Education Week - March 25, 2015 - (Page 32)

COMMENTARY Jared Boggess for Education Week By Ariel Sacks F Breaking the Code of the Common Core " rom my perspective as an experienced English teacher in New York City, the Common Core State Standards represent neither the problem nor the solution. They have brought both positive and negative elements to my classroom and my profession. I've generally stayed quiet in the debates around the common standards, but now that I've spent several years with them, it occurs to me that it's an apt time to reflect on their impact overall. When I first read through the English/language arts standards for secondary grades, I wasn't expecting to have much of a reaction: a new list to sift through, a new language to learn. State standards had never been a primary influence for me in my big-picture vision for education or my day-to-day teaching; my relationship with them has been one mainly of coexistence. I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find that the COMMON CORE in the CLASSROOM common-core standards appeared to be much more closely aligned to my teaching than my state's previous standards. I also found their presentation to be more organized and even quite elegant. One way the new standards seemed better aligned to my teaching was in their emphasis on developing students' critical-thinking skills, rather than on helping students generate specific types of work products. I saw a push to have students do more of the thinking in the classroom, especially by interpreting texts for themselves and by using evidence to support their arguments. In addition, the emphasis on developing students' speaking and discussion skills created a clear connection between oral discourse in the classroom and students' analytical writing. I had long placed an emphasis on teaching whole novels as a way to develop students' ability to analyze, discuss, and write about texts, and the common standards seemed to affirm and encourage this practice. At the same time, many educators in my professional network were raising concerns about teachers' limited involvement in the actual writing of the new standards. That was seen as huge blow to the movement toward teacher leadership in education. Did the apparent lack of teacher input on the standards impact the quality of the standards themselves? I think so. While I appreciate the inclusion of standards that ask my 8th grade students to analyze the structure of a text or the author's point of view, for example, I worry that 5th and 6th graders are being required to do some of these same tasks, when cognitively many kids that age barely grasp that there is an author behind the texts they read. This doesn't make them "bad readers." There are stages to becoming a mature reader, and the process and ideal outcomes look quite different at each level (and for different students). My sense is that, instead of building standards that are carefully in sync with the developmental trajectory of confident readers, the authors of the standards looked at what students needed to be [T]he key to realizing the potential of the common standards lies in supporting teacher input and discretion." able to do with texts in college and just "backwards planned" down to 1st grade, assuming that learning is an entirely linear process. So now, rather than emphasizing students' experience of and genuine interaction with a wide variety of stories and texts, earlyelementary teachers are expected to focus on teaching pre-analytical skills. Then there is the thorny fiction vs. nonfiction question. The authors of the standards have clearly stated that their suggested 70-30 percent split between nonfiction texts and literary-fiction texts (by high school) was intended to represent students' reading across subject areas. In other words, if students are reading nonfiction in science and social studies courses, then English teachers need not abandon fiction and poetry in order to meet the recommendation. I've found that this approach, when done thoughtfully, can actually push teachers in new directions in terms of text selection and improving collaboration across subject areas. Still, the popular interpretation among many school leaders and some teachers has been that we need to include significantly more nonfiction reading in language arts classes, thus limiting time for imaginative fiction. That interpretation is hardly surprising given that, in general, the common standards emphasize analytical thinking over other types of cognition to a fault. In only one out of the 10 anchor standards for writing that PAGE 23 > ARIEL SACKS teaches 8th and 9th grade English/language arts in New York City. She is the author of Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student-Centered Approach (Jossey-Bass, 2013) and is a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory, where she writes the blog On the Shoulders of Giants. | INSIDE | 22 WHY SCHOOL POLICIES NEED TO BE FINE-TUNED 22 WHICH 'COMMON CORE' ARE WE TALKING ABOUT? 24 WHAT WILL BE THE IMPACT OF THE ASSESSMENTS? 32 | EDUCATION WEEK | March 25, 2015 | 25 OVERCOMING 'INITIATIVE FATIGUE' 26 LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 25, 2015

Education Week - March 25, 2015
Civics Tests for Diplomas Gain Traction
For Education Next, Views With An Edge
Employers Integral To Career Studies
Experience Seen as Boost For Teachers
Elite Private Schools Tackle Ed Tech
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Eligibility Rules Fuel Growth Of Indiana’s Voucher Program
States Should Play Role in Fostering Engagement, Report Says
Teacher-Leadership Movement Gets Boost From Ed. Dept.
Blogs of the Week
Nonprofits Link Businesses To Career-Tech Programs
At Beaver Country Day, Investing In Innovation
Special Education Task Force Urges Overhaul for California
Gov. Cuomo’s Budget Sparks Backlash in N.Y.
Fight Looms on Kansas Plan To Fund K-12 Via Block Grants
Blogs of the Week
Why School Policies Need to Be Fine-Tuned
Which ‘Common Core’ Are We Talking About?
What Will Be the Impact of the Assessments?
More Educator Voices on Common-Core Implementation
Overcoming ‘Initiative Fatigue’
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Breaking the Code of the Common Core

Education Week - March 25, 2015