Sunday, November 2, 2014

Critically applying Common Core Standards and innovative best-practices to real-life situations

“The Common Core is pedagogically neutral”; “The Standards are guidelines, not a curriculum”; “Teachers can use whatever tools they want to help students meet the standards”. Or so we hear, repeatedly, from Common Core authors and advocates.

And yet, whenever we look up close at an assignment or activity or classroom showcased as having been inspired by the Common Core Standards, we see the same old Constructivist imprints: student-centered; discovery-driven; group-based; real-life-relevant; and “critical-thinking”-fostering. (“Critical thinking”, for the initiated, means applying concepts to new, “real-life” situations, reflecting on your thought processes, and communicating those thought processes to others).

One of the most recent examples of this—many thanks to Barry Garelick for the heads up—is seen in a recent article in a local Utah newspaper called the Spectrum. As the Spectrum reports:

Now in its third year of implementation in Utah public schools, the mathematics Common Core, a set of standards for students and teachers, is completely immersed in the classroom and is continuing to be an effective way to teach students, some teachers and administrators said.
“Some teachers and administrators” include Kris Cunningham, a School District math coordinator [here and throughout, all bold-faces are mine]:
"It's rewarding for the students to get to the correct answer and be able to explain what that answer means.” A staple of the Common Core standards is having teachers utilize the students' critical thinking skills in terms of how they'd apply mathematics principles to scenarios they'd find in real life.
As for the teachers, however free they are to teach the way they want, the Powers that Be spend many hours training them in the right sort of critical thinking: i.e., the sort required to apply Common Core principles to scenarios they’d find in real life. 7th grade teacher Janelle Warby, for example, reports that:
Her school administrators have sent her to trainings along with other teachers to learn how to best embrace new teaching methods.
As a result, Warby has learned that:
"There (are) a lot more critical thinking skills required now. The students do a lot of group work, and I've seen that be a really good and positive thing. The students are learning and retaining more."
Warby admits that:
Group work isn't ideal for all students, especially those who tend to be shy or prefer to work on their own.
But, she reassures us, there's a social benefit: it often helps bring those students out of their shell.

Also free to teach how they want are college professors. Our trainings, for now, are only optional:
Dear Colleagues,  
The Center for Excellence in Teaching will be hosting a workshop on Problem-Based Learning at _____. Lunch will be served.  
Problem-based learning is a student-centered experience which promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills by asking students to apply theories and discipline-specific knowledge to situations relevant to the student's area of study. This pedagogical best practice is currently being used, with much success, in various colleges across the university.
At the college level, this sort of instruction gets no “Common Core” imprimatur (the Common Core applying only to K12 education). Rather, it gets labeled as “best-practices,” “research-based,” and, above all, “innovative.” And, free as we may be to teach how we want, we face increasing pressure  to adhere to the notions that certain people have of what these three terms mean when applied, oh so critically, to real-life scenarios.


C T said...

One of the great things about online courses is the inherent limitations on group work. This introverted person went to class to learn a subject, not to be drawn out of my shell by my teachers. Socialization is far more enjoyable when entered into freely.

Auntie Ann said...

I've pointed out before the bullying issue with group work. This has hit our kid hard, and we have years of report cards all saying that he doesn't do well in group work, with not a single report card talking of how he has had to deal with being bullied year in and year out.

Teachers, who are often oblivious to both the pecking order and to bullying, grade the low-ranking kids down because they don't work well with their tormentors. In our case, there were two bullies in our kids grade, both with their posses who would follow the lead, then there were the kids who were happy to laugh along, then there were the kids who--understandably--stood by and did nothing, then there was our kid...who had to come off the playground after another round of being treated like the class goat, and cooperate with the others.

Teachers are so oblivious to all of it. Whether there obliviousness is willful is another question.

Niels Henrik Abel said...

I love how all these untrained teachers feel free to practice armchair psychology. Who are they to dictate that "shy" students must come out of their "shell"? It's the height of arrogance for them to mold all students to the supposed extrovert ideal.

I wish they'd get stiff penalties for practicing psychology without a license. Maybe, just maybe, then they'd stop with that nonsense.

Anonymous said...

"Teachers are so oblivious to all of it. Whether there obliviousness is willful is another question."

It's willful. Just see what happens if the bullied kid retaliates effectively. Those teachers will be right on the spot, protecting the precious little bullies.

lgm said...

Our experience with group work is also that it does not bring out the 'shy' brings out the jealous. The quiet kid is usually holding back because they are totally lost, or the lesson is a total review. If its the former, they will be going to academic intervention. If it is the latter, they'll be punished by the other kids, both verbaly and physically as Auntie Ann relates. And then, when they get to high school, the school board will punish them by not offering classes at their level of instructional need, such as AP Science, honors Math, select choir and tell them to home school or go to private school.

lgm said...

Katherine, how much of this groupwork is being pushed because of the belief that it will help inner city youth get to graduation by making them contributors to the classroom via active discussion, rather than feeling that the teacher is 'dominating' them by asking for quiet while delivering a mini-lecture or asking that one person at a time be heard in discussion? The Atlantic article by Lucy Graves "The Economic Impact of School Suspensions" on 10/26/14 seems to assert that school has to change away from the model where one respects the teacher and other students to one where the learner has to discover in order to get past that 'domination' idea.

momof4 said...

The idea that future employers might expect employees to show up on time, dress/groom themselves appropriately, listen to instructions, follow specific procedures and express themselves clearly and politely seems not to be considered. Back in the dinosaur era (50s), we were constantly told (from first grade; no k), that school was our job and preparation for being able to get paying jobs (part-time in school and full-time after graduation; few went to college)later. Kids who didn't make that standard couldn't even get babysitting or lawn-mowing jobs.

As for groupwork, I see it as easier for the teacher and enabling the pretense that "all" are learning (a vital pretense in the mandated full-inclusion classroom). The idea that kids with severe cognitive handicaps, autistic kids, emotionally disturbed/unsocialized kids,kids with learning disabilities, spoiled brats, thugs, bullies, decently socialized "average" kids and highly-performing to really gifted kids can all learn the same material, presented the same way, in the same amount of time, in the same classroom is an impossible fantasy, as is the idea that any significant number of teachers can "differentiate instruction" decently.

Auntie Ann said...

Group work is also a way to take advantage of the direct instruction that some students are getting at home from their frustrated parents. The kids being taught at home or at Kumon pass along what they've been taught to the others. The teachers get to pretend it's constructivist.

The problem is the social: no one wants to listen to the smart-a$$ kid know-it-all. It just adds to the social problems.

lgm said...

We have not experienced peer tutoring demands at all since full inclusion began. Apparently the IEPs require professional staff to deliver instruction as well as remediation and re-teach.

High school NHS members are expected to tutor students that are struggling and want peer help, but that is formally arranged and supervised. It is also never a classmate, always someone that is in a different cohort..