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THE REAL “COMMON CORE” OF TEACHING

Yes. I used the forbidden phrase. But let’s use those two words as if Common Core State Standards (CCSS) had never existed.  Recently we have seen weak attempts by both Congress and some states to pull back from their initial  “gung ho” approach to both standardized testing and CCSS because of a huge parental and teacher uproar. Unfortunately, even with these supposed pull-backs, teachers still feel like caged birds, unable to sing out. Hopefully this continued push back will make the policy makers pull even farther back and put education back in control of the professionals and communities they serve. In fact we might even go back to what the true common core of teaching should be.

Young children, as in the forest schools covered in this New York Times article, are free to ask and discover as their natural curiosity drives them.

Shouldn’t that be at the common core of teaching from pre-K all the way through graduate school? I am not advocating living in the forest all ones’ life.  I am advocating that we already know how to make that natural curiosity work in all learning environments, including the classroom. Curiosity revolves around questions.

Imagine instead of memorizing or preparing for tests, regardless of what technology is available, and at any age, we consider how to get all children to learn how to learn and love it by doing the following. If they can do these, then I propose they will be college, career, and life ready.

ASK

What is the big question they want to know? These can range from why is the sky blue to… how can I build the tallest tower using the 25 blocks on the rug to …  what extent is the 2016 presidential race different from or similar to presidential races throughout American history, or how would you define quantum physics.

ASK

What do they need to understand to answer those questions?

ASK

What knowledge must they acquire to understand how to answer those questions? 

ASK

How and where will they acquire the knowledge and understanding necessary to answer their big question or the one posed by their teacher? What are the questions they need to ask to gain the knowledge and understanding required?

ASK

What skills must they have or acquire to do all of the above?

I submit to you that these steps hold true at all ages and abilities. They hold true for toy block builders, forest pre-K kids, explorers and pioneers, inventors, scientists, and even presidential candidates…. Maybe especially for them.

The means to these ends are endless, regardless of available technology. All involve some kind of wonder, sense of discovery, trial and error, legwork, homework, or research dependent on age, skills, and cognitive abilities. The means also depend on how each child learns best and the particular question asked. The means can be visual, tactile, linear (reading) or aural.  It is our job as teachers to help each of our students find the right means for them and the subject matter.

Finally, within our classes we know we have children with a range of both cognitive abilities and skills. Some have a high degree of both, some a low degree of both. Some have a high degree of cognitive abilities, but a low degree of basic skills, and some have a low degree of cognitive abilities, but a high degree of basic skills.  For us the challenge is to be able to work with all and each so that they keep that natural curiosity that drives real learning and make sure that each child develops both the highest degree of cognitive abilities and basic skills they are capable of.

If we follow this “common core” of techniques, why does anyone need a Common Core forced on us by state governors, Achieve Inc., and the federal Department of Education? 

 

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  • I love the spirit of this post. But I wonder, how do your bring such ideology to scale as you suggest, to replace the common core? The CCSS itself is not a curriculum and teacher adapting it should absolutely take your approach to the profession when designing a curriculum. But that, in it of itself, does not address the actual content. When are fractions taught in your model? Would you require states teach fractions at the same time? If not, do districts have to? And in both cases, what do you do with the child that moves? I guess in the end, I’m not sure I see how your thinking and the CCSS are mutually exclusive, a good teacher uses such lines of questioning and creates such environments in the classroom while allowing the CCSS to inform the content taught.

    So, to answer your last question, I think we need the CCSS to help ensure all students in every state are given the same opportunities and have the same expectations so that as they develop their dreams into reality, they have the skills and knowledge necessary to complete them.

    January 12, 2016
    • This model has been around since Socrates. Individual schools, grades, and departments can apply these concepts to ANY and all curricula, hopefully not created by Policy makers but by local and state teachers. This is what I was introduced to when I first went to Fordham University’s undergrad school of ed, and how I as well as all new teachers, was prepared to teach in NYC, starting in 1970 as a teacher of social studies.

      NYS had the best teacher developed K-12 syllabi in the nation at the time. They were not flawless, but they allowed for and they encouraged teacher choice, flexibility, and what was usually called “Inquiry”. I chose not to label it because asking questions and getting students to work through problems in any subject, draw conclusions, and apply them to real life examples needs no confusion by labeling it.

      January 12, 2016
      • But you don’t think such a model can be applied with the CCSS? Also, I’m not to keen on looking at the past for answers here. Models from when public education wasn’t provided for all (which some could argue is still the case today) don’t have the same weight. I believe we need standards, expectations, and checks and balances across our country if we are going to ensure that all kids (not just those who can afford it or are afforded a birthplace that provides it) get an excellent education. I earned my degree from Lehman at a time that the CCSS was being introduced. I guess I’m lucky in that I was exposed to the confluence of both the standards and an inquiry based pedagogical style, thus I grew up as a teacher not seeing those as mutually exclusive.

        All that is to say what I push on is how do you control for quality? How do you ensure every district in every state is holding all students to the same expectations? The CCSS forced our school districts to acknowledge that race/ethnicity/religion/background/income/social calls should not influence what a student is expected to learn and certainly should not influence what opportunities such students are afforded. There are absolutely issues with the CCSS, it isn’t perfect by any means, but I do believe it is the start of a much needed conversation on how we can transition to a national set of priorities for education. The models I think you’re thinking of related to Socrates are in existence all throughout Europe and most (if not all) of the countries in Europe operate with a national set of expectations, why can’t we?

        January 13, 2016
        • Interesting perspective. However I am separating technique and pedagogy from policy except for this: Prescribed test based learning does not allow for this methodology.

          As far as ensuring equity, that method can be used anywhere for any kid in any district, as I did in 3 very different districts over 38 years.

          And as far as accountability over 50 states is concerned…. These are local matters Every locality, and state need to do that.

          As much as I would like ideally say the feds should, unless they change the assessment tools they push, it will never happen, CCSS or not.

          By the way,conceptually CCSS steals this concept but doesn’t give teachers a chance to follow it.

          January 13, 2016

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