Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why I love Common Core

When my son Jack was in kindergarten, he had an amazing teacher.  I"ll call her VB. She used a marvelous routine she called "Plan-Do-Review."   Every day the students would plan how they wanted to spend their morning, and write it up (plan).  This is kindergarten, so emergent literacy, of course!  Here is Jack's from early December:

VB would make notes - correct the spelling of "pirate" for example - and then the kids would play (do)!   When that time was over, VB would gather the class around one child or team, and they would explain what they'd done.  Not just what they planned, but how it turned out, and what decisions they made along the way.  Then the other children were allowed to ask questions, and then they were allowed to make comments (review).  In the case of Jack's pirate ship, it was built from blocks.  He spent several days building various things with blocks, until one day one of the other children said, "That one block looks like a slingshot."  The next day, the same little cluster of kids used a rubber band and the Y block, and spent the morning knocking over their block constructions.  His Plan sheet says, "Can I play angry birds?"

All in all, it was a fabulously fun experience for the kids, but also terrific for their cognitive development.  As the year went on, their Plan part got more elaborate - they learned punctuation and the difference between a period and question mark.  They learned possessives, and numerals, and proper nouns, and it all showed up on their Plan sheets.  The Do-ing was fabulous, too.  They learned to collaborate, to share, to imagine.  And the Review part - they learned to speak in front of people, to articulate their processes, and to share ideas. 

This process addresses - among others - Common Core Standard W.K.5 "With guidance and support from adults, respond to questions and suggestions from peers and add details to strengthen writing as needed."  It is age appropriate, provides guidance, and allows for growth.

I was intrigued last week to see a talk given by Dr. Megan Koschnick.   She's not wrong about children and their developmental phases, but about minute 19, something caught my eye.  Dr. Koschnick was discussing the exact standard I've cited above, and imagines the implementation in this way:

This little kindergartner, is the little adult, right? Is going to hold this board meeting, where she’s going to present her writing, she’s going to elicit feedback from her peers, and then she’s going to take that criticism -“feedback”[air quotes hers] - back to the writing table and she’s going to edit her work to include details and strengthen her writing based on the suggestions of other people. ...  anybody who's had kids is like "what? that's not going to happen."

She then goes on to say that this is unrealistic and, in her professional opinion, will lead to "loss of creativity, frustration, possibly conflict, and lots of tears."  She probably is right ... except that it doesn't have to be that way.      I have read a lot of stuff about common core that makes me angry, but this frankly made me sad.  It made me sad that a simple standard, the student will "respond to questions and suggestions from peers" - that I had seen executed so fabulously - could be carried out in such a horribly destructive fashion.

Teaching can be done well, and can be done not well.  Common Core can be done well, and can be done not well.  Do it well!