Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What I Am Learning About the CC From Meeting Teachers and Librarians

I came to the CC ELA standards through text and imagination: I read them, liked them, and could easily envision the kind of K-12 education they were designed to foster. But a standard is not the same as a practice. Being on the road with Sue Bartle visiting schools and meeting both teachers and librarians has been immensely valuable. I am learning about at least some of the challenges they face, but that is also pointing to new solutions.

One major issue on the teacher side, especially for High School instructors is that -- for now -- they are trapped between assessment paradigms. In New York, and I assume many other states, their students still take Regents exams which rely heavily on identify and define facts. Every teaching year is a game of Russian Roulette, because no teacher can possibly "cover" everything that might be on a Regents exam, so s/he has to guess. But any area which was not reviewed in class is likely to be a hole in student knowledge, which will result in poor Regents scores -- bad for the student, bad for the teacher, bad for the school.

And here comes the CC, which emphasizes depth over breadth, explicitly disavows broad "coverage" and stresses historiography (comparing and contrasting approaches to history) as much as history (what happened in the past). Teachers guessing and gasping to run on the Regents treadmill now have a second master insisting that they trot in the opposite direction.

What can they do? On one level this is an administrator's problem -- one we must keep pushing back to the planners, demanding that they reconcile these objectives. But on another the US cavalry, the heroes to the rescue should be the librarians. You have the chance to meet with students, or craft displays, that show how different historians treat different subjects -- or how a subject might look different from a male, female, rich, poor, enslaved, free, older, younger...point of view. Even as the classroom teachers are racing through names and dates, make your library the home of conversation, discussion, debate among books, videos, databases, articles. Your area can be the playpen of the very kinds of historiographical debate the teacher has no time to offer, but every need to present to his/her students.

How? Meet with your teachers, find out what differing approaches to their upcoming unit might be, hunt existing books, adult books, ILL books, and web resources that feature those approaches, and create displays that draw attention to these disagreements.

The teacher is grateful, the librarian has a new centrality, the students are exposed to new ideas. I told you, I like the CC, even when it exposes problems.

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