I read the Common Core State [sic] Standards with ACCEPTANCE because of the relief they appeared to offer from standardization and standardized testing.
Then I read the publishers criteria and found out about writing to text, not making personal connections, text complexity, and other concepts that contradicted the Common Core’s promise to not dictate how we teach. You’re telling me to not encourage personal connections or personal writing, but you’re not telling me how to teach? Not only are you telling me how to teach, you’re dictating how students are supposed to react to what they read and how they should write: like robots.
I went through DEPRESSION when I realized that the Common Core might not be a solution, but yet another problem.
But I reached a stage in my Common Core experience called…
And here was the bargain I tried to make with the Common Core. I’m already doing just about everything it said. I have been for years. I’ve been doing thematic units. I’ve been linking fiction and non-fiction reading. I have been doing routine writing over a variety of time frames and genres. I’ve been asking my students to close-read. When my 8th graders read Fahrenheit 451, we spend 3 weeks doing nothing but discussing and discussing in glorious detail every nuance and idea in that book, and having fun doing it.
Actually, one of the things that began to bother me was that the Common Core Standards were being promoted as new and innovative and breathtaking in the scope of change they were creating. But a lot of it I’d been doing… for years. At least the parts of it that made sense.
One example. The Common Core talks about how it values evidence, about how students should find evidence of ideas in the things they read. Well, the short story test I used to give my 7th graders and now give to 6th grade Gifted involves students’ reading and analyzing “A Day’s Wait,” a Hemingway short story about a boy named Schatz who thinks he’s going to die of his fever. He’s an American living in Europe and he gets Fahrenheit and Celsius mixed up. The first person narrator, his father, doesn’t find out Schatz thinks he’s going to die until the end of the story.
One of the essay questions I give on the test asks students to identify Schatz’s actions throughout the story that foreshadow that he thinks he’s about to die, even though we as readers don’t find this out until the end. Isn’t this… evidence gathering? I’ve been giving versions of this test for about twelve years. Just because we add the buzz word “evidence” to the task doesn’t mean it’s a different task.
I’d already been starting to strengthen my students’ research skills so that things would be easier for them as they hit the high school, even before the Common Core came along, so that seemed like no big deal.
A lot of the things in the Common Core that had seemed like reasons for acceptance early on seemed doable to me. As for the philosophical differences I had with some of the ideas in the publishers criteria, I figured I’d I’d keep my head down and do what I do: what’s right for kids.
I got back to work and began to come up with new lessons and ideas that on the surface appeared very “Common Corey.” My wife and I developed a unit for our 8th graders on the power of attention. They read articles about attention and multitasking, wrote about their own experiences with attention, and eventually wrote a paper, with research from the essays we’d read, about when their attention is most powerful. Research! Citing sources! Common Core!
Thanks to my wonderful principal, I got copies of Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower to read with my 8th grade Holocaust unit. Great “Common Core” book, right? The first half is a memoir about the author’s experience hearing a dying Nazi’s confession of guilt and final request for forgiveness. It ends with the author asking, “What would you do?” The second half of the book is made up of essays written in response to that question by 53 writers, theologians, and philosophers. After reading part 1 and reading selected essays in part 2, my students wrote their own essays. They needed to use evidence from the memoir and the essays to bolster their own position in favor of or against forgiving Karl the Nazi. Evidence! Common Core!
Of course, from the Common Core’s point of view, I cheated. They wrote about their personal experiences and stories in both units’ essays. They used their opinions to make their case in their Sunflower essays. Opinions bolstered by evidence from the book, but opinions nonetheless. Opinions aren’t supposed to matter in the Common Core.
Well, they matter in real life.
So I added to my bargain: I would cheat a bit on some of the philosophical stuff while doing things that looked Common-Corey, and I’d keep my head down so I could give the students the materials that would really make them engage with thinking, reading, and writing at a very deep level. The results have been awesome in my class. The attention essays? Fascinating. The Sunflower essays? Breathtaking.
So I’d made my bargain with the Common Core. I threw it a few bones and hoped it would leave me alone.
The problem is, it wouldn’t. The problem is, I knew that keeping my head down might be good for my students, but not for the students in other classrooms still being told not to connect, not to use background knowledge, not to write about what matters most to them… the students being told that no one gives a $#!+ about your opinion or your personal story.
And then I found out about PARCC. And then our new Common-Core-Enhanced FCAT Writing Scores came in. And then I got beyond bargaining to the next stage of my Common Core experience.
I tried bargaining. Negotiations failed.