Sunday, September 7, 2014

Learning to Shape Questions that Address CCSS Standards

            It’s September and in my social studies course I am dealing with a new bunch of undergrads who are just now beginning their student teaching. They are the ones who will be putting CCSS into practice. To help them do this, during our first meeting I modeled how prepare questions and activities for reading informational text. I selected a book, America’s Champion Swimmer by David Adler. First, we all read the book. Then I showed them how to:

·      Examine nonfiction literature for things like accuracy, writing style, visual features, and organization
·      Align their teaching ideas to Common Core State Standards for reading informational text
·      Align their teaching ideas to the Ten Thematic Strands of Social Studies
            Then, during our second class session I asked them to read a different nonfiction book—Brave Girl by Michelle Markel. They were then to take notes on the nonfiction features, and prepare questions and activities based on CCSS and the Ten Thematic Strands of Social Studies.  Here’s what I found out. Even though college students can evaluate nonfiction books with skill, posing thoughtful discussion questions based on standards comes much harder. Their questions are often long-winded and confusing, and assume that children have vast stores of background information.  I can just imagine the kids responding with a giant “HUH?”

            Here’s just one example of a question a student wrote for primary grade readers:
                        “Based on your knowledge of women’s history, explain how.... “
                        [Really? What knowledge?]

            I am not dealing with a small sample of students. I am teaching 50 students in two different classes. They are college seniors, with considerable academic competence. So what do I conclude? College students need lots of practice preparing curriculum that incorporates CCSS and content standards. In fact, they were grateful to learn that next week we will be practicing this yet again. Really! Waves of relief washed over them. What they don’t seem to realize, though, is that reading informational text is only part of CCSS. There’s much more, but we have to start somewhere.

            Last week Marc talked about our relative lack of knowledge about children reading stats. That is, middle grade kids really like reading stats, but what are we doing to support their interest? I know that when I taught 5th grade, kids couldn’t get enough of those stat books. And yet, why do college students dread taking statistics courses? What happened? Or, what didn’t happen to foster this interest?

            Similarly, my college students want to talk with children about interesting books, but they are not sure how to do this in a way that incorporates standards. It doesn’t come naturally.  And that’s where I detect a huge, yawning gap that needs to be addressed. It’s one thing to make standards; it’s quite another to figure out how to meet them. This is a gap that needs serious consideration.

            In the meantime, my students are practicing how to align CCSS and content standards to create curriculum, and I am hoping to slowly fade out as the authority on how to do this as they become more proficient and take over the job themselves. Let’s see what happens.              

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