Incorporating ELD, ELA, and Writing skills:

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Today I assigned an article for my 5th graders to read from Newsela. They were to read and annotate the text,using the comment feature, in Google Docs (the original assignment was given in Google Classroom). I allowed them to work in groups in order to discuss and collaborate – we’ll talk about that in a minute.

In the middle of the assignment, I hear an electronic voice say ‘Ecuador’ in the back of the classroom. I asked my students who was doing that, and what were they doing. A group of three girls raise their hands. They explained that they didn’t know how to say a word so they wanted to hear it. Upon further questioning, they explained they went into Google Translate, typed the word, and pressed the speaker button. They simply ‘translated’ it into English. Yup, English to English! Brilliant!

As these three girls continued working together, I listened in on their discussion. After reading the article, they had a few questions to answer. One of the girls tried to assign each one a question to answer – with the intent of copying the answers from each other. Now, they know this is NOT collaboration. As I continued to listen, one of the girls pointed out that that wasn’t right, and they all needed to do the questions together. And that’s exactly what they did, answered the questions together! Smart kiddos!

Common Core simply refers to a group of standards. Standards are NOT new to education; they have been around for a long time. However in the past, each state had their own set of standards. So what one student learned in 5th grade in California was different than what another 5th grader was learning in Michigan. Independent state standards made more sense back when we, as a society, didn’t move around quite as much; and before we had a Global Economy and technology bringing us – not just states, but countries – together. As times have changed, so have our needs.

Here is a quality 3 minute video to explain it.

Standards are goals that a child needs to meet at each grade level. Standards are NOT methods, curriculum (textbooks purchased by districts), or tests.

For example, one 3rd grade English Language Arts Standard states:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.3.7

Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).

That’s it, that’s the whole thing. I doubt anyone can argue that the above goal is a bad idea, or is making their child feel inadequate in any way. Okay, so most of the controversy centers around Math. I often hear statements like, “What’s wrong with the way I learned?” Well for starters, I’m guessing you have a base knowledge of how the actual function works. How many of us can explain why a fraction multiplied by aother fraction gives us a product that is less? We know, and can go through the motions of 1/2 x 1/3 = 1/6, but why? This is what Common Core is trying to have our students understand. There are LESS standards so that teachers can help students understand the WHY.

So let’s look at a 5th grade Math standard:

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.NF.A.1

Add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators (including mixed numbers) by replacing given fractions with equivalent fractions in such a way as to produce an equivalent sum or difference of fractions with like denominators. *For example, 2/3 + 5/4 = 8/12 + 15/12 = 23/12. (In general, a/b + c/d = (ad + bc)/bd.)*

Yes, all this states is that a student will add or subtract a fraction finding a common denominator. The wording is a bit different than that, but that’s what the standard states. Nowhere does it mention HOW it is to be taught – that would be a method, which are often found in curriculums. The key phrase in the standard is ‘equivalent fractions’. Why is this so important? Well, in the past we have taught students to find the common denominator by finding all the factors. There was very little time to explore that 3/6 is equivalent to 1/2 and 15/30. When students, and adults, are allowed to manipulate the information – via number lines or fraction tiles/bars – a better understanding is gained. Again, I doubt anyone really has an issue with the standard.

It’s videos like this that focus on a method, and call it Common Core Math. Critics seem to focus on one method – arguably a long drawn out one to really drive home their message – and rant about its inefficiency. However, while watching this video I realized the ‘host’ and his explanation in the beginning are a perfect example of WHY we NEED Common Core, and illustrates our general lack of understanding. In the beginning, around the 8 second mark, he says that you, “Carry the 1,” when he is subtracting 3 from 5. Please notice that he stated, “Minus,” this is incorrect, the correct term is subtract. However, the bigger problem came when he explained that we needed to “Carry the 1”. Without getting too involved, what the problem has us doing is ‘regrouping’ (called ‘borrowing’ in my day). It is the actual process of taking a group – of 100 in this example – and placing it in the tens place. I wonder, without showing how ‘inefficient’ Common Core is, would he have been able to explain the why behind the actions? While many of those interviewed stated, “It takes too long” and “It’s too much work”, for those of us who have done it over several years, yes it’s not the best method for us. For those students just beginning to learn this standard, this method may be the key to success.

Critics have lost sight, maybe they never had it, that Common Core teaches VARIOUS methods. This kind of teaching allows ALL students access and understanding. Once a student has a firm grasp on the concept, they will move to our more traditional method, or more likely pull out their smartphone and use the calculator.

Publishers and testing companies (consortiums as well) have muddied the waters. Publishers such as Eureka (Engage New York) and Pearson have taken it upon themselves to teach only certain methods. In addition, there have been several reports of misprints, thus causing MAJOR confusion with students and parents, in Eureka and Engage NY. Somewhere along the way, these publishers have decided what methods to teach, and we as teachers should do as they say. These companies are not looking out for the best methods, or interest, of our students. They are in it for a profit.

Another frustration, on the part of teachers, has been testing. We have been aware of Common Core standards for several years now. However, we were still bound to give state mandated tests, as stipulated under President Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’. This left teachers wanting to dig into the new standards, but as many of them did not line up with the state standards, Common Core was pushed to the back burner. We had tests to give, and proficiency levels to meet – which all boiled down to money, none of which made it to classrooms. There was little time for teachers to really grasp the full concept of the new standards. We were being pulled in many directions, then thrown into Common Core.

Brace yourselves…Get rid of testing and ditch the mandated curriculum. The curriculum are those books – teachers editions, student textbooks and workbooks – created by FOR PROFIT companies. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t be held accountable, by all means I should. There should be several ways in which a student is allowed to show mastery. A test given by the state, or a consortium, is not the answer. What about the student who can eloquently explain a process through a video, poetry, or interview? What if a rubric were designed and the student could SHOW their understanding this way? That is much more powerful that some test that is reduced to a number. Student want to show off their work and understanding, not show off some paper with a number printed on it.

More importantly, I am a professional. I went to school to become a teacher. I learned to create lessons WITHOUT a teacher’s manual. I can look at a standards and design a lesson to fit the needs of my students. This is what I went to school for! I am constantly refining my skills. These curriculums have hindered the teaching profession. They aren’t all bad, in some ways they are helpful. They help chunk and sequence how/when standards are taught. I have NEVER used a curriculum that has met the needs of every child/teacher. If I need help, then the curriculum should be a safety net, not the holy grail of math, language arts, or science. The companies and curriculums have sent an unconscious message that teachers are incapable of doing their jobs without them telling us what to do. Shame on them.

Publishers and testing companies. And to be honest, they make me cry too. Instead of demonizing Common Core, and complaining how ‘time consuming’ a problem is, question the companies. Why do THEY feel this method is best, can a student use a method that is NOT approved by them, are these companies really needed? Celebrate the standards, just don’t confuse methods, curriculum, and testing with the standards.

Related Post: Why Common Core Is ‘Bad’

Check out how I use The Literacy Shed in my classroom. Great for ELA/ELD/Writing.