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Why do America’s children write so poorly? Writing instruction has seen a lot of innovation since I was a kid. Like many of my peers, I struggled with writing under the old system of the 3 A’s – assign, assume, and assess. My teachers assigned a topic, assumed we could write about it, and assessed our finished pieces.
Today's kids have it better. Yet there’s still a disconnect. Despite the advances in instruction since I was a child, most teachers still don’t teach writing well. On the last national writing assessment (the NAEP), less than a third of 12th graders, and less than a quarter of elementary students, could write proficiently.
How do we reconcile promising changes in writing pedagogy with this reality? That calls for a quick history lesson in writing instruction.
New approaches for young writers emerged in the 1980’s when process writing made its way into American classrooms. The whole language movement had made its impact on reading, and now Donald Graves and Donald Murray brought a similar holistic approach to writing.
Rather than simply correcting errors and assigning grades, they focused on meaning. They encouraged children to write about what they knew. They celebrated their ideas. In a radical departure, process writing teachers accepted mistakes in handwriting, spelling, and grammar. Frequent writing would provide the experience kids needed to develop these now-secondary skills.
Process writing also introduced the pre-writing, writing, and rewriting approach. Further, the teacher now functioned as a guide, rather than judge. Instead of just grading students’ final product, teachers now modeled their own writing process and checked in regularly as kids composed their own pieces.
Writer’s workshop, which many educators today associate with Lucy Calkins, is an example of the process writing approach. The National Writing Project has also popularized process writing in summer institutes for teachers.
As process writing was incubating on the East Coast, new ideas were also percolating out West. In 1983, a committee in Beaverton, Oregon developed a new assessment rubric – The Six Traits – to improve assessment, a perennial challenge in writing instruction. The traits included: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions.
Though the Six Traits were conceived as elements for a new assessment rubric, they proved a valuable teaching tool. Teacher Rhonda Woodruff discovered this with her fourth graders in 1986. It turned out that playing the role of evaluator helped students strengthen their writing process, and soon, Oregon teachers were sharing this new instructional approach in national workshops. In 1990, The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory acquired a version of the original rubric and began selling traits-based instructional aids.
More good leadership emerged in the 1990’s. Teacher Marcia Freeman and later, Ralph Fletcher, built on the foundation of process writing with their ideas for teaching targeted skills such as writing leads and creating transitions.
Individual research studies have documented the advantages of these most of these approaches to teaching writing. Why then, has achievement remained flat for 30 years? Besides the fact that writing has not been given enough instructional time – which I hope the Common Core will cure – I think the biggest reason is that we’re dealing with a case of the blind men and the elephant.
In the old story, six blind men visit an elephant, but each one seems to meet an entirely different creature based on the part he has touched. Thus, one describes the elephant as being "like a spear" (tusk), another claims it’s "like a tree" (leg), and so on. The story tells us a person can have a piece of the truth even if he's still missing a big part of it.
Writing pedagogy is like this. Each instructional method offers teachers one piece of the puzzle, but none gives teachers everything they need. This is why two-thirds of our graduates can’t write. Few elementary teachers learn to teach writing as part of their training, and they simply don’t have time to pull all the pieces together once they’ve entered the classroom. They still have to teach reading, math, social studies, and science, too. Usually, their districts try to support them by offering either:
I chose my profession to become the teacher I never had. And perhaps because I made a D- on my first writing assignment in college (yes, it’s true), I set myself to become intimately acquainted with that elephant as a teacher. With the support of my principal, I studied every hair and wrinkle on the beast.
What I developed was pretty simple. I gave my students the best of the best. I fused best practices into a comprehensive approach, their success got attention, and I was asked to help my peers. Thus began my journey as writing coach and crusader.
What I hope to contribute to teaching in general, and to the pool of Common Core resources in particular, is akin to giving glasses to blind men. I don’t want any teacher, anywhere, tobe limited by an incomplete view of the animal. This is what Common Core writing demands. We can shorten the learning curve for teachers and help them befriend the elephant. I’ve seen what can happen when teachers and students grasp its totality. It is nothing short of magnificent.
For additional blogs visit http://WriteStepsWriting.com
Great Teachers Using Daniel Pink’s Method “The ABC’s of Selling”
While reading about Daniel Pink’s new book “To Sell Is Human” I ran across what he referred to as the ABC’s of Selling.
A -- Attunement
B -- Buoyancy
C -- Clarity
Daniel explained these three qualities are essential whether you're trying to sell a computer or encourage your child to do his or her homework. I began to think of how they could be related to education and our ability to engage and excite our students in the learning process and promote added student success. I believe we can draw some parallels.
According to Pink, Attunement is the capacity to take another’s perspective, to understand their interests, and to see the world from their point of view. This skill is necessary because teachers need to make a connection to their students. They need to take a step back and truly understand how the lesson or instruction they are providing is relevant to the student. More learning will take place when the lesson is important and relevant to the students. To accomplish this the great teachers must practice Attunement.
Next Pink touches on Buoyancy. This pertains to the capacity to stay afloat on what one salesman calls an "ocean of rejection." This skill is also very important in education. Teachers work so hard to plan and deliver great lessons, create formative opportunities, and collect summative data that tells them if the student accomplished their learning goals. When a student fails or learning does not take place teachers must show Buoyancy in their practice. They must overcome the rejection of having their students produce failing grades and possible low student morale. When this occurs, great teachers look at their instruction as a possible problem and wonder if they could have taught the lesson or unit better. They will then explore new ways of instructing students to success. They show Buoyancy by continuing to stay afloat among the various redo’s and remediation and their students will benefit and learn because of their hard work. Great teachers are all about student learning.
Finally, Pink tells us that we must find clarity in things. Pink explains that clarity is the capacity to make sense of murky situations, to curate information rather than merely access it, and to move from solving existing problems to finding hidden ones. Why is the student tardy? Why does the student not do his or her homework? Why do they show proper levels of understanding on all formative work only to fail the properly aligned summative assessment? Teachers must use clarity to look beyond the obvious and explore the root causes of the student’s behavior. Many times the students school and academic success or failures have very little to do with their ability to learn. These behaviors come about mainly because of the problems and challenges they face away from school. Great teachers can recognize and help to combat these issues with clarity.
All three of the skills Daniel Pink refers to in his book “To Sell Is Human” can be used by great teachers and great school leaders. In reality we are always selling our lessons, our programs, our schools, or ourselves.
Dr. Scott Rimes
What I Learned Lately (WILL #9)
Sherlock Holmes once said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be truth.” This week we finished our last round of graduation ceremonies. Over 1000 over our students walked across our stages and received their diplomas. It was truly fascinating to see each of their faces. The richness of images displayed confidence and uncertainty, hope and fear and pride. We had students graduate with such amazing academic honors and scholarships and those with the tremendous honor of surviving. In each of our schools, students are preparing for their graduation day. We teach, foster, and promote the event through step up days, promotion, the moving of seating at assemblies and numerous other activities. At each of these moments, many of our families, staff and students feel a sense of pride and relief.
What many people in our communities don’t see is the endless struggle behind the scenes. They don’t see how staff members have relentlessly worked with students. Additionally, how they have cried, laughed, celebrated and even fought with students, colleagues and community in order for each child to experience a moment of significant accomplishment. Graduation is so much more than a single event; it is the recognition of an opportunity to live the American Dream. Each time a student is handed their diploma, they are handed the opportunity to determine their destination. At that point, they still have a choice and no one can take away that choice.
As the ceremonies end, I am still hopeful. I see hundreds of staff members that do not rest. They work to create innovative year round opportunities for students, especially those that are most vulnerable, those that have not met the standards by the graduation ceremony. Even when the state funded academic year ends, our staff doesn’t quit on our students. I am thankful for our staff, they are truly my heroes.
Enjoy your summer; I will see you in the fall.
“Behind me is infinite power. Before me is endless possibility. Around me is boundless opportunity. Why should I fear?” – Stella Stuart
While many of you are planning for summer vacation, or may already be on summer vacation, remember to incorporate the 3R's!!!
