This is a busy year for teachers. It seems there are so many pressing matters, the STEM initiative, Technology in the classroom, and most importantly The Common Core State Standards alignment. As we march toward the first significant deadline for the Common Core, teachers are working to fully understand the Common Core as well as embrace the changes in order to facilitate their students’ academic success.
During such uncertain times, two veteran educators gathered to explore the Common Core State Standards initiative and reflect on what the initiative means for educators. Below is an excerpt from the dialogue Dina, a 7th grade language arts teacher, and Cheryl, a high school English/language arts teacher-turned-consultant, engaged in. As a side note, Dina and Cheryl are long-time friends.
Cheryl: My work connects me with teachers in the midst of change. “First-order” change can be easy: It’s consistent with community values, has been generally approved, and doesn’t require new knowledge or skills. “Second-order” change is tough. Maybe it’s not obvious that it’s for the best. Or maybe it requires new ideas, habits, and skills.
Many teachers are experiencing the common-core implementation as massive second-order change … even as eleventh-order change. Finding joy in this kind of change can be tough.
Dina: Along these lines, this terrifically difficult year seemed completely tied to the juggernaut at first: the Godzilla-like common core. And I’d be misleading you if I said I didn’t still have questions and concerns. However, my key realization was that the majority of those concerns were not based in the core itself, but in the way the core was being implemented (I could write a whole other article on that). Suffice it to say here that in the Dickensian worst of times, it was actually elements of the common core itself that buoyed my spirit and saved me from despair. And where I found joy, my students found joy.
Cheryl: You are not alone in noticing joyful learning. I know of several classrooms, including one where 2nd graders dug into a deep study of snakes (of all things), where students are having a blast even as they are really striving. Kids enjoy a good argument—including, in my 2nd grade example, about whether or not snakes should be feared. That novelty in trying new kinds of writing as they look at interesting authentic texts is fun. And the 2nd grade herpetologists at Conservatory Lab Charter School and their teacher showed me that motivation and engagement get a lift when the kids communicate what they’ve learned to an audience outside the classroom.
Dina: I have another example: my 7th grade unit on bullying. A key part of it was a very flexible, powerful lesson often called a “Socratic circle.” In Socratic circles, teachers provide students with a higher-level thinking question, then cut them loose to talk about it as a class. If you’re thinking this sounds simpler than it is, you’re absolutely right.
I’d combed through multiple ways of approaching this lesson to target the first Common Core Speaking and Listening Standard (7.1), and combined the best of what I found.
Provide a crystal-clear discussion format. I used my projector to display three or four speaking guidelines throughout class (“One person speaks at a time,” “Talk to one another, not to me,” and “A full, contributing response is …” ). I distributed a list of questions on bullying. A time-keeper student made sure we limited our discussion to five minutes for each question.