I have been thinking a lot about our conversation yesterday about standards, Common Core, and the dynamic tension education is experiencing between content and context. My perception is that Common Core has a narrow focus, which is good and in terms of framework to the curriculum – it works. However, my fear is that the Federal government will play in this sandbox pretty hard, so I wonder if it will be just one more power grab.
Maybe the reason National standards bother me is I feel it is an attempt at mass control of education, a one size fits all approach, and one more way to send the message that learning can be standardized. Maybe it is because standardization in some ways is demeaning to educators. They should be the designers of learning and orchestrators of creative curriculum implementation and student ownership of learning.
I do not mind standards in and of themselves. They are a framework, a way for all of us to shoot for the same goal, to be on the same page or at least in the same ballpark. They are a minimum bar or a boundary that says when you cover this- at least get to here- but yet, not limiting anyone from taking the learning further.
I do not even mind outcomes. I think it is important to measure what we have accomplished, to look back and say we have been here and here and we have mastered these skills. A learning footprint of sorts. Even testing doesn’t bother me if it is one of many measures (data points) to show growth over time. Testing data should be used by students themselves to improve learning choices and reflect upon the learning experience. Testing should not be used by governments to decide funding, quality or make decisions about teachers. Testing should be tied to student outcomes and used for self-directed, appreciative growth.
In my mind the problem with State and National tests is they support a belief that we can create a standardization of the learning process. Standardization of learning is what I am against. The belief that somehow it is possible to standardize thinking, knowledge construction, aha moments, innovation, learning, creativity, and even teachers themselves.
Having agencies and governments determine content and common core doesn’t bother me. Give me the ingredients you want me to use, the map, the content I am to cover. Then get out of the way and let me at it. Let the co-learners in the room decide context– the how of what we will share, the teaching and learning processes and the why of how we learn it this way. Let us do our own wayfinding. Let us construct our own meaning and design, our own sense making activities. Let us show mastery of what we learned in ways that align not only with the standards but also with the self-directed processes and creative ways in which each learner chooses.
I love what Seymour Papert says, “Curriculum should be learning what you need to learn, when you need to learn it.” We cover the standards provided (Common Core) but the timing and methods are up to us, the community of learners in the classroom.
Teachers become part of the learning process. They bring the expertise in the art of learning, metacognition, research, and pedagogy. Their role should be to model best practice, to coach, facilitate, organize, ask good questions, negotiate learning contracts and to provide a safe, intriguing environment for learning. Teachers in the 47 states that have adopted Common Core should use it as an organizational construct, a framework, a guide- and avoid any suggestion of tying it to punitive means of standardizing the learning that occurs in the classroom.
We both know technology plays a powerful role in shifting what needs to happen inside of schools. The teachers and students we work with share horrible stories and are stifled by what is happening there. But like you, I am thinking we are having the wrong conversation- it needs to shift from standardization of standards (common core content) to standardization of quality- of context (methods and dispositions).
What if content was a variable (rather than a constant) and how we taught (higher order thinking skills, creativity, student choice, and collaborative knowledge construction, and global connections) became the constant. In other words, maybe we need to standardize (make it business as usual) that learning should be self-directed and knowledge co-constructed. What if we had benchmarks for what a learner driven classroom looks like. Maybe that is the conversation we should be having. What if time was a variable (i.e. seat time and Carnegie units) and learning (individualized and student-directed) became the constant?
Just think– in a system like this the curriculum guides and common standards could covers broad themes and topics of exploration. The lead learner’s (teacher) role would be to come up with interesting questions and thought provoking problems that help guide participant learners (students) in choosing what interests them most about the topic. There could be topics for self exploration, group exploration, and team exploration. These topics and structures could weave together to create an entire unit of study around a global theme across disciplines. Each project could include a collective action and service learning outcome that was student designed. Kids would think about the purpose of what they were creating to inform and make the world a better place (in addition to how well it aligned with content standards). But they could create their own standards/outcomes for the learning too- what they wanted to get out of the experience. They would use various media and technology to publish their artifacts of mastery. For example, what if they created a global project and part of the outcomes measured was how global it became?
Curriculum would be co-created and co-developed under the broad topic for the course and would be allocated based on interest and experience. Students could choose dilemmas and innovations to be created in a studio design approach and shared with the rest of the class/world as an expose’ or showcase experience. If projects were crowdsourced out to student/teacher networks, other classes could join in and build and learn together. Rather than simply having a system of common core standards related to content criteria, schools could do action research that resulted in benchmarks for creativity, connectivity, collaboration, collegiality, and other amazing words that start with C <wink>. (You get my drift).
The teacher could operate in the role of curator and bring in important content and resources he/she felt added to the understanding and expertise of the student designers. Technology would have an important role to play, but quietly in the background supporting the learning.
But then, as you said in our conversation, what would this look like in schools with 59 kids in a class? Could it work? What do you think?
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Very thoughtful and intriguing. I am very interested in the role of teacher as coach, facilitator, partner. That is how we must proceed in the wake of the immediate access to information and changing information. Helping our students use and make sense of the information they have access to and how it can be of benefit to them is key. I appreciate your thoughtfulness around shifting standardization and content vs context.