Relaxation is oh so very important for us all. We are often bogged down with work and taking care of the family, and forgetting to take care of ourselves. That's a no no! You MUST absolutely take the time to relax by clearing your mind and doing something for yourself that would make YOU happy. As we all know, there is plenty of research to back up the claim of people being more productive when they take breaks and vacation/staycation.
This is imperative for an individual to grow. Many times we continue to conduct business as usual without taking time out to reflect on the work that we did, could do or could have done. Bottom line is, you will never be an effective educator or individual if you're not reflecting personally and professionally. I highly encourage you to take an adult development course if you haven't done so already. It will change your perspective on life, relationships, and self- awareness.
What's the point of reflecting if you're not revising, right? There's nothing wrong with change, when it's done for positive and effective reasons. Based on your reflections, you should be planning on how to make revisions to your work throughout the school year. I can't tell you how often I become sadened by educators who tell me they've used the same lesson plan for the last 5 years... YIKES! Year to year, students change, technology changes, expectations change, etc. Therefore your lessons and activities should change based on student needs. Revise not only your lesson plans and goals for students, but revise goals and expectations for yourself. After all, that might be your child sitting in that teacher's classroom one day.
Things that make you go hmmm.
In a video posted on June 4, 2013, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest discussed the Common Core State Standards. It is apparent that he is both not a fan and that he has not fully investigated everything about them and the implications they may have on teachers, students, and the entire educational system in his short tenure. This is in response to my colleagueSteven Weber’s post about an Educator’s Perspective on the Common Core, specifically in relation to his state’s actions.
We need less extremism and polarizing missives and more opportunities for collegial dialogue and specific plans of action that are based on collaboration and agreed upon goals around whatever it is we decide to do as a country. These standards are a foundation, not the aspiration of all students. What we grow from them is the art of teaching. Having standards and maintaining them is the science of teaching. The Common Core does not dictate curriculum anymore than your blood pressure number dictates a course of appropriate action. They are a standard, a level of quality, a point of reference to a mean. What we do to attain them and what we do to grow beyond them are more essential questions than how do we get rid of them. Getting rid of them means going back to previous standards that will have the same arguments, for or against, as to why they are good or bad.
What follows is a breakdown of my analysis of his comments. I very much think the Common Core Standards are a good idea. For the first time in the history of our country, students in Wyoming and Nebraska and California and New York and North Carolina are being held to the same standards. Assessment data in our country will be less skewed than it is in other countries (who have national standards) and we are thinking specifically about what it is that prepares students for going to college or moving into a career after high school.
The rigor of the new standards is greater, yes. Much of the conversations I have about them push teachers and administrators out of years old comfort zones. I believe this is a good thing. I believe that most teachers want to improve their professional practice and this is a step in that direction.
Beyond the standards, specifically with new teacher evaluations tied to them and canned curricula being created around them, I believe that there are wrong things being done in the name of progress. The standards themselves, in my humble opinion, are not evil. The hurricane of “progress” around them is what people should be paying attention to and questioning and determining the usefulness and economic viability of.
What follows is not meant to be personal. We, as educators, have an obligation to both invite and engage in public discourse about what we believe is best for our kids. I have a kid in public school already and another one joining the ranks shortly. I want this to work. I want my kids prepared well for the world they will graduate into. I want to have no regrets on graduation night (if graduation the way we know it stays in place, in the traditional sense) that I did everything I could do as a parent and an educator.
That said, what follows is a discussion of the comments and assertions made by Dan Forest:
Dan begins his video by blaming the previous administration.
Besides being in poor taste, it is juvenile and reflects negatively on his professionalism as a state leader.
It’s not about what happened before he came into the office, it’s about what he will do to improve things now that he is in office. That improvement should build from where things are now, rather than wasting more money, time, and resources on dismantling everything up to this point and starting over.
The previous administration did what they thought was best; as he is expected to do while he is in office. He may disagree and he may act differently, but laying blame paints a portrait of him as a savior from years of oppression. While I know that some will buy this shtick, my hope is that most will see through this and evaluate his statements and his actions with a critical eye, and not be persuaded by his claims without further investigation.
He is concerned by new standards.
This is a strange statement. In all states, standards evolve and upgrade every few years.
Because they have national media attention, this version of the evolution and upgrade is problematic? This seems more like a fraternity of rejection to join rather than a real concern about what our kids need to know and be able to do.
He is concerned about local control and parental involvement with standards.
If the common core wasn’t there, how much local control existed (with End of Grade high stakes testing?) and how much parent involvement was there?
Parent involvement is a huge missing component of the Common Core. Teachers are expected to do the best with what they’ve got, but what they’ve got is oftentimes dependent on the environment from which their students come, rather than a function of how the educational experience truly impacts their learning. Until this is addressed, the entire teacher evaluation system is flawed.
I agree that upcoming new assessments are in part narrowing the curriculum and making testing a cash cow. These are functions of vendors interpreting the Common Core versus the standards themselves and states agreeing to give them exclusive contracts to spend their Race to the Top money.
Local control is a good thing when it works. I believe that districts have distinct understandings of their populations and the systems within which they function, but if they use that as a scapegoat or excuse to explain performances that should be better, it’s a problem.
Mr. Forest says, “Standardization runs counter to the customization of the world we live in.”
Except when you check your blood pressure or cholesterol?
The world we live in (technology wise) is increasingly based on Google and Facebook analytics that customize our web experiences by finding commonalities in the way we search for information and interact in the real world based on our “customized” searches. Ultimately, these companies, including Google, are looking for ways to streamline experiences and de-individualize user experiences for the sake of what’s easiest and most economical for the masses. That’s why Facebook tells us what all of our friends are doing. Our commonalities are more important than our individuality.
He said that technology and the learning experience can be customized to the needs of the individual.
See number 4.
Technology should be the new paper or pencil rather than something we plan for or customize. Sure, we can customize learning experiences, but at what expense? All of these customizations cost money and public institutions have an obligation to the masses and the money is divided among the total population of students.
That customization is great in theory, but economically, won’t work for most students.
This is said knowing full well what my own expectations are for technology immersion and the sometimes utopian ways I speak about it. However, what I may say in theory is always tempered with the reality of what schools are dealing with financially and what their infrastructures and technology capabilities are.
Also of note is the publication of the 2013 Horizon report, part of which focuses on Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). College and Career readiness is not only about independence with content knowledge but also valuing evidence, strategic and capable use of digital media and the Internet and strong communication and collaboration skills. These MOOCs are going to transform education in the very new future and change our notions of how we “do” education, the places, the time constructs, the demonstration of learning. We still need a framework of anchor standards, checkpoints from which to grow and sophisticate from one year to the next regardless of how school and learning is accessed.
He says that Common Core has not been field-tested.
Have previous iterations of evolved standards been field-tested?
The assessments that follow new iterations of standards usually re-inform instructional practice AFTER new standards have been put into place and are ultimately assessed a year or more after implementation.
He asserts that Testing standards have not been rolled out.
The General Item Specifications for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium were rolled out last April.
PARCC content frameworks have been available for 2 years. Additionally, many states have assessment guidelines that direct what any vendor, including Pearson, must consider for building new assessments. I found resources for assessment development in North Carolina on their website. And this one here for NC’s Next Generation Assessments. The process for developing new assessments are not going to be that much different—just set to new standards.
Sample assessment questions are also available from the PARCC website and multiple states have given access to sample questions on their state education websites: New York | Delaware | Other States
I am troubled with his questioning of the Common Core Standards themselves, rather than all of the hoopla around them.
Standardization is not bad: blood pressure, cholestorel, etc. He even uses a medical metaphor about launching a new drug without FDA approval—essentially, isn’t that what states do when they evolve standards and change curriculum or try new strategies that may or may not be researched based?
It’s not just Common Core, it’s every time the standards change. If you go back to previous state standards, aren’t you just going back to a previous version of what was “not vetted” and “not piloted?” (And without articulation of what was college and career ready?)
It takes time to implement anything new, navigating nuances, deciding what to cut or keep or create. What will be the cost in time, resources, money, and culture if the Common Core is ditched and we go back to what we used to do?
