Amidst all the hoopla about Common Core standards, and how to teach the lessons so students are ready for the new assessments, there is a quiet but very significant understanding that underlies all the standards. This key value, which all the standards are designed to achieve, is proficient practice. The standards want the students to be able to “do” something after learning.
Each of the subject area standards – Common Core ELA and Math, and NGSS Science – has outlined what it looks like to have learned. The end result is not passing a test, or achieving some lesson outcome. The real end result is the performance of a practice – sometimes called a process, a proficiency, or a capacity. The framers have avoided the term skill.
In this post, I will identify and summarize the key practices for each subject area. The main point to note is how these practices define an educated person – ostensibly, what we want our students to become. Note also that these practices overlap within the subject area – and between subject areas. This is intentional because a person’s practice makes use of multiple abilities.
Viewing our educational efforts just in terms of these practices is very uplifting. It’s a way to see the big picture, to see how each aspect of a curriculum comes together IN the student. Those who developed these practices have made a major contribution to learning: the practices help us visualize what an educated, literate person is. They take us BEYOND the standards!
The Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMP) “describe varieties of expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should seek to develop in their students.” Here are the eight practices with some of the descriptions of the features of each one. For complete details, see the Introduction to the Common Core Math standards.
Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
- They analyze a problem before attempting to solve it.
- They can explain connections between equations, word problems, tables, graphs, etc.
- They may rely on concrete objects or pictures to understand a problem.
- They check their answers in different ways.
- They understand different approaches.
Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
- They decontextualize – abstracting a situation and showing it symbolically.
- They contextualize – probing for the source of symbols in a problem.
- They develop a habit of representing problems, considering units involved, reflecting on the meaning of quantities, not just how to compute them, and using different properties of operations and objects.
Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
- They use assumptions, definitions, and previous results.
- They analyze by breaking down problems and using counterexamples.
- They justify and communicate their arguments.
- They compare the effectiveness of two arguments and explain flaws if needed.
- They ask useful questions to clarify or improve the arguments.
Model with mathematics.
- They can apply math to solve everyday problems – from writing an addition equation to using a proportion to using geometry or a function.
- They use math to simplify complicated situations, identifying and mapping as needed.
- They interpret math results in the context of a situation, improving the model as needed.
Use appropriate tools strategically.
- They use the right tools – from pencil and paper to rulers, calculators, and software.
- They use technology to help them visualize results and compare predictions with data.
- They use other resources, such as digital content, to pose or solve problems.
Attend to precision.
- They try to use clear definitions in discussions.
- They label units of measure and graphs carefully
Look for and make use of structure.
- They look for patterns – in quantities, shapes, equations, and properties.
- They are able to step back for an overview of a problem and shift perspective.
Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
- They look for general methods and shortcuts for calculations.
- They continually evaluate the reasonableness of each step.
English Language Arts
A portrait of the literate student is given by these practices for ELA. As students advance and master the standards in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language, they should have greater capacity to display the following seven practices. For more details on these seven practices see the Introduction to the ELA Standards.
They demonstrate independence.
- They understand complex texts and convey intricate information.
- They identify a speaker’s key points, ask relevant questions, and build on others’ ideas.
- They have a command of standard English and a good vocabulary.
- They are self-directed learners, using a wide range of resources.
They build strong content knowledge.
- They engage with works of quality.
- They learn new things through research and study.
- They read purposefully and listen attentively.
- They refine and share knowledge through writing and speaking.
They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
- They can adapt their communication as needed.
- They appreciate nuances, such as tone and connotations.
- They can look for different types of evidence in different kinds of text.
They comprehend as well as critique.
- They work to understand what an author or speaker is saying.
- They question an author’s or speaker’s argument and claims.
They value evidence.
- They are able to provide evidence for any oral or written interpretation of text.
- They use relevant evidence to support their points and constructively evaluate others’ evidence.
They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
- They search online efficiently, and integrate what they learn with offline knowledge.
- They can select the most useful tech tools for their purposes.
They come to understand other perspectives and cultures.
- They know school and work are diverse and people must learn to work together.
- They actively learn more about others and can communicate with diverse people.
- They evaluate other points of view critically and constructively.
- They read literature to vicariously experience other times, cultures, and worldviews.
“Engaging in the practice of science helps students understand how scientific knowledge develops; such direct involvement gives them an appreciation of the wide range of approaches that are used to investigate, model, and explain the world.” (NRC Framework, 2012 as quoted in NGSS Appendix F).
The Next Generation Science Standards use eight practices across all grade levels, expecting that students will grow in their capability to use them each year. Practices are what students are expected to do, not what teachers should teach. The NGSS states that “engagement in practices is language intensive and requires students to participate in classroom science discourse.” For details of practices per grade level, see Appendix F.
Asking questions and defining problems.
- They ask questions about what they read, what they observe, and the conclusions they draw.
- For engineering, they ask questions to define the problem and determine the constraints and specifications for its solution.
Developing and using models.
- They use models, such as “pictures”, physical replicas, math representations, analogies, and computer simulations (depending on grade) to represent a system, to develop questions and explanations, to generate data for predictions, and to communicate ideas to others.
- They evaluate and refine models based on evidence from the real world.
Planning and carrying out investigations.
- They conduct investigations to describe a phenomenon or to test a theory or model of how the world works.
- For engineering, they would investigate to find out how to fix or improve a system or compare solutions to a problem.
- They should state the goal of an investigation, predict outcomes, and plan a course of action that will provide the best evidence to support their conclusions.
- They use scientific reasoning and ideas to show why data can be considered evidence.
- Over time, they become more systematic and careful in their methods – both in the laboratory and in field observations.
Analyzing and interpreting data.
- They organize and interpret data through tabulating, graphing, or statistical analysis.
- They improve their ability to interpret data by identifying significant features and patterns, using math to represent relationships between variables, and taking into account sources of errors.
- When possible, they should use digital tools to analyze and interpret data.
Using mathematics and computational thinking.
- They use math to represent physical variables and their relationships, and to make quantitative predictions.
- They also use digital tools to automate calculations, to approximate solutions to problems that cannot be calculated precisely, and to analyze large data sets for pattern, as well as for observing, measuring, recording, and processing data.
- They engage in strategies for organizing and searching data, creating sequences of steps called algorithms, and using and developing new simulations of natural and designed systems.
Constructing explanations and designing solutions.
- They construct their own explanations about the causes of phenomena and apply standard explanations they have learned.
- For engineering, they specify constraints and criteria, develop a design plan, produce and test models or prototypes, select among alternative design features, and refine the design based on the performance of the prototype.
Engaging in argument from evidence.
- They argue for the explanations they construct, defend their interpretations of the data, and advocate for the designs they propose.
- They use argumentation to listen to, compare, and evaluate competing ideas and methods based on their merits.
Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.
- They read, interpret, and produce scientific and technical text.
- They recognize key ideas, identify sources of error or design flaws, distinguish observations from inferences, arguments from explanations, and claims from evidence.
- They use a variety of ways to communicate information, evidence, and ideas, including: tables, diagrams, graphs, models, interactive displays, and equations as well as orally, in writing, and through extended discussions.
These practices describe the educated or literate person who is the end result of the CCSS and NGSS educational process. As I went through each practice, I evaluated how well I could “do” it. I could see elements of each one in me – but I could also see that I had room to grow. What is so encouraging about these practices is that by focusing directly on such outcomes, today’s students will be much better prepared to navigate our world than many of us have been. What we put our attention on grows! These practices give me great hope for the future of our world!