Why I am excited about the Common Core.

It is an exciting time!

I am welcoming the change coming down the line with Common Core and here’s why.

1. The script is changing!

I am no longer chained to the teacher manual. I get to deviate from the plan. I get to create! I come from a district where everyone must teach the same page at the same time in the same way.  it is such a relief to see the beginning of the end of the robotic lock step I have had to teach in for the last 10 years.

2. It makes sense!

The flow of ideas from one grade to the next, especially in the math standards, make so much more sense than trying to cover everything every year with no mastery. Mastery is now a possibility. That makes sense.  As does the focus on learning from content based text.  Being able to decipher facts and bias are key skills in this day and age of pulling the wool over our eyes and spinning things to be what they really aren’t.

3. It’s Deeper!

I look at the breadth, depth and speed of what we have to get taught in a single school year and I get the image of a large very shallow lake or puddle, spread out in many directions. There is no time to really cover the entire thing and there is not enough to really go deep. If you are thirsting for knowledge, there is not enough to drink only drips and dribbles. With the Common Core it is more streamlined. More focused, deeper,  more a stream.  One you can dive into and get a good drink of.  I will be able to get students to think deeper. And more exciting,  students will be able to articulate their ideas and what caused them in the first place.

I’m looking forward to it. Now how will get assessed? That may evoke an entirely different emotion.

What’s working

Last week was my first week trying to purposely incorporate Formative Assessment into m teaching. Here’s what’s working.

1. Collaboration- My students love that I am having them talk to each other often.  They appreciated the opportunity to share and I assume to feel their opinion is valued.  As I walked around to monitor the vast majority were talking about what I asked them to and contributing to the group.

2. Discipline- The students were so involved in the activities presented to them this week and the discussion that I had fewer behavioral issued to deal with this week.  Let’s hope this is a continuing trend.

3. Thinking- Though sometimes a struggle the students are beginning to explain their thinking.  They back up their ideas with examples from the text.  The times when student had difficulties with this I could directly link a part of the lesson that wasn’t designed clear enough to provide a proper expectation for them to meet.

4. Clearer planning- Spending extra time on planning definitely paid off.  The clearer the expectation the better the results.

 

I had an unexpected family event take me from the classroom Friday. I planned a summative assessment in Comprehension to see if my detail lesson plans resulted in positive test scores.  When I know I’ll let you know.  But for now Formative Assessment techniques and careful planning have definitely paid off for me and my students in one week of experimentation.  Now for the next week.

 

First try with the students

Well planned and ready to teach, in fact eager to teach, I had a challenging day today.  On my mission to teach kids to think I discovered how much kids don’t really know how to think.  2 sections of my day were dedicated to practicing new teaching techniques incorporating Formative Assessment and deeper questioning to prepare my students for the upcoming Common Core, and of course to become better thinkers.  Both lessons today were Comprehension lessons.  To give a little background I teach fourth grade and I have 35 students in a Title 1 school district.

Lesson 1.

Target: I can visualize and summarize what I read in order to explain the headings the author used and give examples form the text that support the heading.

We read and I asked my well thought out questions.  My advanced and proficient students caught on very quickly and were giving me page numbers and citations from the page to connecting the heading to the text.  The lesson went fairly well.

3 good things that happened.

1. We finished reading all intended information for the day ( often we fall behind by discussing everything instead of focusing in on one specific task)

2.Students were able to give page numbers and sentences from the text that support the heading.

3. Students are excited to learn about the subject matter. ( probably because I showed a video first to get them interested.)

3 areas that can be improved.

1. Less active students are still not very active.

2. I neglected to have students explain the headings, they gave support but didn’t think further than that

3. The students struggled to follow directions and had to be encouraged to look at the page or sentence being offered by another student as evidence.  In other words they didn’t appear interested in what their classmates were sharing.  They were interested in me but not each other.  How do I build the collaborative environment???

I ended this lesson with the ticket out the door strategy asking students to make a connection to the video I showed to introduce the story and the parts of the story we read today.  This turned out to be more difficult of a task for them then I had thought. Many simply wrote something they had learned not actually making a connection to the video.  Of 31 students 4 used the words ‘connect to’ .  We are going to have to work on this.

Lesson 2.

Cold read comprehension.  We have been doing this kind of activity all year.  This is the lesson in which I had planned out an entire trajectory of learning targets for the week each building on the last with the main objective to understand a piece of writing and be able to tell the main idea and organization of the piece. Although familiar this is still challenging for them.  The goals were to identify key words in a paragraph,  see how paragraphs relate to each other, find the author’s purpose including the main idea and text structure.  Today I modeled finding the key concepts in a paragraph then asking students to work in groups of 3 to find the key concepts in a different piece of writing.  This strategy is one I have been teaching for a while.  It didn’t work very well.