I think the more unconscionable acts are how the standards are the scapegoats for making decisions about what vendors deem to be “Common Core Aligned.” This could be curriculum materials, assessments, test prep materials—all things I think teachers are capable of creating well if given enough time.
The statement on Data Collection and what data will be collected and who the data will be shared with seems alarmist.
With all of the media attention from Opt Out organizations about the inBloom data product and the Data Driven frenzy that goes with the Common Core as a deliverable element, there is the need, for reporting and for teacher evaluations, to collect massive amounts of data on student performance. This is a function of the Race to the Top grant and states buy into this level of reporting. The amount of test data and the associated personal data is relative to individual states who are participating in Race to the Top but the data is not that much different, if at all different, than data that has been collected for the last two decades. Because of the backlash against associated elements with the Common Core, administrative leaders and those that are trying to undo the new system would have you believe that this data is a function of the times, when the truth is more along the lines “of same data, potentially new containment system.”
If that containment system is hosted on an internet based server, as it is with inBloom’s product (Amazon server) then there is the potential for the data being compromised or accessed by hackers and while there are multiple “what if” scenarios around the potential for compromised data and what could be done with it, I think the reality is that these are potential yet unlikely scenarios, as they are with our bank and credit card data. Breaches happen rarely and when they do, there is a quick scramble to re-secure the data as quickly as possible.
Mr. Forest says, “A third of the states in our country have either rejected Common Core or are seeking legislative action to back out of it.”
What evidence does he have for this statement? That’s a pretty strong claim to make without backing up with details.
While there is an occasional news tidbit about states that are considering giving the Race to the Top money back, a full third of the states participating in a collective mutiny seems like it would be more prominently discussed on the evening news.
Mr. Forest says, “I’ll be looking at the Common Core with a Critical Eye.”
What’s his background? What’s his level of expertise at looking at the standards and evaluating whether or not they are good for students? What’s so great about previous North Carolina standards, or any states’ standards that make them better, worse, or even with Common Core?
There has been a lot of good work done within the new standards framework. Teaching and learning have been upgraded to more rigorous levels that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Do we really want to go back to the way things were? Worksheets? Lectures? Resource/Textbook dependence? Computer lab Thursdays? (I hear that Oregon Trail software is pretty cool.)
It’s a little disconcerting to see political figureheads undo the Vision and Culture of education in a state where the teachers are under such intense pressure.
Would it not have been better to “look before he leaped” into a response until after he’d investigated?
Keeping people in turmoil seems more like a political strategy than an effective way to lead the state’s educational expectations. I hope that his constituents pay attention to what he is preparing to “undo” in order to “redo” around his own opinion.
A team/collaborative effort here is necessary. I don’t mean state level teams, I mean all stakeholders: state education, administrators, teachers, parents, and students.
I worked in North Carolina for years before moving to New York. What I’m saying here is representative of the fact that I have worked in multiple states around the Common Core standards and obviously, I'm a bigger fan of them than Mr. Forest. I’ve seen the positive changes that they’ve made in classrooms for both teachers and students.
When I think back to my time in North Carolina, there was always an emphasis on the End of Grade State tests. Teachers, at that time, and including me, had better ideas around what they’d always done and what curricular materials they used from year to year than the actual standards. It took me a while to un-marry myself from the materials and have a deep understanding of what the standards demanded my students know and are able to do. The Common Core, if nothing else, is helping teachers have intimate knowledge of the standards. North Carolina was one of the first states to break the standards down into actionable learning targets for the sake of helping teachers teach their students well.
I think the critical eye should focus less on the standards themselves and more on:
Ceasing expenditure of more money on curriculum materials until we have another year or two for publishers to have a better idea of what Common Core alignment means, particularly in terms of new assessments.
Time for teachers to work with the standards and plan for deeper instruction and assessment.
Building up infrastructures for Wi Fi and digital devices as always-available options for learning.
Looking at how we “do” school and thinking of divergent and creative ways to help students access and interact around their learning expectations both physically and virtually.
Ditching the mindset that what we’ve always done is still good enough. Growth comes from upgrading and reimagining what we know to be good, not sticking with the status quo. We’re preparing kids for 2025, and our schools should reflect that goal.
How do we do what must be done today to prepare kids for tomorrow? That’s our essential question. We’ve got a long way to go, for sure, and if not these Common Core standards, then what? How are we going to prepare our kids for the world they will graduate into, whether to go to college or to start their careers? How will we explain to our students tomorrow what our collective decisions are today? Now that we know better, we should do better.
"If the state of North Carolina decides to pull the plug on the Common Core State Standards, it will be a slap in the face to the teachers and administrators who have spent countless hours (most on their own time without reimbursement) preparing to implement the Common Core State Standards and to maximize learning for 1.5 million students."
On June 2, 2010, the North Carolina State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards which were implemented during the 2012-2013 school year. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) represent K-12 learning expectations in English-Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics. The Standards reflect the knowledge and skills students need to be college and career ready by the end of high school. Elected officials across the United States are beginning to question the Common Core State Standards. On June 4, 2013, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest posted a YouTube video outlining his concerns about the Common Core State Standards.
While standing in the car rider line at an elementary school, I was approached by a classroom teacher. She asked, "Are we going to align our curriculum, instruction, and assessments to the Common Core State Standards next year?" I replied, "yes." Then I said, "The Common Core is not going away." The teacher replied, "The Lieutenant Governor is discussing eliminating the Common Core." I replied, "Which Lieutenant Governor?" The teacher said, "The North Carolina Lieutenant Governor, Dan Forest."
Prior to becoming an elementary principal, I was the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools. Our school district held a Common Core Summer Institute for teachers and administrators during the summer of 2011 and summer of 2012. At the summer institutes, teacher teams planned a one year professional development plan for their schools. Hosting the summer institutes cost the school district thousands of dollars. The North Carolina General Assembly did not provide funding for implementing the Common Core State Standards. Throughout the past two school years, I have attended professional development led by teacher leaders. The average professional development requires teacher leaders (appointed or self-nominated) to spend approximately ten to twenty hours planning quality professional development and developing resources which support the implementation of the new standards.
In addition to working with classroom teachers to build awareness around the new standards, I have observed teacher leaders writing curriculum aligned to the new standards. Curriculum development has taken place through building level meetings, district meetings, and regional meetings. On several occasions five school districts in the Triangle met to support each other through the pre-implementation and implementation process. Triangle High Five is a regional partnership between Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Durham Public Schools, Johnston County Schools, Orange County Schools, and Wake County Public School System. Teachers and administrators from these school districts shared curriclum maps, worked with high school math teachers to align curriculum to the Common Core State Standards, offered professional development, and worked with the North Carolina School of Math and Science to offer free professional development for mathematics teachers. In 2011 and 2012, SAS hosted a summer mathematics summit to support math teachers in implementing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. SAS has invested in the five school districts for several years. Recently, SAS provided thousands of dollars in order to support the transition from the Nort Carolina Essential Standards to the Common Core State Standards. It is expensive to provide professional development to over 400 educators from five school districts.
In 2010, the North Carolina State Board of Education did not ask North Carolina educators if we should adopt the Common Core State Standards. Once the State Board of Education adopted the standards, Superintendents and district leaders were told to implement the standards. Was the implementation process rushed? Yes. In 2010-2011, educators were anxious about the changes. To date, it is still difficult to find resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards. I know 20-year veterans who stay up until midnight or later on school nights, searching for resources. Part of the reason resources are scarce is because the SBAC and PARCC assessments have not been finalized. Most vendors are still offering a blended version of old state standards and the new Common Core State Standards. This is especially true in mathematics.
When educators are told that a school board policy, state board policy, or general statute requires them to change, they begin collaborating and discussing how to make the change(s) student-friendly. In Orange County Schools, we were able to pay teacher leaders a small stipend for leading curriculum development efforts. The district used Race to the Top funds to pay teacher leaders who led curriculum development, facilitated professional development, posted curriculum maps online, and attended state conferences.
