Key Design Principles for Teaching with the Open Access Common Core Collection for Mathematics and English Language Arts

Clarity of Purpose

The purpose of the work in every unit, in every lesson, is abundantly clear. The teacher explains the purpose of a lesson at or near the very beginning of the lesson. Once the class is underway, students are able to tell the teacher exactly what they are working on that day.

By making the purpose clear, students can:

  • Explain what they are working on without hesitation.
  • Explain what they are learning, why they are learning it, and their goals as learners.

Modeling of Learning

Modeling occurs in every lesson to show students how successful learners think. Both teachers and students model learning throughout all units. Although teachers routinely model thought processes, ways of thinking about tasks, and reflections, students also share their thought processes on a regular basis.

Through modeling, students can:

  • Recognize and evaluate different ways of analyzing problems and approaching tasks.
  • Develop metacognitive skills and strategies that can be applied to future learning.
  • Keep the emphasis on learning mathematics and problem solving rather than simply getting to the right answer.

Independent Work

Lessons, regardless of content, provide time for students to work independently—without teacher direction. Independent work does not necessarily imply working alone. Students work individually or in collaborative groups on tasks and activities designed to scaffold their ability to work without continuing direction from the teacher. These opportunities push students to take responsibility for learning new concepts and skills. With time and experience, students develop the ability to work on their own.

Through independent work, students:

  • Are actively engaged in meaningful work throughout a lesson without continual reliance on the teacher for direction.
  • Participate in cognitively demanding, hands-on learning tasks for which they assume responsibility.
  • Use background knowledge and prior work to access new learning.

Focused Learning

Every lesson, every day, regardless of content, includes focused teaching. Focused teaching—teacher prompts, cues, and questions—targets specific student needs. This type of teaching is directed to one student or a small group and is shaped by the teacher’s ongoing assessment of student needs.

With focused teaching, students learn to:

  • Produce work that demonstrates improvement over time toward meeting standards, using feedback from teachers and peers that is specific, constructive, and targeted to standards.
  • Discuss their learning to enhance their own understanding.


In-line teacher prompts for differentiation can play a key role in the personalization of classroom instruction. Instruction is tailored to meet the needs of all learners. For example, the Ways of Thinking routine in a math lesson provides teachers with an important personalization strategy—one that shows there are multiple pathways to understanding the mathematics. As students listen to the reasoning of others, they stretch the boundaries of their thinking and come to understand that they can often access mathematical knowledge in more than one way. Needs of groups such as ELLs, longterm English learners (LTELs), and SWDs are taken into account.

Through personalization, students can:

  • Engage in rigorous learning tasks and activities that match their interests.
  • Work on learning tasks that challenge them to grapple with new content without getting frustrated.

Academic Discourse

Focused, academic conversations are a centerpiece of the educational experience each day. Students must develop the ability to reason aloud clearly, with evidence-based arguments that express a logical point of view. Through academic discourse, students put forth knowledge that is accurate and relevant to the issue under discussion, and they constructively evaluate the use of evidence and the points of view expressed by others.

Students use evidence in ways appropriate to the discipline (for example, proofs in mathematics or data from investigations in science), and they follow established norms of good reasoning. The teacher models the proper use of academic language daily, and students are provided with resources that help them to develop and use academic language properly. Additional support is given to ELLs, LTELs, SWDs, and any students who may struggle with academic vocabulary.

Through academic discourse, students can:

  • Engage in classroom talk that supports knowledge acquisition.
  • Convincingly use evidence to justify their reasoning.
  • Analyze and explain their own way of thinking and the thinking of others.
  • Critique the reasoning of others and construct viable arguments.


It is crucial that students have the opportunity each day to collaborate with their peers, develop and justify academic arguments, and critique the reasoning of others. Students engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (partner, small group, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on relevant topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Through collaboration, students can:

  • Speculate about and analyze the thinking of others.
  • Demonstrate skills and strategies for working collaboratively.
  • Develop a higher level of shared common knowledge and learning.
  • Become members of a productive classroom community and celebrate the progress of the class as a whole.

Continual Formative and Self-Assessment

Every lesson, every day, regardless of content, includes assessment of students’ progress and needs. Assessment can be formal or informal. The crucial point is that teachers collect and record the data from their formative assessments so they can use the information to make decisions for subsequent instruction. Assessment of students’ progress and needs happens continually throughout each lesson. Sometimes this assessment is a formal checkpoint or an end-of-unit assessment, but on most days it will be less formal, conducted through conversation and observation. The system allows teachers to view all assessment information about a student and use it to review their progress and make instructional plans based on those reviews.

With continual self-assessment, students can:

  • Use their notebook and other tools that gather evidence of learning and growth over time.
  • Revise their work based on teacher and peer feedback (written and oral).
  • Confer with teachers and peers about their work.
  • Use rubrics to guide, self-assess, and revise their work and work products.


The last thing that happens in every lesson, every day, regardless of content, is closure. Closure involves revisiting the purpose of the lesson in light of the day’s experience to consolidate learning and prepare students for subsequent instruction. Within a classroom, the teacher leads closure and may quote student work to consolidate the content being learned. For example, the purpose of the lesson is revisited in light of the day’s activity during the Ways of Thinking routine or Summary of the Math tasks. The object is to synthesize and summarize the learning while helping learners store it in their memories in a coherent, retrievable form that they can build on in the future.

With closure, students learn to:

  • Revise their work to meet standards.
  • Use high-level cognitive skills to solve problems, synthesize information, and justify their reasoning.
  • Upgrade their ways of thinking to incorporate thinking with grade-level content.
  • Incorporate speaking and listening skills as a natural outgrowth of lessons.

Understanding the Routines that Promote Deep Learning

Routines are the core of the lesson structure in the Open Access Common Core Course Collection. Teachers use these routines repeatedly, so they become habits for students. In this way, teachers are able to spend less time on classroom management and more time on learning. See the specific routines for mathematics and ELA in the "Understanding the Approach" sections.

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