Aligning to the Common Core with our Meaning of America series

September 16th, 2013

As the school year begins, educators are seeking ways to align their curriculum to the Common Core State Standards. Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Fordham Institute and the College Board outlines three elements of a curriculum properly aligned to the CC.  Read about these recommendations, and learn how our Meaning of America series accomplishes all three.

Stressing that the Common Core calls for a reevaluation of old teaching habits, Porter-Magee believes that the new standards give educators an opportunity to engage students on a more meaningful level than before. To accomplish this, Porter-Magee first suggests that teachers place a greater emphasis on selecting complex texts for students to read. Rather than teaching good reading strategies as an end in themselves, instill these strategies by analyzing great texts. Acknowledging that great readers do employ specific strategies, she explains, “it’s not the skills that make us better readers, but rather by practicing those skills in the context of complex texts—and texts that are worth reading—that we can help students expand their vocabulary and push their comprehension.” Our Meaning of America lesson plans provide exactly the type of complex and meaningful texts Porter-Magee suggests, including literature from classic American authors including Jack London, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and Herman Melville.

After selecting the right texts, Porter-Magee describes the importance of asking text-dependent questions, rather than solely relying on classroom activities. Porter-Magee notes that the questions should be challenging: “Do [the questions] push students back into the text, or do they take us away from the text? Will answering the question enhance and/or require student comprehension of the book—the character’s development, the vocabulary, the setting—and specific passages within it[?]” The Meaning of America series includes detailed lesson plans designed to critically engage students with the text. Each lesson plan includes a “Thinking about the Text” series of questions which asks students to analyze key moments from the story, while our “Thinking with the Text” section encourages students to take a step back and consider the story’s themes as part of a larger American narrative. Model video seminars guide teachers through the process of asking and answering complex questions for each lesson plan.

Finally, in order to align to the Common Core, Porter-Magee recommends that instructional units be based on a careful sequencing of texts around a common theme. She suggests that teachers introduce students to stories and poems that have similarly challenging vocabulary sets and fit around a particular topic. Each of the 11 lesson plans in our Meaning of America series are written around a central theme, like national identity, freedom and individuality, and equality, among others. These lesson plans can easily be combined with other readings on similar broad themes, to reinforce the ideas of the story to students.

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