3 things that went well

1. most of the students worked well in their groups contributing and listening

2.I observed students actually reading and rereading the text to find key concepts.

3. . . . I can’t think of a third 😦

3 things we need to work on

1. Students were asked to write 2-3 key words but I was getting sentences

2. many groups completely missed the point of the paragraphs and were struggling to find key words

3. Only 1 group successfully duplicated what I had modeled

To culminate this activity I asked the groups to write one thing that was hard for them and one thing that was easy for them.  I got responses like “the beginning was easy and the end was hard” and “finding words was easy and the hard part was finding words” and “the hard part was finding words it was easy using context clues”  This tells me that they really didn’t get what they were doing. Their meta-cognition is lacking. Tomorrow we are going to try the “Keep it/Junk it” strategy.  I wrote out all the keywords the students found in their groups.  Tomorrow they will decide if they should keep each individual word or junk it while providing reasons for their decisions. We’ll see how that goes.

Not a great start, but a start.

Still attempting hurdle #1

ARGH!!  I am trying to finish my plans for next week.  And I have planning block.  Ironically my planning block is bringing about some Aha! moments for me.  I’m having trouble finishing because of the learning target part of Formative Assessment.  To clarify, this is where you clearly relate the learning intention to your students.   They should know exactly what they are learning and how they are learning it.  It is not just “This is what you are learning today”  it is not just the standard or even the objective of a lesson.  It is a goal for the students to aim for- a target.   I should be able to state what they should be learning TODAY in relation to the LONG TERM goal for the unit.  Marrying this with a scripted curriculum is a huge challenge for me because the curriculum  is written in a spiral,  little bits rotating with other bits that repeat here and there.  I’m still digging through this mess and will update as I go.

My Aha! moment is realizing why so many teachers may be  ineffective excellent teachers. It is because they are trying to do it all in every lesson.  This process is meant not only to focus the students on what and how they are learning (making them better thinkers) but also to focus the teacher.  To keep the teacher focusing on the same goal while teaching.  Not diverting.  Not teaching a little bit here and a little bit there hoping somehow the student will put it all together and be smart- like the curriculum says to.  So the AHA! is that to be an effective teacher I need to be just as focused as my learning target.  Well planned and deliberate.  Small goals that lead to bigger goals. This takes some serious thought.  Serious time.  Planning is becoming a marathon when it used to be a sprint.  I have to straighten out this spiral and make this curriculum more intentional. My lessons used to be loosely planned.  These pages on these days following prompts in manual to teach these  skills or this strategy, easily diverted as I went along.  Now I’m building a pathway to follow rather than meandering along. But the path is unclear thus my frustration.

I must get back to work now.

The journey starts here

I have been an elementary teacher for 11 years.  I have struggled with my teaching potential clashing with my district’s mandates on how , when, and what I am supposed to teach each day.  I have been jaded and dispassionate about my work. I remember during one of my many professional development days in which we were being introduced to a new district adopted ( mandated)  curriculum, remarking that  I felt like I was being forced to take a drink from an open fire-hydrant.  So much information, direction, philosophy  research, rules, scripts, just too much to master and relate to my students.  7 years later, I teach my curriculum with rigor and fidelity, on the same day and the same page as everyone else.  Yet, my students average scores aren’t budging.  They are mediocre at best.  Yet I am a strong teacher and I know my students have grander potential.

I come up with new ideas to relate information but they are usually shot down because they are not in the scripted program.  I must follow the script and keep up with the pacing guide. Small adjustments okay as long as I am doing what some researcher decided is best for me to do.  Students didn’t get it?- “Sorry- use your intervention time accordingly.” Intervention time- 40 minutes 3 times a week.  Not enough.  Not good enough.

But I see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Change is coming.  Common Core is coming and a district move towards Formative Assessment techniques is coming.  Finally, I can see relief.  So I started researching   I have read several resources on how to better teach Comprehension and Formative Assessment techniques some of which directly borrowed from my principal.  But when I went in to check on these new expectations, I was told I must use the same curriculum and still do so with rigor and fidelity.   Tension returns.

But I have found a new passion and urge to teach within the research   I want to  use these new theories and make my students not better test takers, but better thinkers.  I teach multiple subjects with scripted curriculum   But I am determined to tweak them (within bounds) not to get higher test scores, but to teach my student to be better thinkers.

My intention is to record my travails and success here.  It seems a big muddy mess marrying scripted curriculum with formative assessment. My principal says it can and will be done.  I fear it will be done half-assed and unsuccessfully, unless someone takes the initiative to do a little trial and error, share what works, and find the biggest obstacles rather than just waiting to be told what to do and how.  So here I go.  On a mission to teach my students how to think. Wish me luck!