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