The Common Core State Standards have certainly raised some controversy – debates regarding the amount of work for teachers, poor student performance, federal regulations versus state’s rights, and the legitimacy of the Standards themselves. I’m sure there are other arguments; but as I mentioned in my last post, I believe our educational system is on the right track by adopting the Standards.
I didn’t come to this conclusion immediately. Initially I believed the Common Core Standards to be a great effort at uniting America’s educational system, but also understood the annoyance of those against big government policies. After listening to many of my teacher friends complain about the implementation of the Standards, I decided to dive in and study the Standards in depth to gain a better understanding of their content and development.
I began my journey by reading the mission statement and “About the Standards.” I looked at the key points in English language arts and math, and I examined all of the Anchor Standards. I then read the introduction to each of the Standards and printed out the math and ELA Standards to study while I traveled. This became my go to reading material when I wasn’t allowed to use electronic devices during take off or landing! As I studied, I also looked for the consideration of technology in the design and ways technology could be used in the implementation of the Standards. I used Diigo to bookmark and highlight all of points that I felt to be significant. (You can see my notes here.) Out of everything I read, I pulled out three critical points, which I’d like to address.
First, the Standards are “designed to be robust and relevant to the real world.” I am a strong believer that students must understand that education isn’t about sitting at a desk listening to a teacher lecture, but education is about making sense of our world. I have seen so many teachers fall into the rut of teaching to the test… whether that is following the structure of a textbook or making sure that every state standard is covered one by one. Teachers are so consumed with getting everything done that students become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content being introduced but never deeply examined or they are bored by the lecture, worksheet, test routine.
The Common Core Standards were designed to be more rigorous, allowing teachers to slow down and delve deeper into the material. This is crucial as studies reveal that focusing on in-depth learning of concepts supports richer understanding and results in improved performance overall. By cutting back on multiple topics, teachers should be able to focus on central concepts and create experiences that are more meaningful and relevant to the students’ lives. Dan Meyer does an amazing job exemplifying this.
Second, the Standards do not “dictate curriculum or teaching methods.” I love Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk titled, “Do schools kill creativity?” in which he explains why educational systems should nurture creativity. I believe that teachers are some of the most creative people on earth, but due to the pressures mentioned in my last point, many have completely lost eagerness to be creative. Because the Standards “focus on results rather than means,” teachers are now given the time and flexibility to be creative without being restricted in the process. The Standards also call for students to “engage with the subject matter and model understanding.” How can teachers not utilize their own creativity when they design lessons that engage students and encourage student creativity?
Finally, the Standards take an interdisciplinary approach. I am a firm believer that education should be fluid; curricula should be designed to promote interconnections between and among the content areas. The ELA Standards call for an increase in “literacy and vocabulary in social studies, science and technical subjects to build knowledge, gain insight, and broaden perspective.” Rather than using a textbook to teach individual subjects, teachers might use trade books, informational texts, and primary sources to impart content knowledge related to social studies or science while also teaching conventions, effective language usage, and vocabulary, all of which is essential for reading, writing, speaking and listening. The Math Standards call for students to “analyze situations, model understanding, construct arguments, and critique the reasoning of others.” Students must be able to communicate effectively to justify their understanding of mathematics and apply it to practical situations in everyday life. None of this can be done without a solid grasp of language skills.
While I do not believe that the Common Core State Standards are a silver bullet in education, I am convinced that as a nation we are on the right track. I outlined three points that I believe support the implementation of the Common Core and I have found many other great points within the Standards (especially ways to incorporate the use of technology) that I discuss in my professional development sessions. My desire is for the Common Core to be the beginning of a fundamental overhaul of what and how we teach. Our students deserve to be engaged in authentic, real world, rigorous learning experiences that focus on the meaningful application of core academic knowledge.
Now that the Standards are being implemented, teachers, schools, and districts are faced with the challenge of successfully building a rigorous curriculum (aligned to the CCSS) that is built around 21st century competencies - critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication while also incorporating the use of technology. Recently, a friend loaned me a book I believe to be extremely relevant to this challenge:
Teacher as Architect was written by educators to be a guide in “instructional design and delivery for the modern teacher.” It walks the reader through the steps to become an “architect of learning,” and it provides the tools and resources needed to build the aforementioned curriculum. Teacher as Architect addresses the questions, “What does it mean to be a modern teacher? How has education changed over time?” And, “What are the best practices in education for our 21st century learners?”
I found Teacher as Architect to be insightful and highly relevant to the challenges teachers are currently facing. The hands-on style of writing allowed me to interact with the content. The tools and resources better equipped me to construct engaging curricula appropriate for the 21st century learner. Accompanying the book is an online resource library based around the book’s four core principals that maximize teaching effectiveness. The library also contains professional development kits complete with PowerPoints, PDFs, activities, and guides for facilitators and participants. A Questioning Flip Book is a part of the tool kit and is another remarkable reference to help teachers plan and effectively use questions in lessons. For anyone in education... it is a must read!