This week marked the last day of school for teachers and students across North Carolina. The Lieutenant Governor was recently elected, but North Carolina teachers have been preparing for the implementation of the new standards since 2010. Standards-based teaching has been common practice since the 1990's. Some states provided voluntary standards for educators prior to 1990. Today's students are competing with students around the globe for college admission and career opportunities. It no longer makes sense to have a Minnesota 3rd grade math standard and a Mississippi 3rd grade math standard. Students deserve to have the same standard across the United States. A common standard does not mean a 'watered-down' standard. Standards are not a curriculum.
This past year, I observed teachers differentiating instruction. Some students were two grades below grade level. They did not have the same assignment as the students who were at grade level or above. When teachers have a standard, they know the goal. Teachers provide students with multiple lessons, tasks, and opportunities to demonstrate what every student should know and be able to do. Implementing the Common Core State Standards does not mean that every student will receive a perfect score at the end of the day. Teachers across North Carolina have embraced the standards and are operating with their grade level team, school team, district team, and regional teams to align curriculum with the Common Core State Standards. Standards are "the what" and Curriculum is "the how." The 'how' may look different in each classroom, but the standards are the same.
Seven Reasons Why States Should Embrace The Common Core State Standards
1. College and Career Readiness
Over the past year, I have seen teachers in North Carolina make the shift from College or Career Readiness to College AND Career Ready. The U.S. public school system was designed to sort and select students. Some students were considered 'college material' and the majority of students were workforce material. I believe that teachers in North Carolina raised the bar and raised their expectations for all students. ACT defines college and career readiness as "the acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in creditbearing, first-year courses at a postsecondary institution (such as a two or four-year college, trade school, or technical school) without the need for remediation." Based on my years of experience in the field of education, this is a major shift from the old mindset. This major change in philosophy and teaching is another indicator or the importance of the Common Core State Standards. The standards have forced a new conversation about the goals of education.
2. Common Standards Enable Teachers To Collaborate Across the United States.
Standards-based education requires teachers to align their curriculum, instruction, and assessments with the standards. For over a decade, teachers have disagreed with the standards. In North Carolina, teachers are required by general statute to teach the standards. A professional educator can respectfully disagree, but the law requires educators to teach the standards. Since the Common Core State Standards had some different approaches and aligned and moved standards to new grade levels it forced teachers to collaborate and design new units of study.
In Orange County Schools, I have observed professional conversations around the standards. I have seen teachers sharing resources across schools. I have seen teachers reaching out to educators in other states to discuss the standards. Regional and state meetings have been more exciting than ever, because everyone is learning the new standards. If one school district has a strong unit or curriculum resource then they will share it with our school district. I have participated in dozens of Twitter Chats with educators who are implementing the Common Core State Standards. ASCD has hosted a regular webinar series which offers educators the opportunity to learn and reflect on the Common Core State Standards. Before the Common Core State Standards, educators discussed their project or their program. The new standards have raised the bar in professional conversations. Educators have shifted from discussing the activity to sharing how the activity aligned to the standard.
3. Teacher Leaders Have Developed Curriculum Aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
In North Carolina, teachers were required to implement the Common Core State Standards in 2012-2013. Teachers met on a regular basis to write, align, and implement units aligned to the new standards. Once curriculum was developed, they also created common formative assessments aligned to the standards. Alan Glatthorn wrote, “One ofthe tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment,so that the learned curriculum is maximized. This statement summarizes the work that takes place in classrooms, on early release days, on the weekend, and during the summer months. Teachers know how to align the curriculum, instruction, and assessments to standards. It takes time. If the state of North Carolina decides to pull the plug on the Common Core State Standards, it will be a slap in the face to the teachers and administrators who have spent countless hours (most on their own time without reimbursement) preparing to implement the Common Core State Standards and to maximize learning for 1.5 million students.
4. Professional Development Has Been Aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
Some school districts have spent thousands of dollars hiring consultants to provide professional development. Regional education organizations have paid $50,000 to $100,000 in order to host professional development with national consultants. Educators have participated in book studies, discussion forums, district professional development, NCDPI webinars and state conferences, and more. In 2012-2013, Orange County Schools and several other North Carolina school districts devoted the time to curriculum development or ongoing professional development aligned to the new standards. The price tag would be in the hundreds of millions if you totaled the number of hours the staff members were paid for professional development. It should be noted that they did not receive a bonus check. The money was part of their contract. Tax payers have invested in professional development aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Did North Carolina provide much assistance to educators prior to the 2012-2013 school year? No. School districts were required to use their own funds, contract with their own teachers, and develop their own resources. This was expensive. You could say that implementing the Common Core State Standards was done on the backs of the professional educators in North Carolina. I have not met many educators who disagree with the Common Core State Standards. This is another reason why I feel that politicians should let educators implement the standards. If elected officials want to provide the appropriate funding for implementing the Common Core State Standards, then that would be a step in the right direction.
5. Curriculum Alignment Is Easier With the New Standards.
It is difficult to describe curriculum alignment to non-educators. "When school staff have a more informed conception of curriculum, a teacher's daily decisions about how to deliver instruction not only affect student achievement in that classroom but also future student achievement, for it is assumed that students will be entering the next classroom prepared to handle a more sophisticated or more expansive level of work" (Zmuda, Kuklis & Kline, 2004, p. 122). Aligning the curriculum is an ongoing process which requires time, reflection, honesty, conflict, and a professional commitment to share what works in each classroom with specific students. The new standards provide a clear road map for educators. They do not outline every detail of what a teacher needs to do each day. Standards are a guide, not a script. If educators are beginning to align their curriculum, then policy makers should find ways to support their efforts. Curriculum alignment drives the work of a school district. When I see teachers analyzing student work and comparing it to a standard, I see excellent teaching. I entered the teaching profession in the early days of the Standards Movement. I have never seen teachers sharin their craft knowledge and having ongoing conversations about the standards like I saw in 2012-2013. Standards provide a common point of conversation, not a floor or a ceiling. The way the Common Core State Standards are written, a teacher can accelerate gifted students. This is missing from the national debate. Before we vote to eliminate the standards, let's visit schools and ask teachers to come to the State Board of Education. Let's find out what is working and how the standards are supporting teaching and learning. Let's avoid the political rhetoric and ask the teacher leaders who bore the burden of implementing the standards because the State Board of Education voted to adopt the standards.
6. The Change Process Requires Time.
Schools will continue to implement the Common Core State Standards in the summer and fall of 2013. Leading implementation requires a principal-leader who is willing to create short-term wins for the staff, provide time for the staff to reflect on the standards and to encourage risk-taking. Implementation of the new standards requires principal-leaders to honor the change process and to respect the emotions that staff will have during this change in teaching and learning. If states eliminate the Common Core State Standards, then which standards will replace them? If we fall back to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, then we are adopting an inferior set of standards. They were the best that the state could develop. That was then and this is now. The Common Core State Standards were not embraced immediately. However, after one year of developing lesson plans, units of study, and assessments, educator have given their seal of approaval. The change process was emotional and it caused all teachers to reflect on teaching and learning. If state officials continue to change the standards, it will be impossible for educators to develop a guaranteed and viable curriculum (Marzano). Eliminating the Common Core State Standards from public schools may win a political battle at the state or federal level. However, it is not in the best interests of teachers and students. Ask teachers in North Carolina if they think the standards should change. The standards should not be a stepping stone for someone's political career.
"These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards based reforms. It is time to recognize that standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep" (Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Introduction, p. 5).
7. Student Achievement Matters.
The reason that educators get out of bed and go to work each day is because student achievement matters. The new standards support the goal of College and Career Readiness. Teachers recognize that the new standards require more rigor than previous state standards. One of the most compelling arguments for the Common Core State Standards was "standardization." When a 12 year old girl moves from Hope, Arkansas, to Lexington, North Carolina, she should be on the same page with her classmates. Students are moving across the United States on a regular basis. Prior to the Common Core State Standards, families had to fear that they were moving to a state with higher or lower standards. Standardization does not mean that every student learns the same thing in the same way. Technology integration, project-based learning, and other best practices allow teachers to meet the needs of each student, while aligning assignments to the standards. When students master a standard, the Common Core State Standards allow teachers to move to the next grade level. When students transfer to a new school, they need to know that the things they learned will provide them a foundation for learning at the new school. Changing standards after year one of implementation does not respect the main goal of education - Student Achievement.
