As we prepare for the Common Core, new assessments, and new evaluation systems, I often wonder are we going about this the wrong way. The more I hear people describe our current status prior to the implementation of all of these changes, the more I begin to hope we are not making the wrong choices.
There are two analogies related to all of these changes that I have heard that make me laugh and cringe at the same time. The first analogy relates our preparation for new testing to the movie, Speed. You know the scene where there is a bomb on the bus and they send a second bus next to it to transport the people off. The analogy that someone made in my district is that we are on the first bus circling around waiting to transported to safety. We can’t get off yet because we still have our current testing. While we are circling, the other bus is analogous to the preparation waiting for that moment when the first bus unloads and the new tests begin. Hopefully, there are no casualties like the movie. Hopefully, we all get transported safely off the old testing bus onto the new Common Core based assessment one.
The second analogy relates the new teacher evaluation system to building a plane in flight. As I write this, teachers are piloting teacher evaluation systems that will go into effect next year. In many cases, several components of these systems need more than a year of piloting. We should not be rating a teacher’s success with a system that still needs to be tweaked or changed as we go. For example, how can you expect teachers to be evaluated on a system that uses the Danielson Framework when they have not been properly trained on how it defines good teaching? In our district, teachers are writing student learning objectives to evaluate student growth. The pilot teachers are testing out these SLOs this year, but there is no guarantee that these are actually effective tools for evaluating student growth and teacher success.
My question is “Why rush?”. If we are to keep to the promise that the Common Core and the new evaluation systems are going to create stronger students and more effective teachers, then we should be taking our steps carefully to make sure that these changes are lasting and meaningful rather than just another phase in the swing of the education pendulum.
The Standards for Mathematical Practice are eight simple descriptions of active learners in the mathematics classroom. Essentially, they are the habits of student mathematicians.
1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
4. Model with mathematics.
5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
6. Attend to precision.
7. Look for and make use of structure.
8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
My favorite, and the most important in my mind, is number one on the list. Getting students to make sense of a problem and persevere is half the battle. If a teacher can get students to approach a problem with an open mind and a commitment to solving it, the other practices will fall in place. The biggest challenge and maybe the biggest strength of the Common Core is the push to get students to persevere in problem solving.
So often, students want to know the procedure or list of steps in solving a problem. Their one and only goal is to get the right answer. They don’t appreciate that there is not always one way to get to the correct answer.
What would it be like if students didn’t view math as a list of steps? What if mathematics was not viewed as a one way street that you follow from point A to B? How would students discuss problems if they viewed math as a box of tools that they can use in multiple ways to solve a variety of problems? I already try to foster these ideas in my classroom, but it can be difficult when students have been through years of “this is how you get the right answer.”
My daughter is in kindergarten this year. I am hopeful that by the time she is old enough to be a student in my algebra class, she and her classmates will be those “student mathematicians” that the Common Core promises. Hopefully, they will thrive from solving problems in creative ways.
I am fortunate to teach in a school and a district where the Common Core and PARCC assessments have been the topic of discussion for a while. I think I have a pretty strong understanding of the standards and the assessments. I wonder if other teachers feel they have the same understanding.
As we make the transition to the Common Core, my main concern is how we are going to get from point A, the standards, to point B, the assessments. At point A, we are discussing the content standards and the Standards for Mathematical Practice. We look at domains and clusters, and try to make sense of what that means for our current courses. From the perspective of point B, we preview a few released prototypes of a test that is supposed to be much different than our current assessments. The missing part, which is most important to me, is what is going on between those two points. What is instruction going to look and sound like as we take the standards and implement them to prepare our students to demonstrate their understanding on these new assessments?
When I ask this question, I often get the general answers like students will be problem-solving, applying the mathematical practices, writing and critiquing arguments, reading more non fiction, etc. What I am really looking for is how does all of this translate to daily instruction and how do teachers get students to transition to being more active and curious learners, who can take on a new style of assessment. How do we take our current style of teaching and our current content and adapt it to reach the new expectations?
