A Common Core Grinch at Christmas… Part Two… Remembering The Snowflakes

Children are like snowflakes, no two are alike.

I think about the first snowy night of each winter season and picture myself outside with my face to the sky. It’s peaceful. Quiet. Each flake lands softly on my cheeks… nose… brows…   As I spread my gloved hands outward, a few flakes land and find a safe harbor for only a few twinklings before melting. Lifting my finger to take a closer look at each, I smile.   There is something magical in this moment knowing I’m looking at a unique and beautiful creation of nature. If I was given a microscope, I know its magnificence would be amplified into its individual glory.

Our children are like snowflakes.

Glorious.

They grace our lives, but for a moment. As a parent, they pass through our lives leaving distinctive imprints upon our hearts and minds. As teachers they honor us with their enthusiasm and passion. Their individuality is a precious gift. Being a part of their lives for such a brief flash is not only an honor, but the greatest blessing life has to offer.

Our children…

Snowflakes.

This doesn’t sound very Grinchy does it?

On December 18th I revealed I became a Common Core Grinch. You can find Part One here. As I have personally watched the unraveling of the Common Core Reform and witnessed its talons reaching into our states, school districts, schools, and classrooms my heart has grown sick with the results. The impact it is having creates boxed in uniformity for the teacher and very little room for the individuality of a child. From my perspective, Common Core is analogous to a blow torch.   It is melting, at a faster rate than can be grasped, our precious snowflakes.

I’d like to suggest that our teachers are like snowflakes too. Each one I have met and worked alongside has had something inimitable to impart to their students.   Teachers are individuals too. I wonder sometimes if it is the goal to be able to walk down the hallways of our schools and see cookie cutter teachers on the same exact page, teaching the same exact lesson, from the same exact unit, in the same exact way, using the same exact words…?

Not if you’re a snowflake.

This is education? This is our ingenious plan for getting every child to the same exact standard, on the same exact day, in the same exact moment… so what? … So each child can take the same exact test, on the same exact day, so we can measure how “same exact” they are? And… if they perform well, it is THE measure by which we say they are college and career ready?

Not if you’re a snowflake.

The Common Core Standards are definitely here.   The following are a few links to show where each state stands now with the Common Core:

http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-assessments/what-states-have-pulled-out-of-their-common-core-assessment-consortium/

and…

https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/a-july-21-2014-update-on-common-core-parcc-and-smarter-balanced/

Despite what the advocates are saying about…

*how they are only a set of standards and…

*how school districts have the choice of resources and programs and…

*how they are the roadmap to college and career…

                                                                  … I have come to learn just the opposite. 

The Common Core Standards were written between 2009/2010.   Superintendent Dorn formally adopted the Common Core Standards on July 20, 2011 in Washington State. Most of the public did not begin to even hear about the standards until the Fall of 2012.   One would think there would have been various open forums and an invitation to review the standards by educators at all levels as well as any and all parents….?   It makes me incredibly curious as to why, from the onset, this major overhaul was done in secret? What was there to hide, IF these standards were the best for our children?

I can no longer stick my head in the sand and pretend I’m an ostrich singing, “Everything is Awesome!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6lHm-stXdM) “Everything is awesome when we stick together…. and we are all part of a team… we’re the same… I’m like you… you’re like me… we’re all working in harmony….”   Think of Emmet in the Lego Movie… Think of The Capitol in The Lego Movie… You, too, can be successful if you just follow the robotic, numbered steps… and you, too, will please The Capitol and Lord Business as long as you fit the mold.

Thank God for The Double Decker Couch. Yay Emmet! He had been brainwashed like the rest, a perfect male “Common” Citizen, but somewhere in the recesses of his mind… a creative spark existed.

I found the following 39 minute documentary to be helpful in understanding the “who” of Common Core:
BUILDING THE MACHINE:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjxBClx01jc
Both sides of this critical issue speak. It may cause a small tilt of the head and at least create some new questions to emerge. How many of us took the time to ask the bold questions when we first heard the term “Common Core”?

