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Uncommon Core

Uncommon Core
Where the Authors of the Standards Go Wrong About Instruction-and How You Can Get It Right

Foreword by Grant Wiggins

Additional resources:

April 2014 | 224 pages | Corwin

Let’s face it, weak rivets notwithstanding, the Titanic wouldn’t have sunk if the iceberg had been spotted in time. And let’s face it, the CCSS won’t be classroom-worthy unless practitioners chart our course. Depend on Michael Smith, Deborah Appleman, and Jeff Wilhelm to help you navigate through some potentially treacherous waters.

Uncommon Core puts us on high-alert about some outright dangerous misunderstandings looming around so-called  “standards-aligned” instruction, then shows us how to steer past them—all in service of meeting the real intent of the Common Core. Smith, Appleman, and Wilhelm counter with teaching suggestions that are true to the research and true to our students, including how:

  • Reader-based approaches can complement text-based ones
  • Prereading activities can help students meet the strategic and conceptual demands texts place on them
  • Strategy instruction can result in a careful and critical analysis of individual texts while providing transferable understandings
  • Inquiry units around essential questions can generate meaningful conversation and higher-order thinking about those texts
  • Selection criteria that consider interpretive complexity can take us so much farther than those that consider textual complexity alone

Given the number of strategies, lesson ideas, and activities in the book, Uncommon Core is really less about the standards and more about timeless, excellent teaching and how to use it like never before to meet the Core ideals. Let’s put instruction where it belongs: back in the hands of the experts.

“Finally! A book with more light than heat on the issue of standards and their implications for learning.”
Coauthor of Understanding by Design

Foreword by Grant Wiggins
Chapter 1. The Promise and the Peril of the Common Core State Standards
What's to Like About the CCSS

What's to Worry About

What the Standards Leave Out

Chapter 2. Old Wine in Broken Bottles: The Common Core State Standards and "Zombie New Criticism"
A Lesson From the Classroom

Where the Authors of the Standards Go Wrong About Connecting Texts With Lived Experience

How You Can Get It Right

Sticking With the Standards (Not With the Instructional Mandates That Showed Up Later)

Chapter 3. Using the Most Powerful Resource We Have for Teaching Students Something New: The Case for Background Knowledge
Where the Authors of the Standards Go Wrong About Pre-Reading Instruction

Why It Matters

Preparing Students to Comprehend

How You Can Get It Right: Five Strategies That Connect Students With Critical Concepts

Moving Students to Independence

Chapter 4. Teaching for Transfer: Why Students Need to Learn How to Attend to Any Text
Where the Authors of the Standards Go Wrong About Closed-Ended, Text-Based Questions

Why It Matters

How You Can Get It Right: Six Strategies That Increase Comprehension and Independence

Moving Students to Independence

Chapter 5. No Text Is an Island: How to Get Students Farther With Text-by-Text Sequencing
Where the Authors of the Standards Go Wrong About Text-to-Text Connections

Why It Matters

How You Can Get It Right: Three Strategies for Developing Knowledge Across Texts

Chapter 6. Aiming for Complex Interpretation: How to Be Street Smart About Choosing Complex Texts
Where Interpretations of the Standards Get It Wrong

Three Ways to Choose the Right Books for Your Kids

Chapter 7. Putting Our Money Where Our Mouths Are: Our Unit for Teaching "Letter From Birmingham Jail"
David Coleman on King's "Letter"

An Alternative Approach: Our Unit for Teaching the "Letter"

A Sample Unit: “Letter From Birmingham Jail”

A Summary of This Unit's Approaches

Principles of Practice

Accountability and Assessments

Final Thoughts



“This book represents what we should all be doing with the CCSS—making suggestions for modifying them so that they stand a chance of achieving the goals behind them. Unless the CCSS are a living document that can be shaped and reshaped by the educators and students who are held accountable to them, they will fail.  Read this book to help them succeed.”

P. David Pearson, Professor of the Graduate School of Education
University of California, Berkeley

“Finally! A book with more light than heat on the issue of standards and their implications for learning. This is a well-argued, even-handed, and clear-headed look at the need to distinguish the value of the Common Core Standards from some of the questionable views of teaching and learning that standards writers and promoters have been expressing. . . . Every teacher of reading, supervisor, and district leader will find value in this text.” 

Grant Wiggins, Coauthor of Understanding by Design

“Talk about overdue! This book is an urgently needed corrective to the oversights, overreaches, and idiosyncratic weirdness of the Common Core Standards and what their authors say about how they should be taught. These authors aren’t standards-bashing; they stipulate that the Common Core has ‘the capacity to provide a real opportunity for progressive change.’ . . . Thank goodness three of our best teacher-thinkers have come forward to speak truth to Zombie literacy. “

Harvey "Smokey" Daniels, Coauthor of The Best-Kept Teaching Secret

“Michael Smith, Deborah Appleman, and Jeff Wilhelm seek to salvage the Common Core State Standards from both their friends and their enemies. On the one hand, they systematically debunk the destructive pedagogy that many friends of the Standards have advocated. . . . On the other hand, they demonstrate to those who would reject the standards how they can enrich good practice as it has emerged from the last thirty years of research in reading and writing instruction. Readable, classroom friendly, and realistic, Uncommon Core is a must read for everyone struggling with the current wave of curriculum reform.”

Arthur Applebee, Distinguished Professor & Director
Center on English Learning & Achievement, University at Albany

“Prompted primarily by David Coleman's ill-informed interpretation of the instructional implications of the CCSS, Smith, Appleman, and Wilhelm have written an important and compelling book describing the kinds of instruction that will help teachers and students actually achieve the goals of the Common Core. With lucid descriptions and a host of classroom-tested examples, the authors demonstrate ‘Where the Authors of the Standards Go Wrong About Instruction and How You Can Get It Right.’”

Michael F. Graves, Emeritus
University of Minnesota
Key features
  • Challenges the narrow focus on meaning resulting from the overuse of text-dependent questions
  • Presents activities that motivate and educate students while engaging them in considering questions of significance, interpretation, and context through the use of critical reading strategies
  • Explains how an emphasis on text-dependent questions of the sort Coleman advocates privileges literal meaning at the expense of interpretive significance and also oversimplifies the act of reading
  • Demonstrates how reading literature is an activity based on knowledge of conventions and how authors expect readers to apply what they know from their previous reading experience.
  • Shares activities that will help students gain conscious control over important interpretive conventions--all while they grapple with the specific demands of particular texts.
  • Encourages the use of pre-reading activities and highlights the research on the importance of developing and/or instantiating appropriate schema in order to improve a reader's comprehension.
  • Demonstrates how some of our most favored strategies such as pre-reading, prediction, using prior knowledge, and making personal connections all have the power to aid in the understanding and appreciation of all students

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ISBN: 9781483333533

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