Common Core Shifts Language Arts Program

SNOW HILL — Much of the spotlight for the ongoing change to the national Common Core Curriculum (CCC) in Worcester County has followed changes to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). But there will be sweeping revisions to how English Language Arts (ELA) and literacy are handled as well, including an earlier focus on traditionally complex material.
The instructional shift for ELA has “four cornerstones.” Snow Hill High School (SHHA) Principal Tom Davis and English teacher Jack Cleveland briefed the Board of Education Tuesday on what those new cornerstones will mean for students.
“As far as writing is going, the focus is going to be on arguments rather than persuasion,” said Davis.
The emphasis under Common Core will be 70-percent non-fiction material to 30-percent fiction material in high school. Cleveland isn’t worried about the new standards and compared adopting Common Core to “taking a new road trip.” The basics — car, road and destination of graduation — are all the same, he said. It’s just that the route has changed.
“I think Worcester County has excellent teachers, we’ve been held to high standards, and we’re going to continue work hard to meet those standards and it’s a privilege to be able to work with all of you to do that, so thank you,” Cleveland said.
The four cornerstones are Building Knowledge through Content Rich Non-Fiction, Reading, Writing, and Speaking Grounded in Text-Based Evidence, Practice with Complex Text and Academic Language and Discipline Literacy Standards in Reading and Writing.  Some of the most noticeable changes will be at what age students are introduced to certain texts.
“Everything is kind of shifting down and it’s because of the rigor,” said Davis. “And I think it’s because of the global economy and we want to be competitive with everybody.”
One example that he gave is that Hamlet, typically part of the ELA curriculum for seniors, might be taught as early as freshman year in high school now. Teachers aren’t just throwing students into the deep end, however.
“In order for them to understand and deconstruct that complex text, they’re going to need skills,” said Davis. “And the skills that they’re going to need to have are, again, making inferences, establishing opinion and judgment, identifying purpose and understanding academic vocabulary. Vocabulary is another key focus coming out of the Common Core and the instructional shifts.”
This shifting of perspective won’t be confined to texts but will touch on things like history and other forms of media.
“I’m going to have kids not just looking at a film but also correlating it to the timeframe the film was created, perhaps, looking through the lens of the film maker,” said Cleveland, “not just in what they were seeing but what were the times the film maker lived in.”
After hearing the breakdown of the new ELA, Board of Education member Bob Hulburd said that he continues to be excited with how Common Core will be shaping education in Worcester. Teaching students how to navigate challenging non-fiction both for entertainment and as a resource is something that Hulburd believes is critical for the global market that Davis mentioned.
“The skills of being able to do that will just open the world of opportunity for the students,” he said.
Hulburd expressed some concerns about the ratio of non-fiction to fiction under Common Core. But, according to Cleveland, the changes won’t deprive students in any way from important creative writing opportunities or the study of literature.