Sometimes I think naysayers say “nay” to everything. Like they actively seek out things with which they disagree instead of even attempting to find the minutest point of agreement. Maybe it’s easier to disregard arguments in their entirety than it is to admit there might be even trace amounts of value in them.
Take, for example, a topic such as the common core (just to pull an arbitrary idea out of the air–ha). It’s easier for a naysayer to pinpoint all the pitfalls with the standards than it is to recognize the value in them. It’s easier to criticize change than it is to adapt to it. And it’s much easier to ignore paradigm shifts when we chalk them up to “fads” and “trends” than it is to be openminded and take risks in our practice.
A lot of the criticisms I hear about the CCSS stem from misinformation, but I think calling it “misinformation” is almost too harsh because really, we’re all misinformed. There aren’t any “common core experts” at this point; there are just a lot of people building the plane while we fly it. No one is an expert–so, on some level, we’re all learning as we go. That’s why I blog. I am by NO MEANS an expert in common core, curriculum, literacy, etc., but I’m vocal about my own learning and my own understanding as I shape my own definition of the standards and what they mean. I make my learning public because I value debate and deeply appreciate the process of learning, unlearning, and relearning. How do I grow if what I accept as truth goes unchallenged?
With that in mind, I thought I’d do a little myth/my understandings of the common core.
Myth: Putting “provide evidence for your answer” at the end of a question makes it text-dependent.
My Understanding: Ewww….This is a pitfall I’ve seen a lot. I’m not sure if this is more a personal pet peeve or a real issue, but I am leery of textbook publishers encouraging this kind of behavior. Asking the same old mundane questions (Ex. “Where did the narrator go?”) and throwing the “provide evidence” disclaimer at the end does not make the question any less mundane, nor does it make it any more text-dependent. Instead, up the ante of those mundane questions and require text support implicitly (Ex. “How does the narrator’s trip to the store further develop the central idea of the piece?”).
And speaking of text-dependent questions….Myth: All text-dependent questions are low-level and require little critical thinking.
My Understanding: Not true. Text-dependent questions that are of good quality will require much more critical thinking. Here are a few generic examples:
- Using three specific supporting sentences from the piece, show how the author advances his argument.
- How does the analogy contribute to the overall tone of the piece?
- Why does the author use figurative language in the opening section?
- What is the impact of the author’s use of the work “hatred” in paragraph 2? How might the meaning of the piece change if she had said “dislike” instead?
Myth: So…I don’t ask good questions, I don’t have high standards of my students, I don’t pick hard enough books, my students aren’t prepared for college or careers. Basically, you’re just saying I’m an awful teacher
My Understanding: This is very personal to me because it’s hard to say “this isn’t working” and “what we’re doing isn’t working,” when it inherently implies our teachers are bad. I do not think teachers are bad. I don’t think any teacher goes into this occupation with the intention of graduating students who aren’t prepared for the life ahead of them. A little backstory….I was one of “those” kids. Straight A’s all the way through school. I played school very well. Never studied. Took all honors English classes and learned how to fake my way through many novels. School was easy for me. But when I got to college, I fell flat on my face. I, Miss Honors Diploma, did not know how to learn. I nearly FAILED OUT my first semester at my first college. Was this the fault of my teachers?? No. By all measures, I was the perfect student. Observe me in class? I could regurgitate with the best of them. I could even spit out the info seven different ways to show you how well I knew it. Grade my essay? I’d probably get an A or B, but I most definitely wrote it the day before it was due. Quiz me? I’ll pass. Standardized test me? I’ll pass that one, too. By all measures, I was a strong student. My teachers were excellent under the system we had in place. Much like our teachers today are good under the system we have in place. But somehow, that system is failing some of our students (like myself). We are missing something. New standards and assessments and teaching methodologies aren’t attacks on teachers, they are like a fill-up in that vehicle of instruction. We need to try something new to address a deficiency. Our teachers are wonderful–it’s the system that needs revamped.
Myth: We’re supposed to teach using the close reading style all the time. How boring!!
