PYP Superheroes

Caring Girl & Principled-Thinker Man

For Literacy Week, we had a Superhero theme and tried to inegrate the IB Learner Profile.

The real problem with Common Core

I like content standards and Common Core in particular.

Now, after dodging hurled tomatoes and enduring understandable jeers and hisses from a very vocal majority of people who work with children, I’ll explain why.

Content standards like Common Core are written curriculum. Written curriculum is always a work in progress and always up for debate and revision. Any written curriculum has flaws, because what is important to ‘know’ is always subjective and constantly changing. Most importantly, content standards don’t prescribe how to teach and learn, only what should be learned.

In my ideal teaching dream world, the written curriculum is agreed upon, discussed, debated, and revised; the taught and assessed curricula are entirely up to the communities engaged in learning to construct. Typically, that would be students, parents, and teachers. Simple, relevant. ‘How we learn’ and ‘how we show what we have learned’ should be the province of the learners, after all.
Unfortunately, bureaucracies never seem to leave anything simple. Their first victim is the assessed curriculum and their weapon-of-choice is standardized tests. It wouldn’t be appropriate at this point to mention the standardized testing companies who relentlessly lobby governments to spend more tax revenue on their often tedious and arbitrary products, so I’ll just focus on the fact that I don’t really mind those tests.

They’re not as challenging as the authentic assessment tasks my students regularly complete, and consistent test-taking practice develops important research and thinking skills. Similar quizzes also provide learners with critical formative and summative feedback on their learning throughout the year. Taking a few hours out of a school year in exchange for scientifically-collected data about the learning in my classroom is fine with me, assuming the tests are accurate and fair.

If that were the end of the intervention into children’s learning, I really wouldn’t mind. It turns out, however, that the companies which make tests also publish textbooks! Surprise, surprise. These text books “teach” the standards on which the tests are based. Even that isn’t so bad; it’s great for a classroom to be thoroughly resourced, after all, and it should provide excellent connections to the written curriculum. Until it becomes mandated. That’s when this situation becomes ugly. When a school board, district bureaucracy, or central government mandates the use of particular materials, it’s like when the school bully “gives” you a present and then tells you how to play with it.

It gets worse. In order to ensure that the kids “learn” everything in the books, the publishers make available a generous variety of materials. In fact, they are proud to sell ‘everything you need’ to “teach” those kids the standards. Including teacher scripts.

If you are a teacher who is forced to follow a script, I feel deep and bitter empathy for you. In my opinion, it can’t get worse than scripted curriculum. It’s a short step away from replacing teachers with videos.

There is one glaring problem with any standards as they relate to learners with special needs. Naturally, we are all individuals and not always able to meet identical standards. However, Common Core doesn’t specify how most standards must be assessed, allowing teachers the freedom to scaffold and accommodate as needed. A healthy sense of equity is all we need to realize in which cases standards are inappropriate.

In conclusion, the content standards, a good idea per se, are always too easily blown out of proportion. The problem is how stakeholders react to them. On one side, reactionaries decry them for their impersonality and rigidity. On the other, standards and their associated products are championed blindly by politicians and ‘reformers’. Students, parents, and teachers may feel confused, intimidated, and discouraged.

What a shame.

Use standards as a menu to help plan lessons and activities and structure inquiries to be engaging and relevant to ensure breadth of instruction. Knowing that we will ‘cover everything’ in the standards, we are at liberty to pursue our inquiries with vigor and enjoyment.

Los Perros Magicos de los Volcanes

Back in the Fall, we read one of my favorite books.
Our PYP Unit of Inquiry was entitled “We are what we believe”. We surveyed folk stories from around the world to draw inferences about various cultures’ beliefs and values from their literature. We read Aladdin from Syria, Momotaro from Japan, and Magic Dogs of the Volcanoes from El Salvador. It was a great chance to practice using Venn diagrams to compare and contrast.
The artwork is beautiful and the story is charming and unique. It also has English and Spanish on every page, which everyone always seems to enjoy. I highly recommend the book as well as the International Children’s Digital Library.

Not an April Fools’ Post

Spring Break!

If you’re reading this, you likely either just had one or are just starting one. In my case, today was my first official day off and it was glorious.

My one-and-a-half year old son woke me up promptly at seven am and we proceeded to watch an episode of Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood about making mistakes. We ate oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly toast, and a banana with mama. I drank coffee; he helped grind the beans. We did some Spring Cleaning and played ‘elephants’ for awhile.

Once the temperature outside was warm enough, we all walked to the park to slide on the slide, dig in the sandbox, and chase falling cherry blossoms. Lunch at MOS Burger and once returning home, failed to take a nap. After emptying and refilling a box of colored pencils no less than ten times, a little more ‘elephants’ (my knees are so sore), dinner was ready. It was delicious. Finally, we brushed his teeth, took an efficient shower, and he’s now falling asleep with mama.

So what does this post have to do with teaching in my classroom? Nothing! April Fools’!