Celina Brennan

Braving the Common Core Waters: Reflection as Our Raft

We, as educators across the United States, are spending precious time this summer reflecting upon the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and our professional practices. Some of us are just now dipping our toes into this new thinking, and others are comfortable wading out a bit further into the water. A number of educators are fully swimming in this transition, some even lifeguarding the waters as they guide others along the currents. And some are feeling completely submerged in the transition, struggling to come up for air.

The largest wave to surf within these waters is the way in which we analyze and tackle these standards. Our initial approach to teaching to these new standards should be less about content and more about the skills and strategies, attitudes, and habits of mind required of our students when they approach new information, especially if we intend to meet the needs of the whole child. In order to be intentional with keeping our students engaged and challenged, as well as ensuring they are healthy, safe, and supported, we must look more deeply within the CCSS.

To familiarize ourselves with these new standards, our gut instinct may be to jump straight into the standards of our particular grade level. But I encourage taking a step back. Instead, begin with the standards for mathematical practices and capacities of literate individuals. The standards for mathematical practices involve precesses and proficiencies valued within mathematics education that stretch our students to diligently problem solve, reason, communicate, and conceptualize. The capacities of literate individuals describe a portrait of students who meet the CCSS, being college and career-ready in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language. Rather than thinking of the practices and capacities as separate entities from one another, consider the perspective they bring when they are valued concurrently. The practices and capacities, coupled together, offer what could be considered a "learner profile" to help us guide our students to become proficient, lifelong learners.

The Learner Profile

Mathematical Practices Capacities of Literate Individuals
  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  4. Model with mathematics.
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  6. Attend to precision.
  7. Look for a make-use of structure.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
  1. Demonstrate independence.
  2. Build strong content knowledge.
  3. Respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
  4. Comprehend, as well as critique.
  5. Value evidence.
  6. Use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
  7. Understand other perspectives and cultures.

Analyzing each of these 15 attributes is a necessary step in understanding the level of expectations demanded by the individual standards within the Common Core. In an even closer analysis, the overlaps among the practices and capacities may stand out, as well as how each may be used in conjunction with one another across content areas and experiences. And in looking even more closely at these characteristics and their explanations, one will also notice that many of the habits of mind are embedded within. As Costa explained in Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind (2008), the habits of mind are the attributes that are displayed when one behaves intelligently. Costa also mentioned that they are seldom performed in isolation, but rather together in various situations. Like the habits of mind, these 15 attributes provide students with a path of action in how to interact with new information, teaching them how to think deeply and produce information rather than reproduce it.

This learner profile guides students in being extremely active learners and thinkers within learning environments, rather than taking on passive roles. The practices and capacities encourage students to be metacognitive about their thinking on a moment-to-moment basis and engage in complex tasks with courage, while offering a guide for intentional and strategic communication to unfold. This profile provides an opportunity for educators to establish an environment that challenges students to think outside the box, while constantly utilizing and critiquing a variety of resources and supportive evidence. As educators, we must be mindful to establish routines that strengthen and support this overall outline. The learner profile has the potential for laying a powerful foundation through which content can be filtered.

Becoming an expert on the practices and capacities involves embodying them within ourselves as educators. Essentially, are we walking the talk? Encompassing these attributes will help us in becoming more intentional in assisting our students in developing these dispositions. It will also help us to become more aware of the aspects of whole child learning environments that need to be enhanced within our own classrooms and schools to support each learner profile.

Reflective Thought and Goal Setting

As we muddle through these waters, reflective thought and future goal setting will become our raft to keep us afloat amid the currents. Here are some reflection questions to begin this thought process:

  • What is my depth of understanding with the practices and capacities?
  • Considering the learner profile, how has my mind-set shifted in regards to teaching and learning within the CCSS?
  • How can I spark conversations about the learner profile with my colleagues?
  • What instructional strategies and aspects can I add to my toolbox to enhance the learner profile within my classroom and school?
  • How will I help my students to become aware of the learner profile?
  • Do I fit the learner profile?
  • What personal goals can I set for myself?

In order to remain effective educators, we must engage in deliberate reflection frequently. As summer winds to an end, this is a time to rejuvenate by gathering our thoughts and developing an intentional plan for personal growth. By utilizing the learner profile and reflective questions above in conjunction with the literature listed below, chart a course for yourself to effectively brave the CCSS waters. Do not jump on the raft by yourself or dive into the waters alone. Gather colleagues and brave these waters together. A collaborative effort will positively affect students in becoming mindful learners while ensuring the needs of the whole child are met.



Bellanca, J., Fogarty, R., & Pete, B. (2012). How to teach thinking skills within the common core. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Costa, A., & Kallick, B. (2008). Learning and leading with habits of mind: 16 essential characteristics for success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Maiers, A. (2012). Classroom habitudes: Teaching habits and attitudes for 21st century learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

O’Connell, S., & SanGiovanni, J. (2013). Putting the practices into action: Implementing the common core standards for mathematical practice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Silver, H., Dewing, R., & Perini, M. (2012). The core six: Essential strategies for achieving excellence with the common core. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Sprenger, M. (2013). Teaching the critical vocabulary of the common core: 55 words that make or break student understanding. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Celina Brennan is a 3/4/5 multi-age teacher at Salnave Elementary School in the Cheney (Wash.) Public Schools district and recipient of Washington State ASCD's 2011 Outstanding Young Educator Award. She is a district leader in literacy and has opened her classroom to educators as a model of differentiated instruction that meets the social, emotional, and academic needs of all learners. Connect with Brennan on the ASCD EDge® social network and on her blog, written with her teaching partner Ann Ottmar.

Comments (1)


August 21, 2013

I hope Common Core is done away with as it was not developed by educators.  I’m glad states are fighting back.  I’m currently heartened to hear a group in Maine is trying to get the Common Core repealed.


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