Saturday, November 16, 2013

Common Core Connections -- Breaking the Mold

Last night I had a deep discussion with my husband, who does not work in education, about the Common Core State Standards. He was asking about my take on them, given the frequent bad press that he has heard: that the Common Core will stick all kids in the same box, increase conformity, etc. I kind of laughed, because hasn’t that what traditional education has done all along, stuck kids in a grade level and expected them to process through whether ready or not?

This whole conversation had me reflecting on what the Common Core means to me and really what I expect of myself and my students to achieve. 

1.       I connect Common Core to the needs of the Whole Child through the focus Students-Standards-Curriculum

Celina and I have always approached our work within the classroom through the lens of students first, their social-emotional needs as well as their academic needs. The 8Mathematical Practices and the 7 Capacities of a Literate Individual also speak to students first. They are pushing for the development of habits of mind that ensure all students are prepared for a world that is ever changing and are able to think critically about their experiences. For myself and my students I see the practices and capacities as the ways in which I can help all students succeed. Students who persevere in math, become students who persevere in all areas of life, those who demonstrate independent use of the skills of literacy become students who can think and act for themselves.

 The Whole Child blog recently had a podcast that truly spoke to this idea: "Educators need to prepare kids to be career and college ready, but they also need to prepare them for their present world. The Common Core State Standards set out to do that. They're not perfect, but they are a starting point" (Peter DeWitt).

The blog continues with: The standards are not a curriculum. Standards are targets for what students should know and be able to do. Curricula are the instructional plans and strategies that educators use to help their students reach those expectations. Central to a supportive school are teachers, administrators, and other caring adults who take a personal interest in each student and in the success of each student. A whole child approach to education is essential to realizing the promise of the standards. Only when students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged will they be able to meet our highest expectations and realize their fullest potential.”

For me that means connecting with kids, recognizing that their needs are not purely academic and making choices for the classroom that support a wide variety.  Working from the needs of the students, and then developing their understanding of the continuum of standards helps them to see learning as building up their foundation, something that is not solely achieved in school!

2.       Common Core Standards are broad in nature and deep in focus, pushing for authentic learning experiences, as opposed to discrete skills.

In order to meet the depth and breadth of the standards, Celina and I have had to rethink the purely skill focus of the past.  Our classroom activities of Passion Projects and inquiry based learning have helped us to infuse the standards into learning experiences that incorporate a multitude of goals. Students no longer read non-fiction text as an isolated skill, but rather to build up their knowledge and understanding for expository writing, presentations, multi-media projects and finding evidence to support their thinking. Students authentically connect the once separate skills into a cohesive whole that helps them to express and share what they know! Our day is no longer a segmented container but a set of links and blocks that boost engagement and relevance.

3.       Common Core has increased the level of rigor, not just for students but for teachers too.

Achieving the goals of the Common Core means raising our level of expectations! We can no longer just accept a curriculum as the end-all-be-all, or dumb down the work for students or teachers. Building our professional capacities as educators means doing the work that the Common Core requires of our students: reading for meaning, finding evidence, thinking across the grades, boosting conceptual understanding, as well as regularly interacting with complex text and academic vocabulary.  It makes me grateful that my work with Celina in  creating a child centered classroom has pushed me to learn more and grow. Truly understanding that message makes me more aware of the expectations I place on my students, the growth mindset that is necessary and the goals that can be achieved through this work.

So while the talk shows and pundits can banter back and forth about what they think Common Core means, I am left to marvel at the improvements implementing the standards has meant for myself, my students and our classroom as a whole. Conforming? I think not, more like connecting meaningfully and breaking the mold!  ~Ann


1 comment:

  1. This is a very thoughtful, reflective post, grounded in experience with students, and a familiarity with the CCSS and its goals. Thank you so much for sharing!