Common Core State Standards: The Right Direction for U.S. Public Schools
It amazes me that one or more politicians can advocate for changing standards. I do not try to change medical practice, standards for the Interstate highway system, building codes, or taxes. The reason that I do not attempt to get involved with these things is because I am a professional educator. I would appreciate it if politicians would consult with professional educators and ask them if the Common Core State Standards support teaching and learning. A simple Google search can provide a glimpse at the groups who are rallying to eliminate the Common Core State Standards. The standards have transformed teaching and learning. Teachers and administrators have embraced the standards and will spend the summer months aligning their curriculum and units to the standards. Hundreds of teachers in any given state will meet on Saturday morning for an online Twitter chat, meet at a restaurant to share learning goals, or attend a summer institute. Teachers may not like change, but they support change when it is in the best intersts of students. The Common Core State Standards seem to be one thing that is right in education.
Unlike schools in the Northern Hemisphere, Australian schools are now halfway through the academic year. The learning curve in this first year of administration has been steep, especially in the area of decision-making. Here is what I've learned so far...
1. Decision-making is a delicate balance of having a heart for the needs of an individual and a knowledge of how the needs of the individual affect the entire system of educating children.
As a teacher, I could accommodate most every parent, student, and administrator request short of daily written reports. As an administrator, I'm becoming an expert on communicating messages that some are reluctant to hear.
A difficult message must follow a session of active listening. You may spend hours beginning sentences with What I hear you saying is... and allowing the person to clarify his or her point of view.
The decision must be delivered in a way that honours the point of view but doesn't waver in resolution. I appreciate the point of view. I understand you don't like the decision for [state the reasons]. The decision is final.
The closings are awkward. Individuals leave your office knowing that you can't/won't give them what they want. So what do you say when you shake hands?
2. Some good decisions feel crummy for awhile.
Leaders have to break through decision paralysis, a condition that may result from analysing a situation from a student, parent, teacher, community, philosophical, research, practical, policy, long-term, and systems perspective.
When you write down the possible decisions next to the probably outcomes, someone almost always suffers - at least in the short term. You can only hope that the decision will result in the most good possible and, long-term, result in at least some good for everyone.
3. When people don't like a decision, they say things they don't mean.
This truth threw me off at first. Whether the unhappy person threatens to pull children out of a school, go to the union, or take the issue to the boss or the board/council, you have to be able to calmly (and honestly) look at them and say, I'm sorry you feel that way.
I admit to having sleepless nights, considering how I will react to those who will probably not like a decision. While I understand that I can never make everyone happy, learning communities, by definition, are about relationships.
You must be able to put a negative encounter aside for the sake of the relationship so that you can continue to work together for the benefit of students.
4. Support is critical.
I'm super-fortunate to have a boss who backs me. More than a few conversations have gone something like this: When I said x, I was thinking... I considered saying y, but I suspected... only to have the boss reassure me that both x and y might well have been wrong in the ears of the listener.
Support goes both ways. you need to understand the decisions made by those more senior so that, when teachers, parents, or students ask questions, you can defend those decisions and the good intent with which the decisions were made.
Actually, support goes more than both ways. Teacher deserve your support. They work incredibly hard and make a huge difference in the lives of children. When you encounter parents who say My son/daughter says that the teacher..., you respond, I'm surprised by that. Having spent a great deal of time in the teacher's classroom, I wonder if there has been a misunderstanding. Have you spoken with the teacher? My late mother, an early childhood educator, told parents this at parent night: "Let's make a deal. I'll believe 50% of what your 5-year-old children tell me about home if you believe 50% of what they tell you about school. It's not that the children are dishonest, it's just that they interpret things differently and often don't explain situations accurately."
Appreciate support. Pay it forward. Pay it back.
5. It is important to clarify who will make a final decision.
Many decisions directly affect teachers. Even when teachers aren't able to make a final decision, it's helpful to fully consider their points of view. But you need to tell them beforehand whether they are being asked to make the decision or are being asked for input.
If a decision is completely top-down, teachers should understand the strategic intent behind the decisions as well as the steps for implementation. Teachers might have some input into whether the steps of implementation need to be further broken down. They can set personal learning goals aligned with the school strategic goals. In what other ways might they feel some control over decisions imposed upon them?
6. Decisions + resolve = exhaustion.
Each night, I go home mentally exhausted. I've told my husband that I don't have the energy to decide what I want for dinner. I don't have the mental capacity for anything beyond reality television or reruns of popular sitcoms. And, unfortunately, my brain is most often too muddled to coherently write a blog post.
But it will get easier. Every new job does.
What have you learned about decision-making?
This article was originally written for http://expateducator.com
When it comes to the use of technology in education, I often say that it is not a generational gap, but a learning gap that prevents our older generations from accepting new technology tools for learning. I think I may have to amend my position. There are a few things about mobile devices that point to a generational gap that may be preventing by some an acceptance of these devices as tools for learning. I am a true believer that we consider an item as technology if it was invented in our lifetime. Therefore, I consider a cellphone technology, but my car in some form or another has always been with me since the 60’s and to me that is my car and not technology.
My younger daughter has had her own cellphone since Grammar school and full access to the Internet at home all of her life. She was Social Media involved as a toddler with Penguin World. She has always had a laptop, iPad and an iPod. We are fortunate enough and grateful to have afforded her those tools. She is now headed off to college with these experiences and tools in place. I often learn from her simply by observing how she uses things to learn.
This weekend we were spending time at the beach house that is pretty much cut off from the world. My daughter was working on a final paper and asked if she could download a book she needed from Amazon. I gave her permission and watched her download it to her Smartphone as she continued working on her laptop. In consideration of my own ailments and frailties, I asked if she would not better be able to read the book if it were on her laptop instead of her smartphone?
“No, this will be just fine,” was the answer.
That is when I got it. I would struggle with reading a book from a Smartphone, but not so much a teen’s problem. Teens are reading text on their phones 24/7. They watch full-length movies and TV shows on their Smartphones. They do not need to make adjustments from previous habits. I had to adjust from Desktop use to laptop use as an adult. That is not a problem for kids who are multi-users when it comes to the devices of technology.
The other big stumbling point when it comes to the acceptance of mobile devices used as tools for learning is the fact that the older generation perceives a cellphone as a phone, as the name would imply. Actually, the smartphone is a complex computer with phone capabilities in addition to thousands of other applications. Again, the youthful generation just uses the technology for communication, curation, entertainment, research, and photography without the oohs and aahs, while the older generation just marvels at all the bells and whistles of the new technology vicariously, through the experiences of others, often younger. While the older generation tries to figure out how to grant permission, while maintaining control over this new-fangled technology, the youth is employing it everywhere and all of the time, except in some cases in school. Adults are delusional to think that they have the power to control this technology.
If schools need to control Smartphone use, let them figure out ways to incorporate them interactively into lessons. Teaching kids responsible use is the best form of control. It is lifelong skill. Mobile devices provide a gateway to more relevant content than could ever be placed in a textbook. Why are we not preparing our kids with the skills to access, assess and utilize that content? Will they not need these skills in the technology-driven world in which they will live? They come to us trusting that we will be preparing them with what they need to thrive in their world in the future, but many of our educators are not even in the world of today. I have said this before. If we are going to educate our children for what they will need, we must educate our educators first. Technology is changing things too fast for us all to keep up without a little help from others. There is so much to know, that we have reached a point where many of us do not know what it is that we do not know. Whether this roadblock to technology use in education is a learning thing or a generational thing, collaboration may be the map to the way out. Educators need to connect and collaborate in all of the methods we have available to us in order to learn and share.
A common saying about schools is that schools are a reflection of the communities they serve, but communities are complex. Schools by nature are a complex interplay of social, cultural, economic, political, and symbolic capital unable to be bound or directed by simple directives such as legislative mandates. Schools should try to use the complexity of the community to envision an even better community than the one that exists. The edge of the community, the unsure boundary, the frothy-foamy conversation between organic fractals of human existence gives complex systems the capacity for innovation and organizational learning (Fels, 2006; Stacey, 1996).