We can easily take the Common Core and incorporate it into our language and curriculum guides, but the challenge is making it real and alive in classrooms. I wish we were moving from point A to point B with more discussion of happens in between. If field testing is around the corner, I hope we begin to have those discussions sooner than later. For some teachers and students, the new way of thinking may be a difficult concept to make reality.
Every year my seventh grade class reads and studies Robin Hood. Here in rural Ohio, there are many bow hunters, so it connects with many of the students. As supplemental material I also show the BBC series from 2006 which appeals to both the guys (for action) and the girls (for the romance and Jonas Armstrong). There are lots of good Social Studies issues addressed such as crusades, British monarchies, and dark ages injustices. It is one of my students’ favorite units. This year as we read, I am also writing my next Teacher’s Guide for Robin Hood and the Common Core.
Robin Hood brings up many issues of critical thinking. I ask students to make judgments on Robin’s actions. Is stealing ever ok? Can a main character be a protagonist even if he breaks the law? What are the proper channels to take if there is a social injustice?
We then discuss, “Could or should Robin Hood exist today?”
This is deep thinking and reasoning for 12 year olds.
During one of our discussion, a couple students began comparing Robin Hood to Katniss from Hunger Games. How BRILLIANT! I had never even made the connection. She breaks laws. She shots a bow. There is a struggle between poor people and rich/powerful elite.
Independent thinking at its finest! I threw out a discussion question and students came up with new answers.
That’s what this creative thinking, project-based learning, out-side-the-box, new wave of education is looking for. Can we get students to develop new answers? Are students going to be able to meet challenges of a tomorrow that we can’t even imagine?
I like to think Robin Hood (and Katniss) would be proud.
Those of you who are familiar with my writings know I work on implementing the Common Core as much as possible. Some of you have also realized I LOVE YA literature! Today I would like to share the books that just jump off my shelves and into students’ hands, books that are easy to use with the CCSS and books that challenge readers across ability levels without them realizing they are growing as readers.
Peter and the Starcatchers – Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. I love this book year after year. Some teachers pass it by because of the young-ish theme of Peter Pan but DON’T! This book is packed with Barry’s cutting wit that will have students laughing at many different levels of humour. Every time I read it I find some new bit of funny that might set me into those embarrassing chuckles when no one else is laughing. This book crosses easily into the CCSS because of the literature but also because of the side, non-fictional aspects. This is why I used it as one of my first Moore’s Common Core Guide books. Imagine exploring with your class Victorian England, Pirates, Trade Routes and Meteors. Good fantasy/historical fiction.
Circle – E.M. Demourt. MANY supporters of STEM education are turning to Science Fiction novels to accompany the science fact. This is a new novel that fits well into that arena. Circle is set sometime in the future. No vampires or werewolves but the main character is questionable. It is engaging text with many SAT level words randomly sprinkled in context. Murder, romance, revenge, and adventure. This book has many of the classic SciFi elements (time travel, cool vehicles, a science lab) but is tightly written into an almost video game style. Teenagers, especially gamer guys, will love it. And just maybe it will be a good gateway into more SciFi/Fantasy books.
Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher. Ok, here is your chance to be the cool teacher! This novel is currently in production as a movie with Selena Gomez. This will definitely be a break-out role for this young actress. This book is about teenage suicide and bullying and many other issues we sometimes forget about in students’ lives. At times this book is difficult to read because of the subject matter but you do continue on. Jay dares his readers to read the next page as they discover the 13 reasons why. This crosses well with CCSS as you would also read and discuss texts and information about teen suicide, bullying and the many other social/psychological issues that face teens today.
The Seeing Stone – Kevin Crossley-Holland. How about a book that investigates Middles Ages, has soap-opera-like story lines, and helps students learn about Arthurian myths/legends? This is it. This book is recommended by CommonCore.org for it exemplary text and for the content which easily blends into non-fictional texts. But here’s the catch: This book is currently Out of Print! Scholastic was printing it here in the US but has stopped. My advice- Grab these books and horde them. Great historical fiction for medieval times.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon – Stephen King. Sometimes the horror genre is a difficult genre to teach, especially to lower YA readers. This book is CLASSIC King but teen/school friendly. It comes in at least 2 forms: the traditional book form and a pop-up book! Remember pop-up books? So for non-fiction tie-ins you could look at baseball, the Appalachian Trail, and book making/paper folding while diving into the whole survivalist theme and safely reading from the horror genre.
