The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been adopted by 45 states in an effort to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what school age students are expected to learn. Although not with their critics, the standards are designed to be relevant to the real world, and to reflect the knowledge and skills that all students need for success in college and careers. For the last couple of years, local school districts have been diligently working to integrate these standards into all classrooms. The standards use powerful, higher level thinking verbs such as analyze, evaluate, assess, and interpret. Very little emphasis is placed on verbs such as list, describe, and identify. While contemplating these monumental changes at the K-12 level, we have been wondering about the implications of the adoption of the CCSS for higher education. This article will focus on what we believe are a few suggestions for ensuring that when K-12 students are “college and career” ready, we continue to uphold and promote the same kinds of higher level thinking and learning.
I have long pondered a phrase I learned from a mentor: “Witness the struggle.” Frances, my mentor, used the phrase when she talked about working with students in emotional pain. She was referring to those students who sometimes lash out in frustration over missed assignments, family dynamics, or other stressful life issues. As a career educator, I have a deep desire to help students and a strong tendency to offer solutions and suggestions. I want to fix their problems and tell them what to do. The wise words of this phrase offer a more powerful and profound answer to the part of me that thinks I need to rescue students. Its simple urging suggests that I be fully engaged and present, that I use silence to clear a space, and that I guard against telling students what to do. More often than not, students simply need to know that their voices count, that they have been heard, and that who they are matters.