Equilibrium-oriented systems want to control disorder to move toward stability which limits energy crossing into the system so they act as ‘closed systems’ to keep energy from escaping. These systems apply negative feedback and other controls for order resulting in “strict policies, rigid hierarchies, resistance to change, and maintenance of the status quo” (Gilstrap, 2005, p. 58). In contrast, self-organized behavior reaches a steady state on its own while still remaining ‘critical’ in that it is barely stable (Waldrop, 1992). This is a fine point created by tension along the continuum.
Stuart Kauffman believes human organizations that are too structured or specialized do not allow agents to learn beyond the traditional processes for performing a job. On the one hand, if no one has clearly defined roles, the organization is chaotic without progress. The organization wants a balance of agents having a common purpose with the ability to adapt to the behavior of other agents in the organization. Complex problems can be solved at the edge of chaos because of the redundancy, loose couplings, blurry but present hierarchical roles, etc. Organizations that can evolve processes to bring in an increasing flow of energy move to the edge of chaos where they can solve complex problems and gain a competitive advantage to anticipate the future in order to survive (Waldrop, 1992).
Chaos by itself doesn’t explain the structure, the coherence, the self-organizing cohesiveness of complex systems…complex systems have somehow acquired the ability to bring order and chaos into a special kind of balance…called the edge of chaos where life has enough stability to sustain itself and enough creativity to deserve the name of life…The edge of chaos is the constantly shifting battle zone between stagnation and anarchy, the one place where a complex system can be spontaneous, adaptive, and alive….learning and evolution move agents along the edge of chaos in the direction of greater and greater complexity (Waldrop, 1992, p. 12, 296).
These zones along the edge are similar to boundary conversations discussed by Bruffee (1999) where constant struggle determines what will shift to center and what will be marginalized. This gives new meaning to the phrase “on the cutting edge” of education. With no room to move in either direction, or you will no longer be on the edge, all you can do is move along the edge to stay on. “Systems function best when they are at the ‘edge of chaos’, poised between too much rigidity in the face of change and too much change in the face of achieved progress” (Levin, 2002, p. 12). Education needs emergent boundaries to allow work to be done and to keep systems from freezing up or flying into chaos (Church, 2005).
I have seen a blaze of anti-Common Core sentiment sweep through certain states. These groups that are protesting the Common Core are counting on you not doing your own research and thinking about the Common Core in-depth. There are several FALSE claims you will hear in relation to Common Core that you need to think about. You can verify this at www.corestandards.org.
First, the Common Core is not a national curriculum. The full name of Common Core is “Common Core State Standards” (aka CCSS) meaning they are benchmarks we want our children to achieve, but how to achieve them is left up to individual states and local communities. Many, many companies are competing for schools’ dollars by offering diverse and varied curricula if schools don’t want to write their own. The feds are not driving Common Core for implementation or for assessment.
Second, the Common Core does not dumb down the curriculum (the same people claiming we are dumbing down the curriculum also gripe that we are introducing difficult concepts too early—which is it?). On average, we see rigorous standards applied 1 year earlier than we were applying them under the Missouri Grade Level Expectations. Missouri has consistently had the 2nd and 3rd most rigorous state achievement test (MAP) in the nation and now we see an even more rigorous test coming next year. In fact, we just piloted the Common Core assessment in the district and students and teacher alike commented on how much harder the test was than the MAP. One question I saw was substantially different than the MAP test. On MAP, a kid would be asked a math problem and then given a set of choices: A, B, C, or D. On the Common Core test, I saw a 5th grader answering questions that went something like this, “Suzy was given the following math problem.” A word problem followed. “Suzy read the problem, formed a plan to answer the problem with six steps.” A numbered list of 6 steps followed. “Suzy got the following answer which was wrong. Find which step in Suzy’s method was wrong, explain why, and correct her answer.” Folks, a kid has to think a lot deeper to answer that type of questions than a multiple-guess test.
Third, there is a lot of other mumbo-jumbo being tossed around, but opponents keep piling up argument after argument against it until you aren’t even sure what they are referring to anymore. The argument expands to gripe about socialism, anti-Christian movements, abortion, tracking, cost, and I don’t know what else. But those things are other policy and legislative concerns that activists are lumping in with Common Core because they don’t understand it.
In a nutshell, here is a Common Core kindergarten standard:
RF.K.2(a): Recognize and produce rhyming words. The standard then recommends “Halfway Down” by A. A. Milne and “Singing Time” by Rose Fyleman although districts can use “Mary had a Little Lamb”, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, or any other district approved literature. The concept can be further developed through artwork, song, science, math, and vocabulary. The curriculum is developed at the local level while the assessment will be used to determine if a student can indeed recognize and produce a rhyming word.
Let’s try another one in 3rd grade:
RI.3.9: Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic. The standard recommends “Sarah, Plain and Tall” and “The Storm” although districts can choose any literature they want to have students compare and contrast. By the way, this is something we were trained heavily in during my doctoral program in order to conduct academic research…and here it is in 3rd grade Common Core!
L.5.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. Exemplar texts include “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “The Little Prince.” Informational texts include, “Who is Neil Armstrong?” and “Women Explorers of North and South America.” If we don’t like any of those, we can choose any literature we want.
Can you feel Obama’s fingertips reaching for your children’s minds yet? If you are confused where the socialist agenda is, I’m with you. But then again, no one has shown you what the real standards look like. Any standard can be written to reflect local control, with local lessons, local activities, and local formative assessments. The board will approve any curriculum that is generated by our own local teachers and reviewed by our own local administrators, myself included.
Finally, there are some real nice components of Common Core that I want to point out:
Reading is broken down into Literature, Informational Texts, and Foundational Skills. Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Language are strands of the standards. Reading and writing aren’t just isolated to classic works, but standards are given for reading to be taught in Social Studies classes, science, and other technical subjects.
Here is an example of the “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas” in grades 9 and 10. Standard RI.9-10.9: Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts. These are four powerful, patriotic, truly American pieces of history that our kids should be grappling with. The teacher moves from the “sage on the stage” lecturing about what these pieces mean to the “guide on the side” helping students hold democratic readings and discussions about what these authors may have intended and what they were dealing with from a historical context. Students must “delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.”
The Common Core State Standards are designed to provide a framework of standards that are Internationally Benchmarked, rigorous, and broad enough to allow states and local boards of education create a locally controlled curriculum designed to meet the needs of local children. Go to www.corestandards.org and read through the standards to see for yourself. Nothing is perfect. Education is a practice. Common Core is another step forward in that practice. It isn’t evil, destructive, or anti-American. It is an opportunity for people with an axe to grind to use it as political smoke and mirrors to advance their own agenda. Don’t let the smoke get in your eyes.
Long-term predictability. In non-linear systems, a lack of understanding, the smallest miscalculation, or the smallest bit of information missing magnifies throughout the system until predictions are useless (Waldrop, 1992). Unpredictability is key to creativity which emerges from complex interactions and “cannot be intended in any comprehensive way….we are agents in systems that are coevolving into an open-ended evolutionary space” (Stacey, 1996, p. 71, 217). We are not in control of what happens in long-term outcomes.
The system moves toward a strange attractor like the mission and vision of a school, but never reaches the mission and vision. The system continues to move toward the mission and vision from the given point of the school generated by the sociocultural and environmental contexts driven by the specific interactions of the multitude of agents residing in the school community or any networked systems resulting in the school “orbiting” shakily around this strange attractor as those negotiations are made (Gilstrap, 2005). Long-term outcomes based on these uncertain, complex movements are unpredictable at best (U.S. Department of Education, 1998).
Short-term predictability. In complex systems, themes and archetypes are recognizable (Stacey, 1996; Waldrop, 1992). In fact, understanding the history of a complex system to look for patterns allows educators to plan within a short-term time frame, sometimes simply the next move to be made. This almost total lack of control causes the behavior of the system to emerge. Short term, general predictions are possible since tiny fluctuations take time to build and the momentum of the system is rooted in the past (Kieren, 2005; Stacey, 1996). “Patterns emerge at higher levels as a result of adaptive dynamics at lower levels of integration…prediction is limited, and…we must develop statistical mechanical methods to extract the knowable from the unknown” (Levin, 2002, p. 15).
