Friday, June 22, 2012

Common Core Musings II: Forget What You Think You Know

Warning: long post ahead! I sincerely hope you will take the time to read and comment, please!

I thought I understood the very basics of the Common Core learning standards going into my three-day workshop. I knew I didn't have a strong grip on what they meant for me as a teacher or for my students, but I figured once I learned a little, I'd get it. I have heard teachers in the recent past say, "Oh, yeah, I understand the Common Core. Not worried. I already do so much of this in my class." I am here to say emphatically NO YOU DON'T. First, unless you have been to something intensive like this workshop I just completed, I doubt you really comprehend what CC is all about. Second, if you don't teach ELA (or math, but I admit I don't know a single thing about the math CC) and you haven't been to something intensive like this workshop I just completed. I doubt you really comprehend what CC is all about. Third, I don't care how many workshops you've been to, I don't know any teacher personally who does what CC is asking teachers to do. Mind you, I'm not saying those teachers aren't teaching or aren't good teachers, but even the very best teachers I have ever known don't do what I learned this week. Maybe there are indeed teachers out there who do this, but I am not acquainted with them personally.

Okay, now that I've insulted all my fellow teacher friends, let me move on to just SOME of the things that will need to happen with the implementation of CC.

1.) One of the assessments that will be (allegedly -- this is all allegedly) part of the CC will take place over two days in approximately March of each school year. It will take place over two days. Over the course of those two days, students will be doing research simulation tasks where they are given numerous (lie 5 or 6) informational text selections to read and respond to in writing. They will be required to write a summary and an analytic essay based on those texts. At the older grades (probably grade 5 and up) some of the texts will be unreliable and students will be expected to leave information from those unreliable sources out of their writing (like Wikipedia entries, Facebook posts, etc.). They will also be reading a couple literature selections and write one narrative essay and one analysis essay based on those. Keeping count at home? Thats four essays over two days. AND at first, the kids (at least below high school) will probably have to hand write them.

2.) Consider this standard (Literature Standard 7, Grade 8): "Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors." I know educated adults who can't do this for the Harry Potter movies, at least not without any depth of answer.

3.) Consider this standard (Literature Standard 9, Grade 8): "Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new." This is pretty advanced, even for a high school kid!

4.) Consider this standard (Informational Text Standard 4, Grade 8): "Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts." Really think about how thoroughly a student will have to read a text in order to be able to do this. Please don't think this will happen after only one reading of a text!

5.) Consider this standard (Informational Text Standard 5, Grade 8): "Analyze in detail the structure of a specific paragraph in a text, including the role of particular sentences in developing and refining a key concept." Again, how many readings will it take to be able to do this?

6.) Consider these passages from a document put out by PARCC (the company developing the CC assessments for numerous states): "In middle school, 35% of student writing should be to write arguments, 35% should be to explain/inform, and 30% should be narrative....students should conduct several short research projects in addition to more sustained research efforts....require several of these annually to enable students to repeat the research process many times and develop the expertise needed to conduct research independently." Please don't think this is going to happen ONLY in the ELA classroom. This is going to have to happen across curriculum areas! So yes, history and science and music and art and PE teachers will have to get in on this! Yes, you will have to know all these ELA standards! yes, you will have to know how to teach kids how to write! Yes, you will have to teach kids how to research! Yes, you will have to know how to evaluate student writing! Sorry -- we ELA teachers can't do it all by ourselves. Welcome to our world.

7.) Consider this standard (Writing Standard 6, Grade 6): "Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting." BTW, grade 5 needs to be able to type one page in a single sitting; grade 4 needs to be able to type one page. The first mention of using keyboarding skills to write comes in grade 3. So when will keyboarding skills need to be introduced? Probably kindergarten. When will keyboarding skills need to be decent enough to type well? By grade 4.

8.) Consider this standard (Writing Standard 8, Grade 7): "Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard form for citation." Again, please do not think that this is all going to fall on the shoulders of the ELA teachers or the computers teachers. Once again, all you other curriculum area folks are going to have to teach kids how to research effectively online and evaluate sources and document them. It takes a village.....

9.) Do you know how to determine text complexity? If not, you will have to learn. Lexile score is only part of the three-pronged equation. Students are expected to read texts that are of sufficient complexity, so the complexity level of all texts used will have to be determined. Don't worry: there are rubrics for that! If you ignore that, the teachers who have your students in following years will surely thank you for sending them on unable to read the texts they are supposed to be able to read.

10.) Check this out. This is a 6 week map of a unit for 5th grade. This is what it looks like to teach Common Core. This is reality. How much time and effort did it take to put this together -- consider the researching, the gathering of resources, the development of materials, the aligning. If you said you know Common Core or you said you do all this already -- do you?????? I've always thought I was a decent teacher, but I admit it: I don't do this. But I guess I do now.

Forget what you thought you knew about teaching. Welcome to the Common Core. Sounds beautiful and brilliant in theory, but putting it into practice is the most frightening thing I will ever have to do.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Common Core Musings

I spent today at a workshop on the ELA Common Core Standards. Here's what I can say (bluntly) about my experience: I don't think I can do this. Now let me clarify what I mean. Do I have the skills? Sure I do. I know how to teach my students reading strategies for different types of texts. I know how to teach my kids to do research. I know how to teach my kids to make connections to text. In that respect, I CAN do this. Here's what I am afraid I CAN'T do: manage it all. I learned that I am going to have to use multiple texts at once. On the surface, this isn't a problem. But it is going to take a lot of time and legwork on my part to find supplemental texts to go with, say Fahrenheit 451. I need to determine what kinds of related texts to use, what genres, and find ways and time for them to read all these texts, re-read the texts, discuss them, and write about them. The readings need to be close readings. The discussions need to be meaningful with responses that refer back to the text, so I need to make sure I am asking higher-order questions to get higher-order responses. I need to make sure the kids are reading texts that are of sufficient complexity, which probably means different texts at different complexity levels based on the data I have about my kids' reading levels. I need to make sure the kids write about the texts as well, and they need to know how to incorporate evidence from the texts into their writing and document it/cite it appropriately. I also need to make sure they know how to research and find reliable sources for themselves and use information from those texts to demonstrate their understanding. Good news: I do all of this already; bad news: I do it TO AN EXTENT! What is being asked of me to do for my junior high kids is like what I do but on steroids. It is overwhelming. Do I think it is important for students to be able to do all the things mentioned above? My goodness, of course I do! But my fear is how do I get it all in????? Where is my time to find and read multiple texts going to come from? How do I get around copyright issues that are surely going to spring up? How do I find the time to create and structure meaningful, deep, close reading and writing activities? Where do I find the time to make sure my students understand how to give deep, meaningful responses in speaking and writing? Here's something else to ponder: today, we only discussed the literature standards! I've got two more days of stuff to learn! Where will the time for all of this come from -- time for me to prepare, time for me to teach, time for kids to learn, time for kids to do? Add to the mix that the kids HAVE to learn how to do this right for fear they don't perform well on the standardized tests. You can't chastise me for being overly concerned about their performance on high-stakes tests. After all, I am going to be EVALUATED for my effectiveness as an educator based on how well these kids do on those high-stakes tests. I HAVE to care if they learn it and can perform! More than anything, I want to be a good teacher. I love education so much. But this is the first time in over twenty years of teaching I am saying, "I don't think I can do this."