Peg, I wonder– if we were to unpack the role teacher as classroom coach what would it look like? How would the typical day change?
“Curriculum should be learning what you need to learn, when you need to learn it.” – Great quote to reference here. I tend to agree with your concerns regarding standards and their necessity as a guiding model or framework, but the logistics or delivery of the content needs not be monitored so stringently. There needs to be some overarching guidance to the delivery still to better ensure that schools aren’t still using archaic methods in their approach to learning. The key has to be a new paradigm of learning being the constant and time the variable. This is where leadership and learning must collide. http://www.davemedwards.com/?p=1381 – again, nice conversation! Keep it up!
Thanks for sharing the link. Can’t wait to check it out.
As I read through this I was thinking about all of the things that I wanted to say, and then I got to your last question, “… what would this look like in schools with 59 kids in a class?” and I realized my biggest concern in regards to all of this: the whole structure of grade levels in schools.
I agree that common core and standards are not necessarily a bad thing, but my concern is that every child has to reach these standards at the same time. What if a public school could be a fluid place where a child didn’t have to stay in “fifth grade” for 9 months? What if kids could move on to the next set of standards after demonstrating mastery / proficiency through a series of projects, portfolios, and yes, even standardized tests they would take when ready? Basically, what if EVERY child could benefit from specially designed instruction and an individualized education plan? That would NOT work in a class of 59 students.
I would never claim to know all the ins and outs of what it would take to restructure a school funding system as inequitable as the one we have here in PA, but it seems to me that rather than shifting money to charter or cyber charter schools (why can’t districts start to offer these options?) or a voucher program, we should restructure the funding system to equally dispense the money to all districts. The funds could be used to make the necessary changes to provide individualized programs for every student, whether they attend physically or virtually. When the kids demonstrate proficiency for each of the standards at their level they meet with the teacher of the next level and move on. Or, even crazier, they stay with the same teacher and just move on through the elementary standards until they are ready to progress to the secondary standards.
That’s just my suggestion for change, and I know there are other ideas that are even better. No matter what that change finally looks like, somebody has to be willing to stand up and bravely take a step to put into action what we all know is true: education needs to be different.
Sheryl and Will, thanks for starting this conversation. I look forward to seeing how you two continue and what others have to say.
Ok, run for office. I am voting you in. What great ideas!
Nicely thought through Sheryl. As usual, I’ll throw in a separate group, that manage to skew the learning trends — the “at-risk” learners. The ones who are transient, drift in and out, and “stay” at places, rather than “live” there. This population moves with the tide, and isn’t stable nor predictable.
Common Core standards might help them, but only if the *teacher* and the *school* recognizes that their cognitive processes are often surrounded by a thick coating of *survival*, and they are a tougher nut to crack. Education has not been participatory for them, but if the curriculum had some slight familiarity, it could help put a crack in their survival coat, and perhaps allow learning to occur while their tide has deposited them.
Thanks for bringing the “at risk” child to the forefront of the discussion. I actually think the type of educational program I am describing would work well for these kids. While I am not opposed to having standards for organization, the truth is with the highly transient child relationships are more important.
I went for a walk this afternoon. I live in an area called Witch Duck. It is called that because this use to be the place they ducked women accused of being a witch in the water to see if they would float or sink. Everyone in our city knows the history. It is actually part of the social studies curriculum for our area.
I got to thinking, I never knew that history and yet somehow I am still well educated and successful.
I grew up a transient child and an at risk learner just like the kids you describe. I would get to one school and they would have finished teaching something we had just started covering at my old school. Common core wise there were significant gaps in my formative education.
What allowed me to be successful was 1) I learned to read. 2) I learned the basics of math. 3) I figured out how I learned and how to learn. I think if we will focus less on teaching kids and more on helping them learn, then even those “tough nuts to crack” will do ok.
One more thought- what if we had online mentors for our most transient kids that followed them from school to school and filled in the gaps?
great post and thread. important stuff.
i know i’m out there, but i really believe:
1) if we were able to detox ourselves from the way we’ve done school
2) if we were able to tap into the web, like it was a web, believing we could learn/do whatever we want
3) even common core standards compromise authentic learning
this isn’t new. but it’s new to public ed. it’s new to a group of 59. with 1-1 mentors and a lot of unleashing we can now facilitate infinite options in public ed.
Gosh, this sounds a lot like the approach that many homeschoolers take. The homeschool education world is becoming the research lab for many of these advanced ideas. It’s a shame that the educational establishment has not learned (or does not choose) to tap into their years of valuable experience. Admittedly, it would be a very hard process.
While I am a big advocate of curriculum reform, I think of the discussion being focused on the middle- and high-schools. I’m a believer that there will be a great gain overall of having common core standards at the elementary level where there seems to be a broad consensus on the skills that the students need to acquire.
I feel this consensus breaks down on issues of curriculum for middle and high school. In this area, it’s not clear that a national core curriculum is a net gain. On the other hand, I haven’t seen much interesting experimentation at the state level in curriculum as the schools seem to slavishly dish up the curriculum that the colleges dictate.
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