SOLSC Day 22: The Best Interest of Students

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Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers (www.twowritingteachers.wordpress.com) for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

The Best Interest of Students

I listened to a podcast today where Kelly Gallagher talked about his new book, In the Best Interest of Students. (Of course, I’m waiting for my copy!) In the first minute of the interview, Kelly addressed a problem with the Common Core State Standards, and I agreed. He stated that (for high school) the standards are actually quite good. (There is mention that the lower elementary grade teachers don’t seem to think that CCSS is good because they are not developmentally appropriate; since I am a middle school teacher, I’ll leave that for a different discussion.) This part of the podcast focused on “Lesson 2: Recognize the Standards by themselves are necessary, but insufficient.” Kelly explained: “The problem is, you can write down any standards on a piece of paper, but that doesn’t ensure what happens inside our classrooms when the bell rings.”

The lightbulb switched ON in my brain. Yes! I have my set of standards (although mine are Indiana State Standards) and my teaching plan, but if I don’t connect with the students, if I don’t teach them, and they don’t learn, then those standards mean nothing. One of our classroom walkthrough points for administrators (on teacher evaluation checklists) is that teachers should post the standards in the classroom and refer to them, so students will know what is expected.  I don’t mind. I typed them out and posted them on a bulletin board, and I showed them to the students. But we must not stop there! If my administrator checks that box (“Standards Posted in Classroom” or whatever it says), that doesn’t mean I’ve taught those standards. That doesn’t mean the students are learning them.

Teachers need to show students the purpose of deep learning — why those standards should matter to them. I’m thinking of a simple standard: “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English: capitalization, punctuation, and spelling…” Just because those words are displayed in my room doesn’t mean I teach them. And how should I teach that standard, anyway? With DOL sentences? Just as I was thinking about that, Jeff Anderson showed up in my Twitter feed. “I call DOLs & their ilk ‘correct alls’ because you get the same result as you would if you took a Correct All.” LOL! No, I don’t use DOLs. They don’t work.  My students can state any error in any sentence, and correct the sentence, in isolation. They do NOT practice capitalization and punctuation in their own writing. Jeff Anderson’s books are still my favorite mentor texts for teaching grammar and writing: Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing. If you want your work published, you HAVE to capitalize the “I.” (It takes the place of your name. Names are capitalized because they are very important and specific.) You HAVE to show the reader where your thought ends. (Period) Right? (Question mark) Your voice comes through your writing in the form of punctuation. Do you want to pause? How long? Use a comma, dash, ellipses, depending on the voice and tone you want to convey.

Back to the podcast: Teachers must teach the standards so students will learn (notice how I’m NOT saying, “so students will achieve high scores“). In practice. Every day. Out there in the real world. School is a place for learning and growing; if the “necessary” Common Core State Standards stop at the classroom bulletin board, then they are “insufficient.” And that is not in the “best interest of students.”

(The podcast mentioned is from Ed Talk with Dr. Bob Bravo, Interview with Kelly Gallagher, Monday Night Live, 3/9/2015. You can hear it on ITunes.)

Day 24: SOLSC Slice of Life Story Challenge

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Indiana says “No More to the Common Core”

Today has been a struggle. Indiana has “officially withdrawn from the Common Core reading and math standards that were adopted by most states around the country” (WSBT 22 News, 03/24/14).  I don’t know if I liked the Common Core. I don’t know if my students would have passed the PARCC. We never got the chance to try.

What’s frustrating is that Indiana was a leader in pushing the PARCC, Common Core, and spent “Bookoo” dollars and time encouraging us teachers to stretch our students into higher level thinking and learning. We were “trained” in the history of Common Core, and told, “this is the wave of the future.” Students would be driven to “read closely” and spend time on tackling argumentative and informational texts, and teachers (in my grade) were told to use fiction sparingly, to meet the new standards.  We were to get ready for the PARCC (the standardized assessment that would replace ISTEP) and beware of the consequences if we weren’t ready. We don’t want our schools to fail — we took the bait. Many teachers took all the hype to heart, even worrying that they would lose their jobs if they were not evaluated as “effective teachers” under Common Core. No one wants to be ineffective.

Well, now the Common Core is mute in Indiana. I am left to wonder, “What next?” What standards will we use to identify students who are below, at, and above grade level? How will the curriculum change? How will teaching life change (again)? Will our students succeed under whatever new plan our state government creates?

For now, all I can do is my best: read aloud to my class, teach skills and strategies I know I’ve used to become a better reader and writer, and re-create the best lessons from the twenty years of practice I have under my belt. I will continue to teach my students to read, write, and think. It’s time to move forward. Let’s go!

Note: One of my students wrote that she had “bookoo” friends, and explained that “bookoo” means “a great amount.” I’ll use her word tonight. I love that she tried to use more descriptive words in her writing (instead of “a lot”) and I REALLY found it cute that she defined the word for us in the text. She’s learning!