differentiated and few instructional accommodations are needed.” UDL’s tools and supports are based on three concepts:
- Multiple Means of Representation: The different ways teachers can represent content.
- Multiple Means of Expression: The options teachers give students for expressing what they have learned from the lesson.
- Multiple Means of Engagement: The ways teachers can fuel student motivation to learn the material being presented.
Adie provided us with a number of concrete examples from her first grade class of how the UDL approach connects with the CCSS. Here’s one: When Adie and the classroom teacher work with their first graders on writing opinion pieces they provide students with various supports—based on their individual needs and strengths—for stating an opinion, supplying a reason and providing closure. This could include brainstorming sheets for some students, idea pages for others who are stuck, access to computers so students can type their response, help sheets that provide opening sentences for other students and more. Everyone is learning and writing about the same topic, but students have different supports during the writing process. Individual supports are then adjusted as students develop skills over time.
Adie sums up how she sees differentiation within the new CCSS. “We expect that there will be more time spent on developing explicit literacy and math skills throughout the year within our school’s project based approach. It actually makes it easier to differentiate because assignments will dedicate time for students to deepen their skills – even being able to go beyond grade level for some students—instead of just checking off rote knowledge and moving on to the next thing. It will now be ok for students who are behind to practice their skills a lot because everyone is practicing their skills a lot.”