Accenting the positive…

In my office I have a small leather plaque that simply states “IT CAN BE DONE”.  I brought it with me when I transitioned from working with high school students to college preservice teachers. I am inspired by those who take charge of their learning and do not consider themselves victims of a system or unfair standards, accept the challenge and rise to meet it. There has never been a time where educators can impact positive change in our educational system as today.  The common core comes with the opportunity to change the way we view the learner.

IMG_1484   The teacher in Brooklyn sees his classroom (made up of mostly immigrant non English speaking families) as an opportunity to teach life long learning skills, not teach to the test. It is possible to set up a learning environment where both effort and progress is encouraged and rewarded. It all begins with “I CAN”.  It is his teacher efficacy that resounds “IT CAN BE DONE” that is reflected in the way he weaves into the learning experience the “how”  approach to challenging activities. 

The common core encourages learners to take charge of their learning.  Whether in a rural school in Idaho, a suburban educational setting, or an urban learning environment the common core can provide a framework to shape the learning independence of the next generation.  In reality, we now have the opportunity to develop self regulation, which is key to becoming an independent and successful learner. Future blogs will explain more on this important strategy approach to learning.

It all begins with teacher efficacy.  Simply put, the teacher’s evaluation of whether or not his or her capabilities can bring about desired outcome to student engagement and learning is critical to the success of the common core.  This includes working with those students who may be difficult or unmotivated.

I see the common core as an opportunity to embrace change.  “IT CAN BE DONE” should be our motto and as a result we will raise a generation of children who will be college and career ready.

More information about the “I Can” standards can be found at:

Common means consistent….

For many years I taught a group of special education students in a self contained classroom for children who had emotional and behavioral challenges.  I had a common sense approach and it worked.  It went beyond the reading and math curriculum to the inner voice that told me if I could structure the learning environment to invite discovery, encourage independence, while strictly managing all of the elements, my students would learn how to read.  This was in an elementary school in a fishing town north of Massachusetts. I did not know anything about standards or the common core, but I did know successful learning experiences motivate exploration and a desire to learn more.  Of course I did not know at the time that what I did was provide learning experiences that fed and increased the self efficacy in my students (I did not know if Bandura had even published the term yet, this was in the early 70’s).

How should we structure our learning environments to encourage independence, self regulation, and metacognitive growth?  Well, whether at home or at a school, we want our learners asking for more, not less. about the task at hand.  How do we encourage sharing what is being learning? It begins with creating a positive atmosphere where young minds observe a teacher or parents enthusiasm about specific requirements because they are learning experiences.  Turning the homework reading assignment into a game rather than a task help teachers, parents, and learners form a triangular cooperative group that moves forward together.

The teacher I observed in Brooklyn turns his academic vocabulary wall into a homework game.  He challenges his students (who are mostly ELL students and stronger English speakers than their parents) to go home and use new words, challenging their parents to learn the vocabulary word.  These second graders return with excited stories about what mom, dad, auntie, or sister, learned from them.  They write these accomplishments in a journal, and the game continues throughout the year.

Academic Word Wall

Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards K-5: Comprehension and Collaboration

Grade 2 students:

1. Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and large groups.

Common Core Language Standards K-5: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

1. Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts, including adjectives and adverbs to describe.

Oh…I forgot to add adjectives!

From a second grader? “I forgot to add adjectives to my descriptive sentence about the dolphins.”  As he looked towards the “wacky y” descriptive word wall he decidedly added “slimy” to his sentence.  Image

Why am I so impressed with the scene I observed today? I was with a teacher who embraced the common core with his first graders last year, and is in full swing with his second graders this year. As a  result of his work with his first graders 10 of the students in his English Language Learner’s class tested out and are now in his second grade fully English speaking and teaching.

Without a doubt he is the most contagious common core enthusiast that  I have yet to meet, and I could not help marveling at his power to transform an urban poor second grade learning environment into an inspirational seminar. As the students worked through their informational texts, I could hear phrases coming from the small groups explaining the texts had photos, not pictures, and that is what made them informational.  This type of “text-talk” came from both reading and writing materials designed by the teacher to make the common core fun and inspire his students to embrace the challenge to become “core ready”.

I will post more of what I learned from him, so many of the ideas are in his head, on his bulletin boards, and my student teacher shared with me that teachers from all over the building flock to him for ideas.  What they get is his teacher efficacy as it related to the common core.  He thinks he can, in turn his students think they can, the test scores go up because he is focused on teaching and learning, not testing…..

Common Core Language Standards K-5

Grade 2 students: Knowledge of Language

3.  Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking. reading. or listening.

In the beginning…

I find the Speaking and Listening Standards K-5 to be a significant advance into developing our awareness of how important collaborative conversation is for these youngsters, on multiple subjects.  I realized we had moved away from the conversations that circled around Cake Boss or Rachel Ray when my middle granddaughter was in the first grade and began to describe to me what she was “observing”  (her word not mine) in her classroom.  A farmer had brought incubators with chick eggs in them, and the class would be “observing” them and collecting “data” until they hatched.  She then stated the class was asked to form a hypothesis (thinking I knew what she was talking about) to make a chart displaying the progression of the developing chick inside the incubator. My fascination with this conversation did not end with her impressive vocabulary, she began to ask me questions about the parts of the chick egg, and she was quite surprised that I could not identify them with the proper label.  What I called the yolk she informed me that in it’s earliest stages it was called the “oocyte”. With my professorial feathers ruffled, I said, “Nana went to a very urban public school, we did not have farmers deliver eggs and incubators to our classroom, so I did not learn these things in the first grade.” With a mixture of humility and confidence she responded. “Nana, I did not learn these things from the farmer, I learned them from a book!”  She then went on to let me know she would borrow it from the teacher for me to read for future conversations we would be having about the birthing of a chick.

So many things came to light in that moment.  I have been working with the common core for a few years now, even coauthored a book chapter on the progression of skills from Kindergarten to Twelfth Grade, but until that moment when a first grader engaged me in a conversation about the scientific method, the birthing of chicks, and why informational texts were important, I did not realize the significance of the changes that were being implemented in the classroom.  Informational texts are what many parents fear will take away the joy of reading.  We think of reading in the early grades as “learning to read”, yet, the common core has added “reading to learn” during the critical years of development.  Yet, in this case, a first grader evidenced that gaining information from a text when coupled with experiential learning can have a significant impact on what is being taught and what is being learned.  Her motivation to learn more about a scientific lesson was evidenced in her thinking about the process long after she left the classroom.  Isn’t this what we want our children to be developing in the first grade?

The common core incorporates the significance of communication skills along with  thinking and learning at the earliest levels of brain development.  Incorporating informational reading at the earliest level can enhance a positive progression towards those boring text books and young learners will use them as resources rather than a part of their most dreaded homework assignments.

We will still have the conversations about Cake Boss or the best color for my nails, but we have added a dimension to our conversations that have me excitedly reading second grade informational texts so I can keep up with her.

Reference: Speaking and Listening Standards K-5:  Grade 1 students:     Standard 1: Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 1 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups