How to Build the Perfect Common Core PLC: See how this standout district in Deleware uses peer-to-peer collaboration to grease the skids of Common Core integrationCommon Core PLC

By Cameron Pipkin

The power of the PLC has taken center stage in schools over the last few years. By now, it’d be hard to find a teacher who’s not a member of at least one.

But how many of our PLCs are leveraging the power of collaboration to integrate the Common Core? I’m not talking about addressing the Common Core as a frequent agenda item in learning community meetings. I mean PLCs that are built from the ground up with an eye on tackling one thing and one thing only: making sure the Common Core percolates into every aspect of teaching and learning.

For insight on what this kind of Common Core PLC might look like, I’ve taken some portions of an Edivate video transcript that shows how teachers in the Indian River School District in Delaware use collaboration as a driving engine for integrating the Common Core

Edivate Common Core PLC Video Transcript:

Kim Cooper is one of the many Delaware math teachers adapting her current lessons to align with the Common Core Standards. Kim’s PLC uses a continuous improvement cycle that includes frequent PLCs, informal observations, and ongoing , job-embedded professional development to integrate Common Core Standards into each existing lesson plan.

“The lesson that we’re coming up is sorting functions,” says Kim, “so we’ll look at linear functions, exponential functions, and quadratic functions. The kids will have to sort them and be able to prove why they’re each of the different type of functions.”

“[This Common Core] PLC consists of myself—I’m an 8th grade math teacher—the other 8th grade math teacher on the opposite team, an 8th grade special ed. teacher, and then our school’s math instructional coach.”

Kim’s math instructional coach, Mellissa Kansak, and her principal, LouAnn Hudson, play important roles in Kim’s teacher effectiveness cycle. The two contribute to her PLC meetings, provide her with job-embedded professional development, and assist her in lesson delivery.

At the Pre-observation Common Core PLC, Kim’s team uses the Delaware state curriculum crosswalks to determine where the Common Core matches up with the existing curriculum. In their meeting today, Kim’s instructional coach and Principal Hudson are helping enrich one of Kim’s existing lesson plans with Common Core Standards 1, 2, and 3 from the Functions domain in 8th grade: “Define, evaluate, and compare functions”

“For the lesson plan in question, our current standards really matched up,” says Kim. “A big difference, though, was that a lot of the Common Core was taught in grades later than we’re teaching it now, so we’re pushing it down and then trying to fill in the gaps. 

One example of a change in the standards in this particular lesson is that Common Core focuses on linear and nonlinear equations, while in-depth coverage of quadratics is pushed to high school. Because of this learning gap, the Common Core PLC must re-examine the “essential question,” or main learning objective, for the lesson.

“The essential question that’s associated with this is what information is needed to determine if a function is linear, quadratic, or exponential,” explains Kim’s math instructional coach, Mellissa Kansak. “So instead of focusing on quadratic we focused on linear vs. non-linear and then maybe look at some patterns between the two.

Instead of covering quadratic functions in-depth, the PLC decides to introduce the vocabulary for high school. Having aligned the essential question to what the Common Core specified, they then planned the activator, or warm-up activity, for the lesson.

“I had the idea,” says Kim, “that instead of going to the book like I usually do in this lesson, I’d write the equations on cards and have the kids sort them.”

The Common Core PLC then plans the instructional activity that comprises the main chunk of the lesson and discusses the assessment of learning. Kim decides to have students draw a T-chart on which they list and identify the characteristics of linear, exponential, and quadratic functions. Kim’s lesson plan was ready to go. The PLC gives everything a final once-over before Kim is ready to use the lesson in her classroom.

“Just to go over the lesson: you’re going to look at patterns and non-linears after your activators and you’re going to re-sort,” Mellissa Kansak confirms. “Your class will do a t-chart, and you’re going to do some kind of whip-round or some type of quick check activity, and then they’re going to go back to the linear and re-sort.”

After the pre-observation, PLC, Kim explains how her leaders helped her make the instructional shift:

“The PLC took the focus of the original lesson from our curriculum and kind of softened the focus a little bit,” she explains, “so the material that was originally there we’ve pushed up to the 9 to 12 strand. So we’re able to focus more now on reviewing what the children have learned and extending their knowledge of linear functions.

When Kim gives this lesson in her classroom, members of her PLC will observe and assist where necessary. After the lesson, the PLC will regroup and discuss how everything went.

End of Edivate Transcript – View the video in Edivate or watch the video online

Kim and her leaders do a great job here, don’t they?

One thing that stood out to me is how well-organized and in-depth their work is, with the Common Core PLC built around the observation process. This is more than just teachers getting together discussing best practices. It’s teacher and leaders diving into the details of curriculum and instructional design together, and then following up in the classroom and in a subsequent PLC meeting.

It’s a pretty complex process, but if we’re honest, isn’t the Common Core itself complex? How can we expect to be truly successful if the measures we take to integrate it aren’t equally as robust.

I’d love hear what you think about how this PLC was designed, and how they executed the integration of their math lesson. Please chime in in the comment section.

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