I was talking to my neighbor the other day. On the front stoop, she introduced me to her friend who was visiting – a middle-school librarian from Maryland.
I told her I worked with the NEA, and we talked a little shop. I asked, “So what are you doing to get ready for the school year.” She said, “Well, my district is giving us all a lot of in-service on the Common Core Standards. I’m kind of excited about how it could change things. I’m getting all kinds of ideas about how our school library can be used in new ways.”
And so begins the revolution.
I’ll admit it. They had to win me over to the Common Core State Standards. Maybe it’s because it has “standard” in the name, and I can’t help but think of standardized tests – that tail that not only wags the dog, but has become the dog. Hitting your number on a standardized test has become what it means to teach and what it means to learn.
When state governors – Republicans and Democrats – started talking about national standards that would come from a coalition of states instead of an Act of Congress, I rolled my eyes towards heaven and whispered a silent plea for help from above that they stop the insanity. Something called Common Core Standards had to just be a new excuse for more standardization and more de-professionalization.
But then I read them. Wow. Anybody can go up and read the standards, grade level by grade level. Everybody should read them.
I taught elementary students, so I looked at the Common Core Standards for K-6. Again, may I just say: Wow.
And may I quote from a few of the Language Arts Standards that are anything but “standardized”.
· Write an opinion and supply reasons and information that support that opinion.
· With help from adults and peers, review something you have written and strengthen your writing by revising and editing.
· Participate as a team in shared research and writing on a project.
· Engage in collaborative conversations with diverse partners (one-on-one, in groups and teacher led) to show you are prepared for the discussion; that you can pose and respond to questions that contribute to the discussion; and that you can explain an understanding of another’s point of view in light of that discussion.
Yes, there are standards on grammar and vocabulary. I’m more than OK with that.
When my 6th graders wrote a letter to the editor in my class, I made them correct spelling and re-write and exchange papers and review each other’s work. But I also made sure they could, as the Common Core says, “supply reasons and information” that supported their opinions. We worked as teams on writing projects.
We continually engaged in conversations to explore a current event that had various points of view and students had to practice participating respectfully while they disagreed and debated and thought about what was being said.
In short, maybe it’s ego, but I respect this Common Core, because I see my own good teaching practices reflected in the descriptions of what students should be able to DO.
I respect this Common Core because it does not script me. It doesn’t give me some mandated lesson plan. It simply says: Students should be able to DO these things.
And the standards nearest and dearest to my heart, the standards that require a learning atmosphere of engaged students and creative context and nurturing a students questioning nature cannot, cannot, cannot be measured on a mind-numbing commercial standardized test. These standards require better assessments than bubble sheets; better uses of instructional time than test prep; better professional development than new ways to train kids to be more strategic “guessers” when given four choices.
These are good standards. Worthy standards. But now the work of professionals begins.
How will those standards be implemented? Our voices are vital.
We have the Common Core now to challenge those absurd commercial No Child Left tests that have replaced teaching and learning and sucked the joy out of our classrooms. We have to bring our professionalism to the discussion on how to assess these standards, which, thank heaven, cannot be measured on a bubble sheet.
We have to bring our professionalism to the discussion on how to design a learning environment centered around standards that focus on the Whole Child through collaboration and exploration of ideas and concepts and creativity and higher-level, critical, blessed thinking skills.
The people who know the names of the students, the educators on the ground have to lead this if it’s going to be done right.
Viva la revolución.
For more information about Common Core, please click here.