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Upon finishing a novel this week, two of my 9th grade students asked if I could organize an end-of-unit discussion or debate in addition to the literary essay I had to assign as the unit’s common summative assessment since there is still “so much to talk about.”

My response? “Sure.” My rationale? Common Core State Standards.

I often read articles by high school English teachers who say that Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts emphasize technical skills over an appreciation for literature and the wisdom it can instill in students. Although I agree that the Common Core-aligned assessments will be centered around the skills themselves, why couldn’t a high school student have the opportunity for engagement in literature (or non-fiction or writing or language or speaking, all of which many of these articles fail to mention), especially if teachers continue making it a priority to teach English curriculum in a meaningful way?

My school district is fortunate that one of our new superintendent’s main drives in education is English; he is not only passionate about students knowing how to read but also enjoying the reading process itself. Since his arrival, an English centralized committee, comprised of English teachers from all high schools and middle schools in the district, has been collaborating to yield meaningful curriculum, focused on Common Core.

Using the standards, as well as the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators units provided by Oakland Schools as a guide, the committee is working toward making anchor text selections and creating common end-of-unit, summative assessments. Once these are established, the goal is that all English teachers will have a choice as far as the execution of daily lessons is concerned. In other words, since I taught the current anchor text and assigned the required literary essay this trimester, I have the flexibility to hold a debate or a discussion with my Honors English 9 students as long as Common Core are met.

I realize that many teachers will not be given the same opportunity for district-wide collaboration or even flexibility within the curriculum, but that does not mean this thoughtful and purposeful planning cannot happen in individual classrooms. As English teachers, we all need to keep in mind that Common Core are standards, not curriculum. In other words, we have been given the opportunity create to curriculum to meet these standards, so our students are not only “college and career ready” but have also been given a high school experience that did not jeopardize dreams of pursuing English as a major (or hey, maybe even a minor).

Creating curriculum around Common Core has forced me to be more thoughtful and purposeful than I have ever been as a teacher, which has helped me to not only better communicate with parents and students but also with administrators when it comes down to measurement tools during evaluations. We cannot let this change to Common Core amount to “an alphabet soup of bureaucratic expectations” and “soul-less instruction” that some in our field say it has become; we can do better.

Danielle Alexander is an English and journalism teacher at North Farmington High School, a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and an America Achieves Michigan Educator Voice Fellow.

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