Teachers who have been in the classroom for any length of time know one thing for certain: educational “shifts happen” — both needed and uncomfortable shifts in teaching and learning. I have seen several pendulum swings in my 21 years of teaching in Idaho, but for the first time in my career I feel like I am finally “aligned” with what is being asked of teachers in our state and in the nation. The Common Core makes sense. Gone are the days where individual classrooms, school districts and states are out of sync with each other and with the best teaching practices. Gone are the days when the one correct answer is more valuable than the one perfectly asked question. And gone are the days of a textbook-driven education.
They’re gone because the world our kids are growing up in is not the world we grew up in. The skills required to be contributing, successful citizens 20 years ago are not the same skills our students will need to be citizens of the global economy of today. I’m actually a little confused by the resistance to Common Core that some politicians, parents and educators have shown.
How can requiring students to think critically, to engage in challenging texts and produce clear, evidence-based writing be anything but good for citizens of the 21st century?
For other takes on Common Core, see Josie Fretwell and Michelle Puccinelli. This essay is part of our new feature: TBR Teach, a discussion about school policy among three Boise teachers. Follow their posts here.
The school where I teach, Anser Charter, is part of the Expeditionary Learning Network. Expeditionary Learning focuses on innovative curriculum, teacher-created resources and professional coaching and support along with academic achievement and character building for students. We have worked with educational standards since our inception, and have been heavily engaged in Common Core alignment for the past five years. Our teachers have been developing and designing curriculum that meets Common Core Standards for years. It’s difficult work, it’s time consuming and the resources have not always been available, but it’s the best work I’ve done since I stepped into the classroom. I teach Jr. High social studies in an integrated 7th and 8th grade classroom, but I am responsible for teaching so much more than dates, historical events and geography.
The Common Core promotes the idea that all content teachers are responsible for building students’ communication and writing skills, as well as challenging students to read and interpret difficult texts. I have a partnership with our English teacher to introduce and reinforce concepts that have traditionally been taught in isolation in the English classroom. In an end of the year reflection a student named Samantha wrote, “All our writing has helped me to form my ideas, to make connections between topics and to look more deeply at what we have been studying. I’m inspired to use my words to express what is important to me, just as writing should be used.”
My students now know that writing in all content areas — whether it is social studies, math or science — is a valuable skill because it is a life skill. In the past five years I have seen my students explode with ideas, with creativity and with enthusiasm for learning that is awe-inspiring. They have been asked to do more than ever before and they have risen to each new challenge brilliantly. Their thinking is well beyond their years, and the classroom is filled with rich conversation and even better writing. They have learned to ground their arguments and claims in evidence and the importance of asking questions that will move their understandings forward. They have stopped playing school and started becoming involved learners. These are all shifts I willingly accept.
Perhaps the greatest value the Common Core has given me as an educator is clearly defined learning targets that are set within wide parameters. For example, the standards direct me to teach evidence-based argument, but I am not told I must do so using a particular text or a specific event, and nowhere in the Common Core are teachers ever told to be on page 27 by Tuesday. It’s so refreshing. It’s so professional!
Knowing the specific standards that must be met has allowed me to be more intentional in my teaching. It’s just so much easier knowing how to plan both short and long-term meaningful lessons when I know exactly what is expected of my students and of me. I know exactly what targets we must hit and how to authentically assess those standards. More importantly, my students know exactly what their learning targets are and why they are important to reach.
How effective the ISAT 2.0 standardized testing will be in measuring our students’ growth and abilities remains an unanswered question. Initial practice testing last year revealed issues that need to be resolved. Finding the time and resources needed to fully assess students remains a challenge, but as a whole the assessment appears to be a more authentic measure of students’ skills than the previous ISAT testing.
Making the necessary shifts to implement the Common Core is time consuming, but time must be given to do it well. Teachers need time to collaborate, to share resources, to plan and to implement what the Core is asking them to do. If given the time to fully understand the value that the Common Core brings to all of our students, we will see our return in the invested time tenfold. Today’s world demands that we make the shifts that the Common Core supports. My hope is that all the stakeholders — parents, teachers, administrators and policy makers — learn to desire what the situation demands.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.