Coffee, Books, Reflection
Today was my first day of Common Core State Standards training. It felt good for the presenters to admit that Illinois is behind most other states when it comes to implementation — which was nice to be reaffirmed. I was feeling like the kid who didn’t read the text when I spent June at graduate school. From what I’ve learned so far, most of my Iowa friends are well on their way to quality implementation. After today’s lessons I feel much better about it, too. It won’t be so bad to implement these standards — most of them are what we want from students anyway. Some of them will be “stretch goals” for many of my kids, but most of them will be attainable with a little bit of focused instruction.
That, however, is not what I want to talk about. Instead, I’d like to mention the things we might lose to the common core if we are not careful. One of the things we discussed today is the level of depth required by the Common Core. Rather than giving students a taste of everything, like English teachers prefer to do, our goals are now challenging us to dive far into depth with the things we teach, at the expense of teaching more things. We’re used to teaching a mile wide and an inch deep; now we need to participate in the inverse of that. The Core encourages us to dive deeply into teach text, making connections and measurable growth.
A few lingering questions about the core remain, however. First, what defines “mastery”? and what level is proficient? Should 80% of students be able to do it? 100%? Since the core has no plans to make adjustments for students that are falling below the standards, or who are struggling learners, what level of proficiency can be expected?
It did help to realize that the core isn’t some magical change in thinking. Rather, it is a version of what we do already with more focused instruction. The Core looks for students to be able to show their knowledge, not just regurgitate it in one situation. The qualitative depth of the core looks for levels of meaning — the students need to be able to understand the skills and then apply them in a variety of situations. Students need to participate in more questioning and self-driven learning, changing the current trend in classroom environments.
Some of the changes in the core are a bit scary, though. I did feel like a few of my favorite lessons were flying out the window during some of the instruction. However, the more we discussed, the more I realized that everything has it’s place as long as it encourages authentic learning.
My favorite parts of the core so far is the emphasis on higher level thinking and the encouragement of using sources to back up your arguments. The core constantly refers students back to the text to help form their opinions.
That’s a summary of day one — I’ll keep you posted as I find out more. Please, leave your comments/suggestions to relate to the core and how you plan to implement them below.
The views on this blog are mine alone and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
Kari teaches English I to 9th graders (!) and other electives in rural Iowa. Her husband is also an English teacher, and their friends have sworn to never help them move again because "even libraries don't have that many books."