Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ditto! Ditto! Ditto! for ELA


            Ditto! Ditto! Ditto! for ELA!  That’s what went through my mind recently as I read Jordan Ellenberg’s New York Times op-ed piece entitled "Meet the New Common Core." In that piece he wrote that while many governors are now considering getting rid of the Common Core in math, it’s being replaced by the very same thing.  That’s because the Common Core math is the way math was taught in the first place. According to Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, “The Common Core is the way math was taught before.” You can access this article here http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/opinion/meet-the-new-common-core.html?_r=0

            I am thinking that the same can be said of ELA. When reading nonfiction in the past, what teacher didn’t talk about key ideas and details, craft of writing, or integration of information? We did! I know I did. In fact, when I look at many of the lessons I wrote before Common Core, they already incorporated these “new” standards. I asked my students to compare several biographies of the same person, asked them to study good nonfiction writing and learn from exemplary writers, and helped them learn new vocabulary needed to talk about history, science  or math. I did this because these activities made sense. Was I teaching Common Core before there was a Common Core? I think so. You probably were, too. In fact, it has been said that it is very hard—and maybe next to impossible—to teach without incorporating some of the Common Core standards. I believe this is true.

            I would like to switch the conversation about standards to a conversation about curriculum—the place where content, teachers, and children meet to investigate the world, past and present. That’s where the standards come to life. The seemingly endless list of things that children should be able to do is lifeless until it is embedded into a content-rich inquiry. Here is a link to a unit I did with Mary Ann Cappiello about teaching global citizenship: http://www.slj.com/2013/11/standards/curriculum-connections/inquiry-and-integration-across-the-curriculum-global-citizenry
We introduced this topic by focusing on the life and work of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and founder of the Green Belt Movement. Her life was interesting--something I wanted to know more about. She devoted her energy towards making life better for others. It wasn’t until we aligned the standards, the nonfiction literature about Wangari Maathai, and the activities for children that standards came to life in history, geography, economics, civics and ELA. These standards were brought to life by substance—the content of excellent trade books and activities that allow students to explore them.

I believe we need to focus more on actual classroom learning. That’s where the passion for teaching and learning resides. If you like, we can call it the New, Content-Enriched Common Core.


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