As educators gear up for the new school year, most who read this blog are thinking about implementing the Common Core. This implementation often comes with mixed emotions as we glow at the prospect of increased student learning, but also wrestle with the stress of one more responsibility. Most educators are feeling at least some angst about how they will fit it all in and meet the expectations outlined by the Common Core. As you begin to think about planning instruction that aligns with the Common Core, we’d like to think about baking a ham, as described in the story below:
A mother prepares a ham for her family’s dinner. With her daughter watching, she preps the meal just as she had for years, following the procedures she learned by watching her mother prepare many, many hams. First, she cuts off both ends of the ham and puts it into a pan. Then the mother carefully measures seasonings and ingredients to make the glaze, and pours it over the ham. She uses toothpicks to anchor pineapple rings to the top and presses whole cloves into the outside of the ham. Finally, just as she is about to put the ham into the oven, her daughter looks at the ends that were cut off and asks, “Why do you cut off both ends of the ham?”
The mother assures the daughter that is an important step in the process of baking a ham. She cannot articulate exactly why the step is so important, but she explains that this was the way her mother made her hams, and that her mother had learned from her mother! The woman went on to explain, “If you do this, it comes out delicious every time. If my mother and grandmother did cut off the ends of the ham, then it was certainly important.
The daughter asks, “Why don’t we call Nona and find out why she cut off the ends?” So, the little girl calls her grandmother and asks her about the strange first step in her family’s traditional ham preparation. Nona laughed before answering, “Oh, I only did that to make it fit in the pan!”
Instruction is driven by a wide array of practices and activities–many of which are important and sound, and some, like cutting off the ends of the ham, we do “just because.” Implementing the Common Core means taking inventory of our instructional repertoires. The standards embody six instructional shifts that aim to help us become more intentional in our teaching practices. As we transition into this school year, we can consider the following:
1. Relevance of Teaching
Why does what I am choosing to teach matter? Will it support my larger goals for my students’ thinking and learning? How will this information build their knowledge?
2. Levels of Engagement
How will I plan my instruction to optimize student interest in learning, increasing the odds that students will understand and retain the information in a learning experience?
3. Quality of Thinking
Is this work cognitively challenging for all, most, some, or a few of my students? How does this work inspire thinking and new ideas among my students?
4. Richness of Conversation
How does this lesson encourage students to collaborate with others who can extend their thinking about the topic? Does conversation lend something valuable to the thinking and learning process in this lesson?
5. Degrees of Connection
To what ideas can students connect this learning? How does this learning make learning something else easier or deeper?
It can be hard to let go of the things we teach “just because.” In teaching, time is our nemesis. With each lesson we plan, we can ask ourselves: Why am I doing this? If you don’t have an answer that offers valuable insights into the questions above, you probably need to serve your students something else.