Linked Learning: A Critical Pathway for Transitioning to the Common Core

The following article appeared in WCCUSD’s June Monthly Common Core Reporter newsletter and describes the Common Core and Linked Learning connection as well as describes some of the great work I have had the honor to be a part of.

Before the common standards were written, Linked Learning was taking hold as an innovative strategy for high school reform in California through the California Linked Learning District Initiative. This initiative supports nine districts, including WCCUSD, to develop systems of high-quality, career-themed pathways that prepare students to be college and career ready at high school graduation. In Linked Learning classrooms students can be seen engaging in collaborative and complex outcome-based integrated projects with authentic industry themes.

Linked Learning pathways have four main components:

  1. College-prep academic core that emphasizes real world application
  2. Technical core of four or more courses that meet industry standards
  3. Work-based learning
  4. Student supports including academic and social and emotional support and college and career guidance counseling

WCCUSD’s is proud to support 22 Linked Learning pathway programs including 19 California Partnership Academies (CPA) at the high school level. All 6 of WCCUSD’s high schools house at least one CPA with industry themes such as Health, Engineering, Multi-Media, Creative, Visual and Performing Arts, Tourism and Hospitality, Information Technology and Law and Justice.

When WCCUSD Pathway teachers were introduced to the ELA Common Core Standards during last summer’s WCCUSD Linked Learning Summer Institute, they knew right away that they were in the driver’s seat already! Linked Learning and Common Core are complimentary. Given their shared emphasis on real-world applications of knowledge and skills, linked learning is the ideal “how” to the “what” of the Common Core. Central to both the Common Core and Linked Learning is the belief that students experience deep learning when they have multiple opportunities to apply content and higher order analysis skills while solving real world problems. The collaborative structure of pathway teams lends itself to Common Core implementation and the Common Core focus on performance tasks is something pathway teachers have been engaged in for quite some time.  Pathway teachers were excited to align their existing outcomes, rubrics and integrated projects to the Common Core and to utilize the Core for their planning moving forward. It was also clear to teachers that even as strong as the Linked Learning connections to Common Core are, we have work to do to ensure that all WCCUSD students are college and career ready as seniors.

As we have been learning during our Awareness Phase, the ELA Common Core requires shifts in how we do business.

Big Shifts of ELA Common Core:

  1. Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction
  2. Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational
  3. Regular practice with complex text and its academic language

In addition to the big shifts overall, teachers who are not English teachers learned that the new framework now includes reading and writing standards, Grades 6-12 Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects. This emphasis on a shared responsibility for literacy is again a natural fit for for Linked Learning interdisciplinary teams but requires teachers to build their instructional muscles in new ways to meet the heavy lift of the ELA Common Core. But where to start?

David Conley wrote in his book, College Knowledge,  “If we could institute only one change to make students more college ready, it should be to increase the amount and quality of writing students are expected to produce.”  Heeding Conley’s advice combined with the standards’ special emphasis on student’s ability to write sound arguments, Linked Learning professional development supported teachers to critically engage with the key features of and instructional shifts of the ELA Common Core while going deep with Writing Standard 1: write arguments to support claims. Our “adopt a standard” approach became a consistent strand for our professional development throughout the school year building on the work from the summer.

Initially teacher teams revised Integrated Projects to align more closely with Common Core by rewriting or creating new performance tasks using a Common Core aligned template.

As the school year progressed teachers re-thought warm ups to include more argumentative writing and generally required writing more frequently with more analysis required. Later in the year, teachers analyzed student work with colleagues to identify patterns for instruction and aligned instructional strategies to address what they saw.

The culminating event that showcased the fruits of our labor was the WCCUSD Linked Learning May Exhibition and Residency where leaders from other Linked Learning Districts came to see what we have been up to. We saw a Law academy leveraging summary writing as a prerequisite for argumentation, a Health Academy student articulately describing the argumentative essays he had written in preparation for college, Information Technology students read tech articles and expressed their opinions about the latest trends. The results were impressive.

WCCUSD’s commitment to Linked Learning will take us a long way on our long road to full Common Core implementation at the high school level. Linked Learning’s authentic, industry aligned practices are what our students need to be college and career ready in the 21st century. With a strong commitment to a shared responsibility for literacy and ongoing professional development, we are in a good place to continue to learn, grow, and help students succeed.

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