My Understanding: First, I will agree with the boring part. If we were being told to teach in one method all the time it would be incredibly boring, but 1) we’re not being told how to teach, and 2) none of the suggested instructional methods are suggested for use 100% of the time. In that now infamous video of David Coleman’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” lesson, he explicitly says it is one method for reading instruction and that teachers may use any number of methods to teach reading. What if you sprinkled a few close reading experiences for kids in each of your units from now until the end of the school year just to dabble in the methodology a bit? No one is asking for a total overhaul of literacy instruction, but the intent of the standards is to hold students more accountable for digging deeper into texts, teaching them to uncover the mysteries of pieces without us spoon feeding them. A carefully planned and guided close reading could be exciting for some students (my high school self included).
Myth: English teachers have to give up literature to meet the informational text to literature ration.
My Understanding: No. Simply not true. The suggestions for NF/F are throughout a student’s day in all subjects.
Myth: A textbook/resource/tool/program/insert-other-item-here that says it is common core aligned probably is common core aligned.
My Understanding: No. We have got to be more critical of all the “common core” junk floating around. Way too many companies, people, organizations are professing their alignment to the common core, and they are simply not aligned. Look with a very skeptical eye at anything purporting alignment right now–as I said before, there are no experts with the new standards yet. Making a very costly and uninformed adoption decision before companies have really spent time truly revising and not just regurgitating their cud in a new, prettier package, would be a mistake for schools. (That was an awful image, sorry!) Remember, there is a big difference between aligning to the wording of the standards and the intent of the standards. Take a year to learn about the new standards before making any decisions–maybe start with those Publisher’s Criteria available online for grades K-2 and 3-12. Until you know what questions to ask, I wouldn’t advise jumping in to new purchases.
Myth: Use the resources to guide curriculum development; start with what you have and design your curriculum around that.
My Understanding: Again, not sure if this is a myth or just my own idiosyncrasy, but I believe in starting with the plan for learning before looking at what textbooks dictate to you. Too often when we start thinking about the overall sequence of a course we start with the textbook in mind. It’s easier and more comfortable for us to trust publishing companies than it is for us to trust ourselves. It’s easier to plan to teach a standard in January because “that’s when I get to that chapter in the book” than it is to break the standard into learning targets, carefully map them throughout the year, and search for and compile texts to support that learning. Going back to my last myth comment, we have to stop putting full faith into our textbooks and be more critical of them. I hear a lot of teachers say they use the text as a support for their class instead of the guide, which is great! …..But then, I ask, why do we spend so much on textbooks that are superfluous when we could find much better ways to use that money in our financially strapped schools?
Myth: We should just wait until the state/government/feds/those people tell us what to do in our classrooms and how we should teach.
My Understanding: No. I see what’s happening in education as a grand opportunity for teachers to prevail. As always, that could be my naivety, but there’s a nice opening for educators to do what they need to do with the standards to make them work at local levels and come out on top. I see more value in being ahead of the curve, being a part of the “plane building team”, being a leader, than I do in waiting on the tarmac for everyone else to do the work. There’s a WHOLE LOT of work going on in standards development and clarification (the beginning–think Student Achievement Partners, PD sessions, supplements to the supplements of the standards themselves); there’s a WHOLE LOT of work going on in assessment (the end–think PARCC, OPAPP, Smarter Balanced); there is not, however, much work going on in the way of instructional implementation on a grand scale (yes, there’s a lot of PD out there, but no one way). This leaves a niche for teachers at the local level, which is great because teachers are the experts of their classroom instruction. So no, we shouldn’t wait until the uninformed dictate to us, we should learn as we go and rebuild our system at the local level.
Myth: None of this is going to happen. PARCC is going away. The standards are going to go away. Once the governor in Ohio/Indiana/New York/insert-state-of-relevance-here is out of office, all of this will be overturned.
My Understanding: There is way too much local, state, and federal money invested in the common core and new assessments for it to not happen. And besides that….aren’t there some things happening in education right now that are changes for the better? If 41% of entering college freshmen in Ohio have to take remedial courses, can’t we just admit something isn’t quite right? Is there nothing about the new standards/assessments that if of even the tiniest value?
Myth: We’ll be doing all this work again in 5 years when everything changes again.
My Understanding: Maybe. I would anticipate lots of revising in the future, but as I’ve said before anything worth doing is worth revising.
Myth: The Common Core won’t change education.
My Understanding: Hey! There’s some truth to this one. The standards by themselves won’t change education. Heck, you could teach for decades and never even look at standards (should your administrator permit it!). Standards do nothing without complementary changes to instruction. In education, standards are like the road we drive on but instruction is the car. We need the vehicle and the road to go in the same direction, together, in order to reach a destination.