As the Common Core Band Wagon Rolls By, I Stand and Wave

I wasn’t sure how to title today’s post.  I hope by the time anyone reads this, my post is well understand.

Recently we had another department meeting and I must say I enjoy our department meetings because we are always busy and engaged and trying to do what is best for the students that face us every day! One of the high school teachers was feeling the pressure of potentially not doing enough to meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards. The word rigor came into focus (See my previous post on rigor -vs – vigor). As the conversation progressed,  I couldn’t help but wonder how many other teachers are feeling the way my colleague has been. Their thinking was perhaps if  they used another Shakespeare unit in addition to what they were already doing might make their class more demanding and students would be required to do more deeper thinking.  Note to anyone: Adding more, does not mean a class is more rigorous (My colleague wasn’t thinking this, I just wanted to throw that out there).

This also spurred the conversation about looking at different curriculum in general to use in the classroom.  Though we weren’t considering replacing what we are currently doing, we were discussing what other possibilities could be included to extend our current practices or what were valuable resources to aid us in our teaching.

I have done a lot more thinking since that meeting and my colleague had a great point about what they have observed.  The sad thing is, I have observed it too. We have both noticed this mad frantic race to implement Common Core and have heard teachers discussing how their schools have these curriculum teams to rewrite their entire curriculum and these huge meetings are taking place to change to the CCSS.   In addition, everyone is making this mad dash to find the best books that are available to help them implement the CCSS.

Well, as I stand here and wave at the bandwagon rolling past me with others on it, I will tell you I haven’t completely changed my curriculum or gone to some canned program that companies might be trying to sell to schools and teachers. When my school did switch to the Common Core, I got out my curriculum and went through it with the Common Core Standards right next to it.  I went through and looked at what standards I was already meeting with the existing units and lessons I was teaching. Now, was I missing some things?  Absolutely! I will admit, I had to do some overhauling in some areas and not so much in others.

What I didn’t do was scrap everything I was doing in my classroom and look for the easy way out by trying to find existing CCSS units.  The Common Core allows us to use what we already know and it also challenges to implement new ideas and technologies.  I strongly believe if teachers are trying to find the magic button for teaching the Common Core in their classroom, they are going to be really disappointed, because there isn’t a magic button to push.

So, if you feel you are one of those people who are completely lost and you hope there is going to be this miracle curriculum program that is going to come out for you to use in your classroom, I invite you to examine what you are currently doing in your classroom first before jumping on the band wagon.  If you do jump on, I will be waving to you as you roll past!

Cheers!


Rigor -vs- Vigor

I have officially arrived at NCTE. As a first time Vegas guest, I must say it is crazy. My body has not transitioned to the time change and I am up at 5:00 a.m. working on my blog. A nap may be order later, but who knows with so many great sessions.

Speaking of great sessions, yesterday evening Barry Lane gave another one of his spectacular performances for NWP teachers. Though I didn’t attend earlier annual meeting sessions, my NWP peeps convinced me to peek in on what Mr. Lane was doing. If you have ever been to one of Barry Lane’s presentations, you know it is very entertaining and informative.

After laughing continuously and feeling energized as ever, he brought up the term “rigor”, which has been associated with the Common Core Standards since they have been released. Teachers are supposed to have more “rigor” in the classroom with the CCSS. When he asked a woman in a video what her definition of rigor was she stumbled and passed the buck on to her friends that she was standing with. Needless to say, their definition was less than perfect. So Mr. Lane put up the first six definitions of rigor from the dictionary. Here are a few of them!

1. Strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people.

2. A sever or harsh act, circumstance, etc.

Does this sound like something we should be infusing into our classrooms? Barry Lane had a few other definitions from the medical dictionary too. One medical definition is, shivering or trembling, as caused by a chill. Again, do we really want to be teaching something like this in our classroom? Tom Romano was even in a video where he said rigor is the sister of mortis. I cracked up on that one.

Instead of “rigor”, Mr. Lane said we should be teaching “vigor” instead. I couldn’t agree more, especially after seeing that definition

Vigor

1. Healthy physical or mental energy or power; vitality.

2. Force of healthy growth in any living matter or living organism.

Perhaps the two are easy to confuse. I know that vigor sounds much more appealing and attainable in my classroom. I also know “rigor” can occur in my classroom too and if I adhere to the definition, my students are going to get turned off as learners. Can there be a balance of both? What are your thoughts?

Cheers!


Writing Reflections

On Thursday of this past week I asked my 8th graders to reflect back on their writing they have done this year.   Earlier in the week as I was developing my lesson plans I began to really think about the writing we have done this past year.  As I do every other year, I began to feel guilty because I was thinking I didn’t assign enough writing for them to do throughout the year.  So, when I described the reflection assignment for my students, we composed a list on the board.  If I was thinking about it, I would have taken a picture of the list and just posted the picture, but instead I will have to compose the list again here. Below you will see all of the writing I have done this year with my 8th graders.

1. This I believe Essay – Posted to our classroom wiki.

2. Alternate endings for The Giver by Louis Lowry (Students could do a traditional writing, Glog, or Comic Strip.

3. 25 word story

4. Sentence in a day

5. Compare/Contrast Essay between characters in The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

6. Glog or Book Cube for Christmas break book (See previous post I have written).

7.Celly writing – writing journal prompts and collaboration with cell phones

8. Journal Writing on various topics every day

9. Extended journal writings – Students went back through previous journal writings and found ways to make them more detailed and better.

10. 50 word stories

11. Paper Tweets – a two day lesson on Twitter and tweeting.

12. Biographies – Posted to our classroom wiki.

13. 8th Grade Reflection writing

14. Police Reports – Modeled after George Hillocks Argumentative Writing Book

15. Musical Chair Writing – Post a comment or send me an email if you want information about this activity.

16. Article of the Week – (Title does not reflect the fact I didn’t do this every week)

17. Science Fiction Stories

18. Ticket out the door writing responses.

Now for the sake of time and not boring my few readers, I will just say there are a few more writing activities that  I have not posted.  When I reflect back on the amount of writing my students did this year, I have nothing to feel guilty about.  My students definitely did more writing than I did grading.  Kelly Gallagher argues this in his books.  We as teachers do not need to be grading everything our students do.  There were many occasions my students turned in writing and it was graded on a formative scale rather than be a summative grade. What I really noticed is how much digital writing my students have done this year.  My students wrote on Glogster, toondoo, used Celly phones in class, they used Google Docs/Drive and helped create a paperless classroom and used it regularly for collaboration.

The other thought I had was about academic rigor.  The Common Core Standards essentially helps guide teachers to develop more rigor in our classroom.  I still believe my students can do more writing and I will push my students to do more writing next year and the years to come.  If you want any information on any of the listed writing above, feel free to email me or make a comment.

Cheers!