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  1. Common Core State Standards at ASCD

    July 7, 2011 by David

    Although not an advertised topic for the ASCD Summer Conference, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) seemed to be a part of most of the sessions I visited. And for good reason: 43 states and DC have fully adopted them and are already working on a cross-walk from their current state standards to the Common Core. Oh, and by the 2014-15 school year there will be assessments created by two state consortia that will evaluate student progress on these new standards. I am disappointed that the state I taught in, Washington, has only provisionally adopted them pending the state legislature giving the final OK. The State’s lack in embracing the CCSS was part of the reason their application for the Race to the Top grant didn’t go very far, not to mention that delaying will only mean less time to get ready for those assessments and more educators feeling rushed to align their curriculum, not to mention simply become introduced to the standards and fully understand them. Heidi Hayes Jacobs put it this way: “Good information lowers anxiety. Lack of information causes it.”

    The speakers at the conference all recognized that the CCSS are the new reality but to a one, they emphasized the importance of really reading the standards, really understanding them, but cautioning that the goal is not to meet the Common Core Standards but to meet the standards along the way.

    Here are some of my favorite anecdotes about this idea:

    • Standards, or the CCSS, are like building codes: The ultimate goal is not to meet them. You don’t say, “I’m going to build a house to code!” That’s understood and says nothing about the design of the house.
    • When building a house you don’t make the blueprint up along the way. In other words, you still have to have a plan, or a goal. The standards inform this goal but don’t dictate it.
    • Content acquisition is the means, not the end.
    • Standards are the design considerations.

    Another theme that came up again and again was what some speakers called “unwrapping” or “unpacking” the CCSS. This close and careful reading of the standards has to do with taking an individual standard or anchors and pick out the verbs, nouns and noun phrases, and key qualifiers and determining their meaning local curriculum, instruction and assessment.

    For example, CCSS RI.8.9 says:

    Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.

    Paying attention to the important parts of speech you get:

    Analyze conflicting information and identify disagree(ment).

    As an English Language Arts teacher, or a teacher who expected the students to read in their class (hint: that’s everyone), it is also important to understand how this particular standard has increased in sophistication from, say 6th grade:

    Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).

    Furthermore, both of these standards are the grade level equivalent of the overall anchor (#9, in this case), or what the students should be able to do by the end of the year:

    Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

    Overall I am very happy that this educational movement for common standards is here and pleased that those advocating for it are reminding everyone that they are not the end goal, they are student learning and deep understanding. Which leads me to my next topic, Understanding by Design …

  2. ASCD Summer Conference

    July 6, 2011 by David

    If there was one theme I kept encountering over and over at the ASCD Summer Conference in Boston was that good education is hard work and you can’t just port over a program, make a few tweaks and WIN. A component of this theme is that educators really need to understand the philosophy and pedagogy behind great ideas like Understanding by Design or even the Common Core Standards before really working with them. It seemed like in every session I went to it was a good hour to two hours of background and scaffolding the instruction before the speakers touched upon the meat of what they were there to discuss.

    As mentioned, Common Core came up a lot and just as often were words reminding you to really read through the standards, give your staff time to really get to know them, and yet they are still just something to do along the way to real learning, they aren’t the goal. They inform the goal, but don’t dictate it.

    You still need a goal, what do you want students to know or do? When you are building a house you don’t make the blueprint along the way. Similarly, when you are building a house you don’t say, “I’m going to build it to code!” and leave it at that.

    I also enjoyed how everything at the conference (well, at least the sessions I went to) were woven together and they all built on each other: Use Understanding by Design to set some meaningful goals, create useful and credible assessments (GRASPS), meet the Common Core Standards along the way and put it all together with Curriculum Mapping.

    I will go into these later and in more detail but I am excited about all the great ideas I took away from the East Coast. Part of me wishes I had a district/school/class of my own so I could frame my thinking around them but I have always enjoyed thinking about ideas in their pure form, without being tied to a specific situation, or trying to fit them into a set structure; like trying to figure out how this new-fangled square peg will fit into the round hole we already have and works well for us, thank you very much.