I’ve been working hard to prepare lectures for my graduate students that address the Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, with regard to the teaching of writing. While I have read through the writing standards many times, I wanted to delve deeper into the CCSS so I could help my students understand the implications of the CCSS on writing instruction. Therefore, I ordered an exam copy of Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman (Heinemann, 2012). Not only is it a book the students in my course should read, I believe it’s a book every teacher in America should read. This book is important since it helps educators understand what the standards are requiring so educators can work together to formulate curriculum that will help the students they serve. As the authors stated, “The goal is clear. The pathway is not.”
The CCSS are a well-needed wake-up call for America’s schools. They writing standards raise the bar so we can prepare our children to be more competitive in the global society in which we live. If teachers, coaches, and administrators work together to understand the CCSS’s reading and writing goals across the grades, then I believe we will strengthen students’ literacy schools, which will in turn help them to achieve success.
Many districts don’t have a writing curriculum for a variety of reasons (one of which could be that they emphasized only reading for the past 10+ years). Therefore, it’s important to make writing a priority in grades K-12 again. Calkins, Ehrenworth, and Lehman state many reasons why making writing instruction a priority is a smart idea (16-17). First, it’s inexpensive to implement a district-wide writing curriculum. “A school needn’t purchase costly supplies for every student. The only expense is that of providing teachers with the professional development and the teaching resources they need to become knowledgeable in this area, both of which are important, as this is an area where few teachers have received any training at all. Second, the authors suggest districts implement a “K-12 spiral curriculum, allowing students to spend considerable time working within informational, opinion, and narrative writing units of study, producing work that matches the work described in the Common Core.” A third reason the authors suggest making writing a priority is because it’s easy to see growth because students “skills develop in a very visible fashion.”
The book reminds us of the importance of teaching writing skills to students across the grades. As good teachers of writing like you know, it’s not all about small moment stories and all-about books in elementary school and essays in high school. “Instead, kindergarteners, like twelfth graders, are given repeated practice in writing their opinions and then supporting those opinions with reasons. Kindergarteners, like twelfth graders, draft, revise, edit, and publish their writing. … The standards suggest it would be hard to achieve this high level of craft and knowledge if students weren’t moving steadily along a spiral curriculum, practicing and extending skills in each type of writing each year.” Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re going to teach every kind of writing every year. After reading the book, it’s easy to imagine sitting down as a faculty and determining what genres of narrative, argument, and opinion writing will be taught each year so that students can learn about various genres of writing and strengthen their skills, in a developmentally appropriate way, year after year.
One thing I’ve heard teachers say, all too often, is that the CCSS mean that “we can only teach non-narrative writing.” Quite frankly, that’s incorrect. Pathways to the Common Core dispels this myth reminding educators that the CCSS calls for an equal balance between composing narrative, argument, and informational texts. If you meet anyone who thinks otherwise, then just hand them Pathways to the Common Core open to page 102! To that end, I want to reference what the authors state at the beginning of the chapter on informational texts.
“Although the Common Core seems to call for a larger percentage of the writing that students do across a day to be informational writing, the truth is that for teachers in grades K-5, the Common Core asks only that one-third of that writing be informational writing. That is, writing in science and social studies and art and computers all adds up to that chunk of informational writing time. And then, for grades 6 and above, the informational writing standards are presented both as ELA standards and within separate standards tailored more to science and social studies teachers. Therefore, English language arts teachers need not throw out their entire curriculum and replace it with all informational writing all the time. For most teachers, this is no referendum” (142-143).
In addition, all of the responsibility for teaching writing shouldn’t fall on the writing teacher’s shoulders. Obviously, it’s up to teachers of writing to teach students the basics of all kinds of writing. However, students should be writing across the school day in all subject areas. “…People who call themselves authors of the CCSS often refer to the writing standards as a shared responsibility within the school that all subject areas support. In addition, the CCSS promote the value of writing often – routinely, they say – including writing for shorter time frames, and in response to specific tasks” (110).
If you’ve had trouble navigating through the CCSS, then Pathways to the Common Core will help you figure out how to make sense of your grade level’s expectations. One very useful suggestion the authors present is to read the standards horizontally across the grade levels, underlining the new words that describe the added work a student at the next grade level will be expected to do (145). Therefore, if you’ve felt overwhelmed by what’s expected of students at your grade level, try reading the standards again with this tip in mind.
There are many routes that educators can take in order to implement the CCSS in all schools. In fact, that’s what makes the CCSS brilliant. The CCSS provides a framework for what will help make students proficient writers at each grade level without prescribing a particular curriculum. Hence, it’s up to educators to use their training and expertise to work with their colleagues to formulate a curriculum help students grow as writers. In order to do this, I think schools must look at what they’re already doing well, examine students’ work on an ongoing basis, infuse the curriculum with best practices and research-based and be willing to revise their curriculum as needed.
Quotations are taken from Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman. Copyright © 2012 by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman. Published by Heinemann, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Used by permission of the publisher.
· Thank you to Heinemann for agreeing to sponsor a giveaway of one copy of Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement.
· To win a copy of the book please leave a comment about this post and/or the CCSS, in the comments section of this post by Thursday, May 3rd at 11:59 p.m. EST. A random drawing will take place on Friday, May 4th and the winner’s name will be announced in a blog post later that day.
· Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address and have my contact at Heinemann send the book out to you. Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).