Deficit (noun): Inadequacy or insufficiency, an unfavourable condition or position, to be lacking or a shortage. From the Latin – it lacks
Developmental (noun): The act of developing from a simpler or lower to a more advanced, mature or complex form or stage
I received a call this morning from a teacher friend of mine. Claire is a second year out teacher who began her teaching career after a varied and wondrous life journey. Her life is a litany of success and achievement. She has been a nationally ranked gymnast, playwright, leader of transformational seminars, managed sales teams, mother, and carer. She rang me because she needed to talk to someone who understood the life of a teacher but was outside her school environment.
Claire felt that she was struggling at school. The school had asked her this year to step up to co-coordinate and rejuvenate English at a critical year level whilst taking on managing the school play and teach more classes. The school leadership team obviously thought a lot of Claire and her capabilities otherwise they would not have given her this opportunity. Claire’s challenges echo that of most teachers in the profession – the feeling that there is never enough time to get everything done that you need to do, let alone what others expect of you. Claire was currently experiencing her work as never being complete to her satisfaction, teaching as well as she would like to with a particular group, as well as having times of being overwhelmed. Much of her concern was self-talk about not being enough and that other staff members were judging her performance.
In my experience this is a common feeling amongst teachers. With the relentless day-to-day nature of education many teachers rarely have the time to neither reflect deeply nor acknowledge the progress they make each and every day. The feeling of needing to be constantly driven yet never enough is familiar to many. It is an experience of deficit – and I assert it is symptomatic of the paradigm in which education currently swims.
Recently in my work with a school to create supportive structures to empower and develop teachers I had a blinding insight about what we were actually trying to achieve – and it was far larger than I had anticipated and could explain why “performance” and “teacher evaluation” was resisted by many teachers.
Human beings, for the most part, live in a deficit paradigm. It is everywhere. It is in how we see ourselves, how we see the world, how the media portrays the world, in how politics is currently working, it is endemic in our schools. It is how companies sell us products, programs and desires. We aren’t doing enough, productive enough, rich enough, thin enough, smart enough, careful enough, etc. The recent viral Dove Real Beauty Sketches are a perfect example of how people see themselves from a deficit paradigm and the impact of that viewpoint.
Our education systems are then built upon this deficit thinking. We need to “improve” our schools. We need to “evaluate” or “appraise” our teachers and get rid of the bad ones and pay the good one’s more. Politicians use the language of deficit and impose deficit thinking models on schools and school systems. They look at other countries like Finland and Singapore through deficit eyes. If you just look at the language alone (e.g. ‘appraisal - the act of estimating or judging the nature or value of something or someone’) I am not surprised teachers and schools are resisting this thinking.
If you look at ANY high performing school, school system, team, organisation anywhere in the world, the paradigm that they operate from is one of nurturing, growing, building and development. This is not the language or viewpoint of deficit. There is nothing lacking but something to grow and nourish. Two recent TED talks by Rita Pierson and Sir Ken Robinson both point vividly to this.
Currently, we are immersed in a world of deficit and because of this we develop learning in schools from this mindset and we relate to one another from a deficit mindset. Our school structures hamper and hinder developmental thinking. Teachers need time to think, to reflect, to develop, to grow. Running from one class to another limits this. To improve performance in schools we must create structures for teachers to develop their own meta-cognition as a core part of being a teacher (or as I like to refer to them – master learner).
If we wish to create and transform the education system to unleash the potential of young people (and of ourselves) it is critical we create a developmental mindset and view the world through the eyes of “developing from a simpler or lower to a more advanced, mature or complex form or stage”. When something is developing it experiences stages of growth and stages of challenges. It needs to be nourished and watered and fed to grow.
The real battle we need to be fighting is one of context.
Inside a developmental paradigm there is empathy for the stage of development people are currently at. There is not judgement just an acknowledgment. It allows for acknowledgement of progress, and celebration. It realises there are muscles to build, and capacities to grow. In the realm of agriculture one does not judge the value of a plant and ask it to improve. We create an environment for it to flourish and grow. That is what we are actually trying to do with students and staff in schools – aren’t we? In fact, I assert that wherever you find a great teacher, a great school, great parents, great coaches, great teams and high performance – you will find this paradigm. Not surprisingly you will also find habits, structures, practices and actions that develop and grow learning.
My coaching to Claire was simple. As we spoke she became clear how hard she was on herself. She saw that she could have a lot more empathy for herself and also share and communicate with people at the school what she is dealing with right now and what support she would like. She left clear and empowered.
How does deficit thinking play out in your school? Where do you struggle with deficit thinking? Where do you see developmental thinking?
Each Sunday afternoon there are five Topic questions posted on a poll to determine which will be selected as that week’s #Edchat Topic. There are two #Edchat discussions each Tuesday on Twitter, so the top two topics selected by the poll become the topics of the chats. The number two choice goes at noon, Eastern Time, and the number one selection goes at 7 PM, Eastern Time. The larger audience is the 7 PM Chat. If you did not know it before, I am the person responsible for making up the #Edchat Topic questions that are voted on each week. I admit that I do have favorites each week, but, more often than not, they are not the favorites of the voting public. This week it was a little different. I actually had two favorites, and fortunately for me, they were the chosen topics for the chats. I found both yesterday’s #Edchat discussions thought-provoking, and very much in need of public discussion. The topics were very much connected as well.
#Edchat is very much an open, public discussion by educators from around the world. Ideas on each topic are presented from various points of view as we discuss the varied topics in education each week. As in any public discussion, a person may pick and choose those ideas that suit his/her needs and in this case, educational philosophy. Sometimes it is a new idea, and other times it is validation of what is already being done. Since it is a discussion using Twitter as the platform, most of the participants are educators who are somewhat familiar with technology and social media. As a generalization they tend to be a collaborative group, more progressive in their approach to education, and open to the use of technology as a tool for learning.
The other day I engaged an educator who described himself as a 20th century traditionalist educator (my words). He said that he participated in #Edchat so that he could know his “Enemy”. When I called him on this, he informed me that “Enemy” was in quotes in his tweet. I guess that was to make it humorous, but there is much truth in humor. The point here is that most of the participants are striving to move from the methods and pedagogy of 20th century education to a place that we have not yet found. It is also a great help when authors and experts on these various topics join in on the Chats giving clarity and direction in their areas of expertise. Many of these thought leaders are connected educators.
Usually the #Edchat question is a singular interrogative. The Topics this week had more than one part in the hope of generating more discussion. The noon Chat Topic: What is the BIG Shift in education that everyone is looking for? Is there one big idea that can positively affect education? If not why? Of course there is no single idea because education is too complex for an easy fix. A point lost to most politicians and business people. The question, I thought, would prompt the chatters to present and promote their best and biggest idea.
From the folks I engaged in conversation on this topic the overwhelming objective was support of student-centric as opposed to teacher-centric lessons. The shift being from Direct instruction, and lecture to problem-based, or project-based learning. The teacher would no longer be the content-delivery expert filling the empty vessels of students, but rather a mentor, guiding their learning direction rather than mandating it.
The 7 PM Question: Children are anxious learners in the early grades of education. What are the factors that turn kids off to learning, as they get older? This #Edchat started slowly. I hate when that happens. My biggest fear in doing these chats is that there may come a time when nobody responds to the question. Going into moderator mode, I broke the topic down, and peppered the chatters with a series of smaller questions to loosen them up. That worked which immediately calmed me down. It was like the priming of an old well. It took a minute to get it going, but it came on strong.
Words that popped up with those who I engaged were curiosity, authenticity, and ownership. What I took from it was that students at a young age are curious about learning because it is all new and exciting. It is also relevant ant authentic since what kids are learning enables them to participate in more stuff as well as society. However, some reach a point where they think they have as much as they need and the curiosity is gone. The direction however continues providing to them things that they no longer want to engage in. They do not own their learning and cannot direct its direction to things they would like to learn. If this occurs in a student, it comes at different times for each student. Some teachers saw it on the elementary level others in Middle school where hormones play an even bigger role. The point here is that it happens to many students.
