Thursday, March 12, 2015

Common Core - My Intro

For my next trick I will attempt to explain why, in my humble opinion, the common core standards are not the worst thing in the whole wide world and why they do not mean the end of civilization.

Now don't freak out. I know what you have heard. I hear it too. All the time. But I have been working with it much longer than most parents because as a parent/teacher I saw it coming and decided to embrace the change. Yes...I said EMBRACE...not fight.

Please be kind! I am not attempting to start a war. I am trying to help parents understand what is going on in the schools and discuss it in a civilized manner.

(This is the first part in a series about the Common Core from my own point of view - both as a teacher and a parent.)

Education is always swinging. It is not stagnant. Research is always being done, new practices are always being experimented with, and new implementations are always happening. Most parents do not even know changes are being made to their child's curriculum or if a teacher is trying out a new style of teaching unless they are active in the school community. This is a very good reason to be an active parent!

My journey into the Common Core started about 5 years ago. A couple of teacher blogs I read on a regular basis started mentioning the new standards and so I started researching. I was excited because I knew that the current standards we were working with were not good enough. The "old" California state standards were very rigid. They led to a whole lot of "teaching to the test" and I wanted my students to be able to do more than just pass a test.

As a teacher, I was bored. Every day I came into my class taught a lesson on a specific standard and then tested for that standard. Then we moved on to a new one. Every day, every year even, was exactly the same. It didn't matter what kids I had. It didn't matter what they needed. The goal was to get them to pass the test in the prescribed way. It was "easy" for a lot of kids, but not motivating at all. Sure, I did what I could to "spice it up" but it didn't change the fact that I didn't think it was getting our kids ready for their future. Everything was taught in isolation. And if a student didn't understand a concept they were doomed to have the exact same concept drilled into them until they could produce a satisfactory score.

Enter the Common Core...

The standards are set up on a continuum. The were started with the end in mind - what do we want students to be able to do when they graduate from high school? They need to be ready for college and their future careers. After that was decided the committees worked backwards to define what each grade level should be able to do all the way down to kindergarten. If you take a look at the standards in that way you can see the progression of skills.

The standards are also very easily integrated with each other and with the curriculum. No longer are we teaching each standard alone. For example in language arts we are using all of the standards all year long. I am no longer worried about getting to all the standards because they all fit together and that's the way we are supposed to teach them. (Math is a different story but I will discuss that later.)

This is what I have been trying to do all along. I would often add many of the skills, which are now integrated into the Common Core, into my teaching, despite it not being on the test. I expected my students to answers textbook questions with evidence from the text. I shunned multiple-choice only tests as much as I could. I used many different modalities in assessments.I taught students different ways to solve problems because that is the heart of critical thinking and critical thinking is the key to being successful.

Now this doesn't mean that I love everything about the Common Core. {cough...ahem...testing...cough} There are certain aspects that have not won me over and probably never will, but I do not let it slow me down. I have students to teach no matter what the standards are. Students depend on me every day whether I like the Common Core or not. Your children depend on you every day whether you like the Common Core or not. Our attitudes about these things have an effect on their successes and struggles.

No matter what you have heard the standards are here to stay, for now. You can fear it, fight it or embrace it. Either way you will have to deal with it if you have school-aged kids. My suggestion is to understand before you decide. Don't let other people tell you what to think, including me!

Oh! And actually take a few minutes to read the wouldn't believe how many parents want to ague with me about them and then I find out they have never read the darn things!

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
- Alan Watts

So what are your questions? How can I help?

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