Coaching the Six Shifts of the Common Core

I bet I’m not the only one who has been thinking a lot about the six shifts of the Common Core. Many districts who I work with have spent significant time studying the six shifts so that they can be confident that their teachers will be adequately prepared to meet the demands of the new standards. Others are just beginning to dip their toes into the challenges that lie ahead.

I’m finding that the Common Core is making my coaching work more focused, purposeful, and student-centered. And since coaching and professional development will focus on these shifts for the next few years, I’ve begun to use the following coaching strategies to connect my work with the shifts within the Reading/Language Arts Standards.

Shift 1—Balancing Informational and Literary Text

I have been working with teachers to survey the types of texts their students are reading independently and within planned units of study. Here are some helpful guidelines from the developers of the Common Core:

  • Elementary recommendations are 50% literary and 50% informational
  • MS recommendations are 40% literary and 60% informational
  • HS recommendations are 30% literary and 70% informational

Shift 2—Knowledge in the Disciplines

This shift presents the opportunity to coach outside the reading and language arts block. In secondary schools, content area teachers will be responsible for standards within English Language Arts (ELA). Elementary teachers will need to infuse reading into the social studies and science blocks. I have found that the Common Core provides the perfect opening to suggest we set a literacy goal in a social studies, science, or even math class.

Shift 3—Staircase of Complexity

Teachers will need support as they teach students to read more complex texts. I have been working with teachers to understand the levels of text that are expected and then set goals for students regarding how they will read and comprehend complex texts using strategies such as; inferring, synthesis, and annotation. Younger students will need strategies for solving unknown words, reading fluently, and comprehending what they read.

Shift 4—Text-Dependent Questions

This shift will require both coaching and professional development that focuses on planning text-dependent questions, strategies for creating rich discussions among students, noting and using text structures to support comprehension, and infusing vocabulary work into authentic reading experiences.

Below are examples of text-dependent questions from the work of Fisher and Frey (2012). I have been helping teachers integrate these types of questions into their reading conferences, guided reading groups, and student discussions.

General UnderstandingWhat was the gist of what you read?
What was the big idea?
What did you learn from the text?
What did you think about the text?
VocabularyWhat unfamiliar words or phrases did you encounter?
What did you do to figure out an unfamiliar word or phrase?
How might you use the context to understand difficult words or phrases?
How might you use the illustrations to understand difficult words or phrases?
How might we figure out an idiom or figurative language?
Text StructureWhat did you notice about how the text is organized?
How do the text features help you understand?
What did you notice about the problem and solution?
Author’s PurposeWhat is the purpose of this text? (inform, entertain, persuade, or explain something)
Why do you think the author chose to write this text?
What is the author’s perspective?
InferencesHow did your thinking progress across the text?
How did your thinking change as your read the text?
In what ways did you predict, or anticipate what might happen next?
What did you learn from the text?


Shift 5—Writing from Sources

For this shift, I take a deeper dive with teachers into the writing that their students are doing. I work with teachers to ensure that they are meeting the recommendations for balancing informational and literary writing and support them as they implement new units that emphasize argumentative writing.

I work with teachers to develop learning targets for the types of writing that will be required by the Common Core. It is also important to help teachers analyze student writing samples to plan instruction. When these two practices are combined, teachers are prepared to design and deliver instruction that is both needs-based and aligned with the Common Core.

Shift 6—Academic Vocabulary

I consider this to be a growth area that will require a lot of support for teachers. We will need to help them understand what is expected in terms of academic vocabulary and what practices might be used to embed vocabulary instruction into daily lesson plans. Many districts are turning to the work of Isabel Beck to support their teachers’ in this area. Her book Bringing Words to Life is a valuable resource for teachers to understand the research and practices for teaching academic vocabulary.

Helpful Resources

Some helpful websites for understanding the Six Shifts are below. I hope these thoughts supported you in your journey towards mastery of the Common Core.

© Diane Sweeney, all rights reserved.

1 thought on “Coaching the Six Shifts of the Common Core”

  1. Hello,
    My name is Vicki Murray and I have just begun my Master’s in Educational Leadership. As part of our course work we had to select a “Capstone” topic of interest and so mine was on “Can Student Centered Instructional Coaching assist reluctant and non-reluctant teachers transition into Common Core?”
    I am having a very difficult time finding many articles on the topic. I purchased your book and now need 4 0r 5 articles on this topic.
    I am an instructional coach this year and have quite a passion for this type of instructional support.
    If you have anything you could pass on, I would be quite grateful.

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