Engagement in learning is the goal of education and the ability for students to own that learning and for it to be authentic, and relevant was a theme for this #Edchat. Again it came down to the teacher being the guide or mentor and not a content delivery person directing content to kids who don’t see it as relevant or authentic. They prefer to create content instead of memorizing it. They prefer to use content instead of regurgitating it on a test.
Both of these #Edchats led me to the same place. For kids to be engaged in learning it will be more effective if they own it and direct it. Teachers can always guide the direction and, as content experts, they have the capacity to do so. Teaching kids how to learn, and how to continue to learn, is more important than whatever content the curriculum tells us the students should know for a test. If we can use their interest to promote our content, fine. If our content doesn’t interest students at all, then what do we do?
#Edchat is not the best method to introduce people to online chats for the first time without preparation. It requires some knowledge and a little strategy. If you are interested, this may help: #Edchat Revisited. If you are interested in viewing the past #Edchat discussions, we have archived the last several years here: #Edchat Archives. If you do not have time to read, you can download a podcast analysis of several of the #Edchats from Bam Radio Network, and The #Edchat Radio Show. #Edchat is one of many education chats. It was started 4 years ago be Shelly Terrell,@shellterrell, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, and me,@tomwhitby. It was not the first chat, but it is the most enduring, and it has spawned many, many others.
When we were students, it quickly became apparent who was “smart” and who was “not so smart.” This writer happened to find himself in the latter category, especially when it came to math. How did we figure this out? Those who struggled with math, for example, simply interpreted the arrangement of the math groups: Group A, who was often first to work with the teacher (and the first to finish), was obviously the “smart group.” Group B, who went next, was the “decently smart group” and so on and so forth. “Smart kids” earned A’s in math. “Not so smart kids” didn’t. “Smart kids” went outside during recess. “Not so smart kids” had to get extra help during recess. Most teachers know A’s say very little about a student’s intellect. Unfortunately, most students don’t.
Whether our struggling students know it or not, they have a unique gift. And it’s up to us to unearth that special talent and find ways to empower them.
Uncommon commonsense ways to empower struggling students
Have your students talk about their interests
There are myriad ways to find out what your students are passionate about. One way is to have them write about it. We’ve had success with prompts like, “What are three things you want me to know about you?” and “Describe three things that you are really good at.”
Another way to discover your students’ special talents is to have them go around the room and talk about them. Or you might pair students up and have them interview one another and report back to the class.
Publicize the strengths of each student
In fifth grade I sat next to a student named Marcus for most of the year. He had little interest in most of what we were asked to do and received low marks because of it. If you would have asked his peers where Marcus fit, they would have relegated him to the “not so smart” category.
A typical day for Marcus went something like this: His group would work together on a project; meanwhile, he would pull out his notebook, place it on his lap beneath the desk, and sketch. Even at that age, he was supremely talented. One day, as the class worked in groups, he was finally caught—but instead of punishing Marcus, our teacher quietly whispered into his ear. He nodded and handed over the notebook to her. Then the strangest thing happened: She asked everyone to stop what they were doing and held up his sketch. As we looked at it, she raved about its sophistication. Then she walked around the room so that every student could see. Marcus beamed. When she finished, she returned the notebook, which he closed and promptly put back in his desk.
Prior to this, Marcus’ strengths had never been publicized. This simple, but brilliantly executed decision by our teacher had a lasting impact on his learning experience—and we all began to notice a change in him.
Spend more time talking to parents about the student’s strengths
When we meet with parents to review our students’ progress, it’s tempting to gloss over the A’s and B’s and quickly move on to the D’s. The reasons for this are obvious enough, but doing so may come at the cost of building on our students’ strengths. Spend an equal amount of time talking about the A’s and B’s as you do the D’s. Though higher marks have little to do with intellect, they do point to where a student’s strengths lie. Spend time investigating the meaning of that A; explore ways to develop that strength, both inside and outside the classroom.
Encourage students beyond academics
Are some of your students in the school play? Are others on the baseball or soccer team? Why not spend five minutes before class talking about yesterday’s game or tonight’s performance. Not only will this ease your students into the work that lies ahead, it will give your athletes and artists an opportunity to share talents that they might not get to share otherwise.
Over this last year I have been fortunate to have been sent to many education conferences on behalf of SmartBrief in pursuit of content and guest bloggers forSmartBlog on Education. It is a dream job for a retired educator and an education blogger. The intent is to always keep the educator’s voice on SmartBlog authentic and relevant. In that capacity, I have attended and conducted a multitude of workshops on various education topics. Since I am no longer in the classroom, and have no need to apply what I learn about current teaching methods in a classroom setting, I often attend these workshops as an observer, or even a critical observer in some cases.
In conference after conference, and workshop after workshop I have observed successes and failures in the methods employed by presenters to get their material across to their audiences. Of course my biggest criticism is that too many presenters view the people in the room as audiences, and themselves as some sort of entertainer. Of course a successful presenter is part entertainer, as is any teacher, but more importantly, he or she is there at a conference workshop to educate educators and that is a primary goal. For that goal to be met presenters might be better served thinking of the people in the room as learners, and employ their best skills as an educator. In fairness to most presenters, the best do just that.
Much can be learned as an educator by watching what works with a bunch of teacher/learners. Of course there are some who would argue that these are adult learners and shouldn’t be compared to kids. I used to think that as well, but I am not as sure, after all that I have observed.
I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit.
According to the article Malcolm Knowles an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.
Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:
After considering these principles and observing many of them first hand at these professional conferences, I started to wonder if the reason why these same principles do not apply to kids, at least on the secondary level, is because we prohibit them from happening in our education system. Do we limit our students learning by blocking access to the very things that motivate us as adults to learn?
Can Students be self-motivated and self-directed? As adults some might say we are “pursuing our bliss” therefore, we are self-motivated and self-directed. Are our students bereft of bliss, or are we blocking out their bliss?
At the more successful conferences providing adult learning environments I have observed many things that aided the learning of adults. The best conferences provided Internet access for all. This enabled adults to use varied and sundry laptops and mobile devices. I still revel at the memory of a room full of learners listening to Chris Lehmann at the Educon Conference as he placed notes on a white board. When he was finished with his illustrated point in the conversation, 40 adults stood up and took a picture of the whiteboard with their mobile devices (mostly cellphones) for later reference. Student classrooms might have over 40 students in them but how many are allowed to take pictures of the teachers’ notes?
Of course the resounding positive comments from any of these learning environments is that there is a love of the conversation, as opposed to the lecture. That is common at Educon and it is the mainstay of the most successful Edcamps. Of course that conversation method is not the focus of teaching kids. Most educators focus on direct instruction and lecture as the mainstay for their lessons.
Then there is the cry from a multitude of adult conference learners that they hold teacher-presenters in the highest regard, because they are authentic. They have been in the classroom, and have paid their dues, so to speak. When real classroom teachers talk about education, it is relevant and real. This is a common sentiment among adult conference learners. I guess that relevance is important to the adult learner. When it comes to the kid learners are they even given a smattering of relevance or are we steeped in curriculum some of which may have been around since the mid 1900’s?
Of course the biggest outcry from adult learners at conferences comes when they are subjected to PowerPoint presentations that are text-ladened and read to the learners word for word by the presenter. This is the most egregious of mistakes and often the initiator of an exodus by the adult learners from the room. What alternative do kid learners have given the same set of circumstances?
Maybe as adult learners we need to take a look in the mirror before we resume our role as teachers for kids. In the final analysis, I do not think that there are differences in the way we learn as adults, or kids, but rather the differences lie in the opportunities afforded to learn. If we respected kids more as learners, they might be more self-directed and motivated in their learning. If they are allowed to participate in their learning, they might take more ownership. What learner wants to own something that is not in his, or her interest to own? If we can understand better how we learn best, maybe we can alter how we teach to be the best.