Are the Common Core Standards Goals?

high goals

So much chatter about the CCSS has made it to comedy television with hosts reading math problems and evaluating the common core based on curriculum.

One important aspect of the CCSS that appears to be overlooked is where the curriculum comes from – the standards are national, the curriculum and implementation is local. If you play soccer in your backyard it is not the same as playing it in the World Cup, the playing field might be different, the amount of players adjusted, but a goal is a goal. Curriculum can be changed, but the standards are critical to finally having an educational system that provides students with a strong foundation from which to develop critical thinking and information processing strategies.

Many chuckles were heard as the comedy host poked fun at the way we are asking children to think about math as they do math. When Johnny and Mary compute a math problem, we don’t only want the answer, we want to know how they arrived at the answer, what was their reasoning? This is critical thinking about computation and something we have lacked in American education for too many years.

Goals

The CCSS are an opportunity to encourage self-regulation not only amongst students, but teachers, teacher educators, teacher candidates and the educational community at large. They are a series of specific and proximal goals that keep us all on track (nationally) to produce college and career ready young adults. For example, in order for a first graders in New York, Mississippi, and California to set specific goals and check the progress of performance towards meeting those goals, there has to be a standard! If the first grader does not meet the goal at the first attempt, self-regulation (and the CCSS spiral) invites them to review their performance, and reset the goal – there is no fear of failure, just a gradual progression towards success. The CCSS is repetitive and encourages walking up the staircase of complexity slowly but surely, accomplishing goals in order to move to the next level.

Standards are a good thing, the way we are implementing them is where the controversy lies. Educators need to agree on the goals, and find a way to get administrators to listen to the voices that can inspire successful implementation at every level.

Give me a goal…

beachfun

How we experience something defines how we will remember it. We can inspire information writing if we help young learners set goals to define their experiences. Self-regulated learners set goals, for reading, writing, and also for what the environment can teach them.  If the goal is to have fun at the beach then they go to the beach with sand pails and shovels.  If the goal is to learn something about the beach they bring along a camera, journal, or paper to take notes about what is seen and heard.  What is wonderful is when both things happen, fun and learning experiences are the most memorable. It will not destroy the wonderful memories of surf and sand if after leaving the beach someone suggests reading a book about the sand castles they had so much fun building in order to learn how it is even possible!

There is much of chatter about the shift to information reading and writing, but not enough excitement. The CCSS require a balance of literature and informational texts for young readers and writers culminating in a third grade literacy test that might appear to be a bit overwhelming if preparation is not begun as early as preschool. Writing from sources is nothing new, being required to inform is!  When the source is memories stored in the brain, some of us come up empty, when the source is a book or a personal binder of notes and pictures, we are all on the same page. If a student describes his/her summer vacation s/he might be asked if while at the dude ranch did s/he learn anything about horses, or was it just fun? Writing for information inspires young learners to look for information while they are having fun, and teachers can encourage young learners to do both.

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Let them write!

IMG_2681Will this kid ever write? Already in kindergarten and still using invented spelling to compose a note to her grandma? Well, she independently communicated her thoughts in writing and stickers…and today is a proficient writer creating professional “books” with data and vocabulary fit for high level Wall street investors.  Of course her mom did not feel that this note required revision, but as this little girl learned the mechanics of spelling she applied them…and by first grade grandma was seeing the results of the work of a good teacher who taught her to put her ideas down first, then revise, and then edit…making writing fun and not a chore.

IMG_2679 Recognizing that at the earliest stages writing is a process that requires feedback from a more proficient writer is a hallmark of the common core and reflecting earlier writing initiatives such as Writer’s Workshop. Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), or Cognitive Strategy Instruction (CISW).

The CCSS have placed practice in three types of writing as the centerpiece of the shift towards being college ready and for this we should be cheering!  The standards promote writing in three categories (narrative, argumentative, informative) first and foremost getting kids to write.  Students are engaged in a writing process that encourages ideas or responses to writing prompts to flow and applies the mechanics afterwards. So when one looks at what the CCSS “expects” of a kindergartener one has to keep in mind that the expected outcome relies on the recursive process of writing which is Think…Write…Revise…Edit…Think again…Rewrite…Revise….Re-edit!

Initially, practice in writing tasks is what molds a good writer, not perfect mechanics.  Many years ago I observed a writing lesson in a bilingual school in the Bronx.  The second graders were editing a composition about Johnny Appleseed provided by a brave young writer who was open to “feedback”. The teacher put the composition on the overhead (yes that long ago, no smart boards then), and said to the class, “Before we begin to make suggestions to Mary, who wants to be the first to pay her a compliment about her composition?”  Little hands went up and what followed were positive statements about the writer’s penmanship, choice of topic, and willingness to share her work.  Then the teacher guided the class in making suggestions, and Mary looked on smiling and thanking them for their help.

The scenario described above was almost 15 years ago and the CCSS have reiterated the call to write (with spelling errors), revise (after receiving feedback on content), and edit (fix the mechanical errors).  One of the reasons our youngsters hesitate to write is because so many still focus on the mechanics before the free flow of thought.  Self-regulated writers set writing goals keeping in mind only one goal can be reached at a time. If the first goal is to put an idea on paper, the second to revise, and the third to edit, the outcome will be a product of process writing and the self-efficacy of the young writer will increase each time a goal is reached.

There are many writing programs that provide guidelines for writing using self-regulatory learning (see links below) or process writing. Yes, it takes time, it is a process, and it is laborious…however the results are significant.

Self Regulated Strategy Development  http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/projectwrite/

Writer’s Workshop http://www.ttms.org/PDFs/05%20Writers%20Workshop%20v001%20(Full).pdf

Cognitive Guided Instruction in Writing

https://sites.google.com/site/grandespe291spr13/evidence-based-practices/cognitive-strategy-instruction-in-writing