Friday, May 10, 2013

Standards versus methods

Our district had their spring superintendent's conference day last week. A portion of the day was devoted to CCSS work. My disappointment with that segment of the day came from the activity being labeled unpacking the standards, but spending the first forty-five minutes on an exercise designed to get us to compare the CCSS to the "old" way. I sat in a group that was willing to throw out all kinds of ideas, demonstrating a classification of the old being BAD and the new being GOOD and overtly confusing the what to teach (standards and curriculum) with the how to teach (methods). A mistake made not just by our group but by all the participants of the previous session and every group and facilitator of this group. Many of the big names in education and the authors of the CCSS themselves have cautioned against this idea. The standards tell us what to teach, not how to teach them. Below is a chart similar to the one we worked on. I added the the second half: when standards are separate from methods.

When standards and teaching methods are confused
When standards are separate from methods
old curriculum
Common Core
old curriculum
Common Core
teacher factors
·teacher focused
·whatever I want
·low accountability
·master of the information
· child focused
·district (CCSS) defines what I teach
·high accountability
·lots of test practice
·standards determined by state and local levels but much flexibility, depending on school
·standards determined by CCSS committee which has recommended resources
·Because of RttT, accountability linked to student performance on tests
student factors
· receptacle to fill
·drill and practice
· construct knowledge
·figure it out and explain it
·practice the test
·Idea that “spit it back” is what is desirable, but for many schools, teachers and programs, thinking was embedded in the instruction and curriculum
·higher level thinking
· more uniform demands
·more testing because of intertwining CCSS adoption with federal money and mandates
resources and instruction factors
·drill and practice
· multiple sources
·small groups
·generate the information
·reading levels were established
·each content area was focused on their individual content, not an overarching activity such as reading
· lexile levels were increased
·increased rigor and focus on literacy and higher level thinking
- increased focus on technology

During the last twenty minutes or so, we got down to unpacking the standards. The example they selected to model was amusing because the instructions were about locating the nouns and they proceeded to identify "more or less" as the nouns. When an ELL teacher in my group called them on the misidentification, they backpedaled to say they really were the concept so they used that idea. The unpacking process ended with us getting to look at one standard as a small group, identify the skills and concepts and then an activity that would support standards based instruction.  This is what the meat of the workshop should have been. We need to deeply understand the standards and only focused time working on them will enable that. Anticipatory sets designed to activate prior knowledge that occupy over a third of the lesson, will not get us there. Especially when they do not target the learning standard. We need our professional development designed as thoughtfully as our best lessons.

I understand that teaching the new standards is intimidating to teachers. Especially when high stakes are attached to them. Especially when the metrics for measuring them are poorly understood, lacking in previous examples and the antithesis of research based because of their overly rapid adoption and implementation.  I agree that teaching needs to improve. Furthermore, we as a profession can do it, but we need to be thoughtful about the process. It is not a choice merely between diving into the deep end without knowing how to swim and endlessly using water wings. It is about planning, teaching, practicing, and evaluating and then repeating the process again.

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