CCSS Does Not Mean an S.O.S.

It feels good to take on a different format of writing with me writing this blog, I am not going to lie.  It has been over a month since my last post.  I have been extremely busy writing the book and submitting other pieces for publication.  The good news is that I feel as if the home stretch is here or at least near.  Recently, I have been doing more reading on the Common Core State Standards and simply listening to people have discussions on the curriculum as a whole.  After listening to some teachers rant and rave, completing some reading that left me shaking my head, I can’t help but ask anyone who is willing to listen, what is all of the complaining about, really?

I want to begin by mentioning how my state (Michigan) and some other states are trying to now “back out” of implementing the CCSS. Why you may ask?  Quite simply the fear of losing local control or state control of schools or so it appears that way.  This is one place I shake my head from side to side.  Let’s be rational here, the federal government is not trying to take over our schools. Let’s think about what one of the reasons the CCSS was developed.  One of the reasons was to have consistency within schools on what is being taught. Does it have higher demands for students? Yes sir! Is it going to be more work on our part as teachers? Yes ma’am.  Not once have I ever thought the Common Core was designed for a hostile government take over of any school.

Next, I want to address the parent (of a different school from where I teach) who threatened to take their 3 children out of the school their children attend if the teacher or district tried to use the Common Core as the curriculum.  I will be honest with you, I didn’t react to the parent in a hostile manner when I was listening. I just listened.  After their ranting and demoralizing of the CCSS, I asked one question.  What do you not like about the Common Core?  Their answer: It is too hard for my children and too demanding.  On the inside, I was screaming, but on the outside, I politely said thank you for sharing your concern.  To me, their response summed up why I see the work ethic I do today of some students, including the ones that I teach.  Some students (and parents) don’t understand they have to work hard in school!  It isn’t just about socializing or sports.  Furthermore, those students who may struggle a little, are probably going to have to work even harder. Wow and yes that does suck! Should I be teaching work ethic in my class too? Oh wait, I think I do!

Now, I am not saying the CCSS does not have flaws, because it does.  However, I really like what the Common Core is trying to do for our students.  Here are just a few things I notice:

  • Engages our students with more informational text.
  • Causes our students to have higher level thinking skills.
  • Consistency across states with curriculum.
  • The ability for flexibility on how we teach the skills that need to be met.
  • Students get engaged in all 3 genres (narrative, informational, argumentative.

While I notice the positives of the CCSS, the one gripe I will make public here is the little it says about students reflecting on their own work. Reflection is key for student improvement in whatever they do. As a matter of fact, it is a life skill that is essential for growing as an individual. I have to constantly reflect all the time on how to do a better job with my students.

With that being said, I can strongly say the CCSS is not going away anytime soon.  Though we don’t have to embrace it like a big fluffy teddy bear, it is no reason to toss out the emergency S.O.S. life belt.



Steady is the Pace

Recently I received an evaluation.  I want to say how thankful I am for an administrator who offers constructive feedback.  I often wonder how many teachers would take that constructive criticism personally or take it to heart and actually reflect on how they can better themselves.  Not to float my own boat, but I do A LOT of reflecting on what I need to do to make my students more successful. Often times, I am up well past midnight thinking about different strategies and lessons I can implement.

With the Common Core being fully implemented into my classroom and having less than  2 years under my belt of teaching 7th graders, I can’t help but feel I am not doing an effective job getting through to them.  Am I going too fast with my 7th graders?  Right now I feel as if I am not following my own advice where I said I would teach a mile deep and not a mile wide. I don’t want to push through curriculum for the the sake of saying I got through all of the curriculum, yet I know I have a responsibility to get through the standards.

Could the CCSS have anything to do with the way I am feeling?  Even with having minutes added to each of our core hours for more instructional time I find myself running over class time trying to squeeze in last minute details and key points with lessons.  Could there ever be enough time added to get through everything?

As I look back through what I have done this year, I am pleased with what I delivered in the way of curriculum to my students, despite the fact we have had snow days (I think I am one of few teachers who always wants school). However, did the content I deliver to my students really sink in?  Perhaps I did a better job of just skimming over content rather than making it rich and meaningful. Quizzes, unit test, and other forms of assessments show positive growth, but how much are they truly retaining and would they retain more if I slowed down?

Pacing for 7th graders has to be different than my 8th graders.  I have found plenty of support from other district’s pacing guides that help me draw that conclusion.  I am going to continue to reflect on what I can do differently in way of pacing and I am hoping I can continue to help my students to grow academically.

I am always going  to be a life long learner and will continue to strive to be my best. If there are any middle school teachers out there that would like to provide some suggestions, I am all ears.


Teaching Students to Reflect on Their Writing

Recently I came to the conclusion middle school students need instruction on how to effectively reflect on their writing. I just got done handing back my 7th graders book reviews. My classroom is essentially paperless and they had to complete the assignment using Google Docs. As I grade papers, whether it is 7th or 8th grade, I make notes on the areas my students struggle with throughout the particular writing assignment. Throughout this assignment, students struggled with basic spelling, sentence structure, and capitalization. In addition, students struggled with one major concept with the review, which was the compare/contrast section of the review.

Upon returning the student’s papers I asked the students to have me help them. I was frustrated with them not following directions. After all, I am well into the second semester and I needed them to realize their mistakes were nothing more then following simple directions. When I asked them what I can do to make them more successful…silence. Why couldn’t my students reflect on their own writing, or even their own work so I could help them grow?

After discussing with a colleague who had taught English before, we both came to the conclusion middle school students don’t know how to reflect on their work. My students have writing portfolios, both physical and digital. in addition, I have given them reflection prompts for their past assignments, but in all honesty I feel confident my students are more or less going through the motions rather then thinking critically about their own writing and how they can make it better. The Common Core State Standards say very little about reflection, but it is essential for creating a more rigorous classroom and for students to evaluate their own learning.

So, what can we do as middle school English teachers to help students reflect on their writing? To be honest, I don’t have any solid answers. One strategy I have adopted for my students is for them to look at a specific comment I have placed on their document. Then, they need to rewrite the comment and complete some tasks on a pre-made template I hand out to students. Below are the tasks.

1. What was your initial response to the comment by Mr. Hyler?

2. In your own words rewrite what it is that Mr.Hyler commented on.

3. Give an example of how you are going to make your writing better based on the comment by Mr. Hyler.

4. How are you going to apply what you learned from reflecting on your writing to future assignments? Be specific.

I am sure there are other ways for students to reflect on their writing. I am going to continue to research this important task that is vital for developing strong writers and strong students in general.