In yesterday’s post, we shared three stages through which our learning about the Common Core Standards has progressed bringing us to a place where we are considering what the Common Core standards actually mean for teaching and learning. Wrestling with the language and meaning of the standards has helped us to distill our thinking about the deep rooted implications of the standards and we have arrived at a place where we can say this: The standards are as simple as A-B-C. 🙂
A is for Agency
One day this past fall, Kim pulled her Toyota Sienna minivan into the garage next to her husband’s sedan. Living in a home built long before the obsession for oversized vehicles, when Kim’s cars are parked side by side in the garage, there isn’t a lot of room to pass between them. When the garage door is down, there is absolutely no getting behind them. On this particular day, Kim pulled into the garage, hopped out of the car, shut the garage door and went into the house. Meanwhile, her fourth grade son was taking his time getting out of the car and after a few minutes, Kim heard him calling from the garage, “I-I-I’-m-m-m s-s-s-t-t-t-u-u-u-u-c-k!”
When she went out to see what the problem was, she saw that he had gotten out on the passenger side and was standing in the narrow passage between her husband’s car and her own, unable to pass behind the car because the garage door was down. His best and only solution for getting unstuck was to call for help. He didn’t think to climb over the hood of the van. He didn’t try to walk across the bumper pressed to the front wall. He didn’t even think to open the car door and climb across to get out on the driver’s side of the car.
Instances of learned helplessness happen all of the time in both homes and schools. Think about a student who just won’t write. Perhaps, you regularly sit beside this student and help him/her think through a writing topic. This is the student who, at the end of writing time, rarely has anything written on his/her paper. Instead of cajoling or prompting and solving this student’s challenges, let the student figure it out. We inadvertently reinforce this sense of helplessness by giving the most attention to the students who seem to try the least. Try responding the same way Kim responded with her son: do nothing.
As you might have guessed, when left to figure it out on his own, Kim’s son thought to go back through the car and get out on the other side. The students with whom we work in classrooms, many of whom typically write very little, often surprise us and their teachers by writing more than they have before.
When children struggle, our instinct is to ride in on our white horse to save the day, but when we do that, we deny them opportunities to feel the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. In turn, we teach them to rely on us.The standards call for students to arrive at “independence and proficiency” which makes us think hard about what will need to change in order to help students arrive at this place. We need our children to be able to solve problems leaving us to think that instead of teaching children to “call us when they need help,” the mantra of the Common Core instruction should be this: Call me when you’ve figured something out.