As students enter the classroom they begin to discuss the learning targets displayed on the smartboard.
"We discussed how the author's personal life experiences affected his writing yesterday." Lois whispers to his table partner. "We did, and the day before that. But I don't remember that second learning target." his classmate replies.
The teacher calls on students to discuss vocabulary that is new in today's learning targets and Lois and his classmates take turns building each other's understanding of what they will be doing during today's lesson.
Twenty minutes into the lesson Mary tries to bring her group to a consensus about how Laurence Yep's life as a Chinese American helped him write about a fictional character who immigrated to San Francisco in 1903. She compares a passage in his autobiography about rebelling against his parents' traditions, to his novel's character who shares his Chinese culture with non-Chinese neighbors. As the heated debate continues, the teacher moderates discussions focusing students on how their discussion reflects the day's learning targets, noting on her clipboard who has mastered the target. Students read, reread and quote from both texts to support their point. As the first half of the students' ELA block comes to a close, each student completes an exit ticket that asks him/her to evaluate his/her own understanding of the day's learning target, giving each student a chance to communicate with the teacher what he/she still does not understand. Between the teacher's notations and the student's self-evaluations, ideas for modifications to tomorrow's lessons are already being formed in the teacher's head.
One of the most fascinating myths in the media is that the lessons provided in the NYS Common Core Modules are a script. A script which prevents creativity and passion in teachers, a script telling teachers what to teach, say and do, stopwatch in hand. A script that forces teachers to teach without allowing for individual thought.
Together we have over 30 years of experience in education. We recall our first days in our first real classroom. We were provided with 30 student textbooks, a Teacher's Manual and given a schedule with 60 minutes allocated to teach children the 1996 ELA standards. In the Teacher's Manual, teachers saw a miniature version of the student textbook page and along the side in blue writing, teachers were provided with a scripted lesson plan. In the script, it directed teachers what questions to ask in class, the pacing that was recommended and which workbook page to use as homework. In fact, as time went on and the textbook series improved, the Teacher's Manual script even included what worksheet to use if a child answered the question incorrectly. We never had a choice of what text we would use, the student textbooks were filled with short excerpts set up in chapters, with each chapter focusing on a different skill (i.e. main idea). Class time was spent having students "popcorn read" (take turns reading paragraphs) and teachers stopped periodically to interpret the text asking one student at a time to answer a question. At the end of each chapter, the teacher gave a "skills test." Fail the chapter test? Too bad, main idea was not addressed again in the text and the teacher moved on.
So now we bring your attention to the vignette described in the beginning of this piece. This is a sample of the type of learning we see in the Modules. All students are asked to do the thinking of the lesson, not the teacher. Every student knows and understands the learning that is expected of them in the lesson, so students are aware of what they are doing. Students are asked to evaluate their peers and themselves often, providing teachers with the information they need about each student to differentiate learning and create individualized plans for remediation to fit the students' needs. The teacher becomes a facilitator of the student learning, and students lead the way. Teachers have the flexibility to segment lessons, spend more time on specific topics, find additional text to support understanding, as well as adapt the lessons to meet the needs of all learners.
Implementation involves a deep examination of curriculum and customizing it to fit students' needs. When we dismiss curriculum without giving it a fair chance, or as in some cases, never having the experience of teaching it in a classroom, we are essentially "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." We recognize the implementation of the Common Core Standards is not an easy task. In the end, what we know is that the NYS Curriculum Modules were written by educators and aligned to the Common Core Standards. Creativity and passion are personal qualities a teacher brings to his/her instruction. No one can take this away, regardless of the curriculum.
Lauren Ormsby is a superintendent/principal and Karen koranic is a sixth grade teacher at Ripley Central School. They have led the implementation of the Expeditionary Learning Modules in their district and serve as New York state Common Core Ambassadors.