Saturday, April 5, 2014

Curiouser and Curiouser

In the topsy-turvy world  of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Alice states, "I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then."  I have experienced this odd sensation more than a few times this year.

I'm a true believer in the Common Core State Standards.  Here's why:  They are common across districts and states; read: unprecedented collaborative opportunities.  As a small example, Twitterchats would be far less relevant if we were all working toward different standards.

I love that the standards emphasize literacy as the way to access and make sense of content. They do not ignore listening and speaking as foundational to learning.  Writing is back. The standards are laced with technology expectations.  This last is likely the push many districts need to move into the century that is not too far from 15% complete.  (Shouldn't we have entered the 21st century some time ago?)

If the new standards were not infused with digital literacy expectations, would districts feel the need to push forward with technology?  I think districts are getting a nudge (okay, more like a shove) in a direction that is truly needed.

Best of all, teachers get to decide how to teach again!  The standards are silent on HOW to teach, and what materials to use.  Actually, not silent on that point at all!

"Fact: Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. That is why these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards."

So here's the rabbit hole:

Recently, I was working with a group of teachers who began our time together grieving the testing burden on their students because of common quarterly assessments.  When I proposed a plan to eliminate half of these assessments, they decided to keep them all!  Why?  Because we are in a high-stakes environment.


That's why we have to do better for our students than steer them into assessment-driven comas.

Kids can read books that were written in their lifetime.  We don't have to fill in grammar worksheets.  We don't have to issue vocabulary lists.  Everyone doesn't have to read the same book.  Research isn't just for 'after the test' in May.  We don't have to make sure students master writing conventions before they can explore capturing their thoughts on the page or screen. We don't have to define writing assignments as a graded five-paragraph essay on a piece of paper that ruins the teacher's weekend because she has to read the same thing 120 times.  Heck, we don't even have to grade everything!

It's a high stakes environment...We have to pay attention to what we are doing... and if it is mind-numbingly dull, stop doing it!

As a curriculum coordinator, I expected that I would spend quite a bit of time advocating to administrators that teachers should be supported in their risk-taking innovative strategies.  Instead, more often than not I am making the case to teachers that administrators want to see a shake-up in classroom practices.

Things just get curiouser and curiouser.

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