Yet day after day, they came to Jenny’s classroom willing to try their hand at rhyming couplets and understanding why Shakespeare might be using them; to read passages closely to determine whether Hamlet and other characters were maintaining or wavering in their resolve; to watch Daniel Beaty’s extraordinary performance of “Knock, Knock,” and to respond to it with their own writing, either by drawing connections to Hamlet’s relationship with his late father or to write their own poems in his voice; to learn some theatre moves for understanding scripts so they could get the play on its feet.
While O'Donnell notes that they planned this unit "with the CCSS in mind," I'd also note that the connection between the grade 11-12 literacy standards and those activities is a bit of a stretch in every case. In the grand, global scheme of things this is extra-ordinary. These are tasks which should and would hit most language arts standards around the world dead center. And to be clear, I understand this because the first draft of the CCSS ELA standards were internationally benchmarked, and actually made it easy to check (this has, of course, subsequently been removed from the CCSS site and more recent versions have not been benchmarked).
If a school or teacher has got good value-added scores, they'll be able to do this kind of thing, if not, someone will be coming around to point out that their tasks aren't well aligned with the standards and if they want to keep their job/school open, they'd better make some changes.
to watch Daniel Beaty’s extraordinary performance of “Knock, Knock,” and to respond to it with their own writing, either by drawing connections to Hamlet’s relationship with his late father or to write their own poems in his voice
is not quite aligned with:
Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text.
Part of me is pretty darn convinced that it involves our subversive intent going in to the unit to push back against some of the ways we already know the CCSS will be used to justify and perpetuate traditional practice. Susan Ohanian, for one, is very, very afraid. I think the fear is to some extent justified. But I also think that if all we do is rail against the standards, we’re missing opportunities to exercise our own agency as educators to meet them in ways that stay true to what we know. The alternative is to heighten our cynicism quotient so high that we might leave the profession altogether, and that would be shame.
I'd guess the part that is different and useful is a little more emphasis on the text itself. I do think that the CCSS is responding to some imbalances in the ELA curriculum (but way, way oversteering).
This comment does get to one of the central issues in CCSS adoption. Individual teachers pretty much have to try to make lemonade, as they've always done. The deep failure has been institutional, the professional organizations, the unions, the state administrations, the universities, etc.