It’s so simple it’s practical!

With all of the rhetoric surrounding the common core standards the simplicity and practicality can be lost. Many teachers have been blending common core standards into their learning objectives for decades. The shifts are practical and manageable embracing the transition from having only a certain type of student do well in college and another type of student drop out in the first year because he/she could not process demanding texts.

I often wonder how I would have done in Chemistry if prior to being introduced to the periodic table in the eleventh grade I had been exposed to a text (like the one pictured below) in the first or second grade.


Instead of becoming familiar with the vocabulary and practical applications of chemistry in early grades, I encountered the periodic table and a very boring textbook in the eleventh grade. I will be honest, I had absolutely no interest in chemistry class, and Mr. Tracey was a great teacher.  Others, were hanging out in the chemistry lab trying new experiments because they had been playing with chemistry sets from the time they were five.  In my case, as with many girls of my time, we were playing house, school, or waitress.

My point is that if we expose our young learners to comprehending the academic vocabulary of science in their early years, they will have the prior knowledge required to read and comprehend the more complex and the demanding texts in their future.  I remember the day I saw the periodic table and Mr. Tracey said “Memorize It!” I looked at the table he had on a large chart which became the center of our chemistry class and could not believe that it could be memorized. All at once any desire ( and self efficacy) I had to do anything beyond passing the chemistry regents disappeared.


The problem was, the table was presented without strategies.  How could I manage so much foreign information, what context would I put it in? And…..there were so many! Immediately my self efficacy for doing the task and learning the subject plummeted and there it remained for the entire term.

I do believe if I had known they were elements that represented actual “things” in the environment I might have made a connection to something in my memory, but I am not so sure. Yet, if the table had been presented in a way that I could have set proximal goals to learn and memorize the elements, then perhaps my efficacy would have been higher and my performance in the course less painful. I don’t think anyone understood my screeches of joy when I saw my grade of “65” on the chemistry regents – I had passed without understanding chemistry. I do recall some of my classmates making index cards but only to memorize, not to comprehend. Perhaps a more manageable and interesting approach to remembering significant amount of information could have been instituted.   chemistry-14T

Students in elementary school will not face the challenges I faced in chemistry class if we can embrace informational texts and content and balance our curriculum with literature that promotes reading in the sciences.  If our children are to increase self efficacy in areas that they are less confident in their prior knowledge we must begin to build a familiarity with the vocabulary and content of the more complex subjects in the earlier grades.

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