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green. This book deals with teenage cancer. Cancer will affect every student in some way in their lifetime. This book allows them to put their feelings and thoughts about cancer into the fictional characters. The characters deal with their normal teen problems but also chemo, misplaced sympathy, friend awkwardness, and death from cancer. This is told from a teenage girl’s perspective but guys will also appreciate this book. The parent characters’ actions and reactions are an interesting side story. As you might guess, this story does not have a happy ending, but here again; it makes for a good opportunity for students to safely have that experience through fiction.
So, if you are looking for some great YA novels to work into you curriculum as you head into the Common Core, I highly suggest these. Be sure to pre-read these books before jumping in and buying a class set to make sure they are appropriate for your teaching community.
Last week I had an interview with another major educational website to talk about my book series, Moore’s Common Core Teacher Guides. Before the interview, they sent me a list of questions to address during the interview. One of them went something like this:
“Give 2 or 3 tips to transitioning to the CCSS.”
Wow! What a questions! That’s almost like asking, “Name 2 or 3 influential TV programs.”
So, I though and thought.
And here is what I said, roughly.
Read, Understand, and Re-Read
Read through your given grade level’s standards. All the way though. Keep a Hi-Lighter handy. Scribble, hi-light, and take notes. Read to understand. If something isn’t clear, look it up or ask questions. Many states have websites devoted to explaining what they say. I work on one of the committees here in Ohio. (I will post the websites in the next blog)Make sure you understand what you have read. Then re-read.
Take a deep breath. Relax. Think of CCSS as yard sticks to measure student achievement. Most state will soon have the same size stick! That is a new concept for the US. It may not be perfect, but my Ohio stick is the same as a stick in Hawaii. When I Skype with a group of teachers in Maine, I can talk about specific seventh grade standards that we share (and probably have the same issues with).
Change is hard, and scary, and weird. Troubling and stressful. But change is constant.
My friend Ms. Brown moved here to our little rural community after retiring from a successful career as a secondary English teacher in Detroit (she came with her husband, who took a high-level job in a mining supply company–big business here in coal country). She accepted a job teaching Language Arts in our small junior high school.
When she first came, we were in the throes of NCLB and the school district kept a tight chokehold on English teachers, who were only allowed to teach certain texts, certain grammar stuff, certain root words, and certain assignments–and all THIS was run on a district-wide pacing guide.
Now, however, along with many other states, our district has embraced Common Core Standards.
“And now,” smiles Ms. Brown, “they’re telling me to do the very instructional strategies that I wanted to use–but was shot down–when I first got here.”
Yes, the pendulum swings in education. But that’s too bad! Why not have allowed Ms. Brown, at the outset, to do what she does best–teach in a cross-curricular, creative way with a variety of assignments and with literature she deemed appropriate for our kids? Of course Common Core Standards provides literature choices, but of luckily, Ms. Brown (and I) both like them.
Our state has adopted the common core standards. Despite the dire warnings of one of our (embarrassing) (reactive)(ultra-conservative) state senators, Chris Buttars (yep, his real name), who said that the common core disguises dangerous socialist messages that will pollute our children, I think the common core is splendid! I love the literature choices and I strongly agree with teaching numeracy throughout most of the elementary years. I’ve always said that little kids aren’t ready for abstraction so young (well, Piaget and I said it :)).
The common core is cool because it encourages cross-curricular instruction, with cooperation between the various subjects and teachers, even encouraging giving credit for a paper written in social studies that can also count for English. I’ve always thought that was a good idea. I used to encourage my college writing students to do it. (Why am I not teaching college now? Another story…but the bottom line was that I wanted to teach in juvenile corrections).
My dearest hope is that the common core standards will obviate the constrictions of the now-defunct NCLB. We know that standardized testing won’t go away, but we hope that the more humane and broad education offered by Common Core will change the unhealthy emphasis on test scores.
Go to the site; read about it. I think you will like it!