August 30, 2014

Our Top Ten Common Sense Responses to the Sh*t People are Saying about the Common Core

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A week ago, we published a “Top Ten” list rank ordering the ten, craziest things we have heard people say about their implementations of the Common Core State Standards. The tendency in reading these descriptions of education gone amok is to blame the Common Core and/or its authors. In reality, we are in charge of how we respond in a given situation.

If a school eliminates narrative text from elementary classrooms in an overzealous response to the Common Core, which clearly states an even distribution of time across text types, are the misinterpretation and the corresponding mis-implementation the fault of the standards and those who wrote them? We don’t think so.

While we see places that the standards and their rollout need to be criticized, we also see plenty to celebrate. A blurry division is typical of most things in life, requiring non-categorical thinking (vs. categorical feeling) that demands a level of maturity. Many educators, however, feel compelled to align themselves to one extreme perspective or the other. Those holding tightly to a negative perspective will look at an article about a school that has burned all its narrative texts and say, “I knew the Common Core State Standards would lead to this!”

Furthermore, these extremes are not the norm. While they are egregious, they don’t represent the majority of Common Core implementations. (Hence the title, crazi-est!)

The purpose of last week’s list was to alert everyone to the risk of slipping into extremism, as we are all vulnerable to this. To think otherwise is naive and binds us to our own incremental changes that move us in the direction of extremes we never intend. The purpose of this week’s list is to help refocus and bring us back to a place of balance and common sense.

Our Top Ten Common Sense Responses to the Sh** People are Saying about the Common Core

10. “Our state standards align to the Common Core, so we really don’t have to change anything.”
Really? You might want to reread. The biggest changes are changes in perspective, and these are easy to overlook if you focus on the standards proper.

9. “In order to meet the requirements of Shift 2, we are reading during P.E. for one class period per week.”
Wow! Your students must all be in great shape!

8. “The only professional learning our school district is offering next year is on the Common Core.”
The spirit of the Common Core embraces best practices.  While PD that focuses on high levels of engagement, fostering good conversations, or raising the quality of student writing might not have “Common Core” in the title, such professional learning will help teachers achieve the goals of the Common Core.  

7. “All questions we ask of students must be text-based questions.”
In order to answer implicit questions, the hallmark of complex text, students must use their background knowledge. So teaching students to connect their experiences to the text will actually help them answer text-based questions.

6. “In our school district, schools are only allowed to order informational texts for classrooms and school libraries. We are not to spend any money on other genres.”
The Common Core calls for a 50-50 balance between literary and informational text at the elementary level.  What we might want to look at more closely is the quality of the texts that we purchase in every genre.  

5. “All of our elementary instruction is changing to whole group lessons.”
As children work to read complex text, many will require scaffolding.  Some of that can happen in small groups. In addition, just students will read more grade-level complex text, does not mean that they will no longer read instructional level text. There will always be a need for balance.

4. “We took two weeks to closely read that paragraph.”
There’s a difference between close reading and killing reading.  If it takes that long to closely read a paragraph, we will never accomplish the Common Core goal of reading widely and deeply. Not to mention that we will make our students hate reading!

3. “Now that the Common Core is here, you know there’s not enough time for us to do independent reading.”
“Extensive reading” is valued by the Common Core.  If we’re not making time for independent reading, then we’re missing part of the big picture.

2. “Ninety percent of the reading in elementary schools needs to be at frustration level.”

All we can to say is “ugh.”  

1. “We have to teach students not to make personal connections to texts.”

Seriously? How do you plan to do that?

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