As the Common Core began its rise in the consciousness of American public education, various hopes and aspirations rose with it. Perhaps, every student in the country could grow with the same content and skills as their focus in the classroom. Maybe, the differences that made some states stronger could spread across the entire county. And just maybe, a common assessment and unit of study could be created from various viewpoints that originate from states a thousand miles apart.
It’s important to review this as a frame of reference for the birth of the Common Assignment Study. Without the Common Core, projects like this would be a mess to try to coordinate. The overall project aims to help teachers
“engage with, contribute to, and learn from their peers.” – CommonAssignment.org
An environment of collaboration can be difficult to cultivate; however, the final goal is to improve student achievement and no teacher disagrees with that motivation.
Phase 1: Initialization
Our journey started in a conference room in Seattle, Washington last July. As a member of the social studies high school team, we began with discussions of topics, when we teach them, and some general outlines of how we teach them. Although the conversations started without a clear idea of what the end product might look like, it helped everyone at the table get to know how the teachers in the room approached content in their classroom. Approaches varied, but the commonalities were striking.
After selecting a topic, we moved on to defining the central questions and goals for the unit. Within social studies, no common content standards exist across states. Colorado approaches the content with a completely different mindset than that of Kentucky; one focuses on skills related to content, where the other emphasizes content knowledge and historical information. This dichotomy created a schism that needed bridged before forward progress could be made. This conversation proved to be a sticking point throughout the process, but the initial discussions led to an enrichment of the final product. Strong collaboration made it work, and made it work well. In that process, all the credit must go to the teachers at the table. All were willing to look at their content through a different lens, open to creating a superior unit that would enhance their students’ learning. Without that buy-in, the Common Assignment Study would have ended in a failure.
From that point, we worked through and discussed how we could incorporate engaging activities that were proven in the classroom and develop the proper assessments to measure student growth as they stretch towards the final writing piece. Using LDC (Literacy Design Collaborative) as the baked-in final assessment, the social studies team worked to create a unit with logical benchmarks throughout the unit, with activities that fit the skills required and the content needed to respond with logical answers. LDC skills were added to ensure that students had the tools necessary to create a quality written product.
The team left Seattle exhausted, but with an instructional unit that could be implemented into the classroom.