I know I didn’t.

I sat in a math meeting when I heard it for the first time. My first thought was, “You’ve got to be kidding me?   This is the fourth time the math standards have changed since 1997.” I returned to my building, innocently doing my best to implement the new standards. It wasn’t until the Spring of 2014, when I walked up and down the aisles of my school’s computer lab (set up in haste in the art room placing the art teacher on a cart) that a small little buzzer went off in my head. I watched 8-12 year olds struggle through the field test of SBAC and a small red flag took root in my brain.   Now the RED FLAG is waving boldly and asking the hard questions… Who wrote these standards?   Who reviewed the standards? How much is this costing the school system? Where is the money coming from? Who is paying for this? Who is profiting from this?

Follow the Money:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/12/21/heres-who-got-the-biggest-gates-foundation-education-grants-for-2014/

http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-state-standards/state-costs-for-adopting-and-implementing-the-common-core-state-standards/

http://www.alternet.org/education/corporations-profit-standardized-tests

I have come to believe, rather than snowflakes, we’ve been handed a cookie cutter recipe with cookie cutter programs which magically, if used with integrity, will create cookie cutter kids.   If we are good cookie cutter teachers, and follow the recipe to the “t”, then and only then, will our students successfully pass the SBAC test…. ? Hmmmmm…

Ironically, the cut scores are set for 70% to fail:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/11/20/good-luck-understanding-how-they-will-score-the-common-core/

None of the above works if you’re a snowflake teaching snowflakes.

One 5th grade teacher put it this way, “I feel like I used to be an artist.   I used oil paints and was part of creating beautiful canvases full of unique pictures. The canvases varied in size and shape, and on each one I utilized a different set of colors. Now? I feel like I have been handed a black chalk board and a piece of white chalk… and I am asked to create miracles.”

This teacher has been recognized for her success in the classroom with over twenty years of teaching experience. She has committed herself to work in high poverty schools and has a track record of motivating her students and seeing them excel. She is a snowflake.

I encountered another snowflake amongst the growing number of educators raising the red flag.   Brandon Parsons, 7th Grade world history teacher from Ohio, posted, And the first-ever Roman Concrete lesson is done (got observed today, too). The kiddos learned how to mix and pour concrete, learned how the Romans came up with the idea originally, and also found out that their formula was actually stronger than our modern Portland cement! The first few periods’ batches of concrete turned out pretty good (already started to harden)! (and all of this done WITHOUT technology or computers, thank you very much!)”

Brandon Pic

Brandon Parsons is a snowflake. He had the courage to create a dynamic learning experience for his students on the day of his formal observation.

A few weeks ago I stood in the back of the room next to a kindergarten teacher.   Many amongst the staff refer to her as “The Child Whisperer”.   She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “All I feel like I have done so far this first trimester is test.  It has taken so much time away from the kind of teaching I used to be able to do on a daily basis.”

I sympathized, my Grinchhood surfacing and shaking its head at the effects of Common Core.

On Friday, the last day of school before the break, I encountered her with her students in the hallway. She tapped my shoulder and inquired, “Have you seen the Gingerbread Man?” I was confused at first until I looked at her line of students. The curiosity painted on their faces took my breath away. I am sure she drew them into the famous story and had baked a Gingerbread Man for them to eventually eat.   Do you think these students will want to read this story again? Do you think their minds were activated and loving learning?

“The Child Whisperer” is a snowflake.

Another snowflake, Lauralee Klingler, an incredible 3rd grade teacher has been an example to all of us. Her wisdom in regards to children has taught me so many things over the past eight years. Most recently she posted, “The Christmas Spirit came to my classroom today…One of my students heard that a student was going to have no Christmas. He brought to school today two boxes. One box full of used girls’ toys from his house and the other box full of used boys’ toys. He said, “Mrs. Klingler…I didn’t want the other students to feel bad if I just bring a toy for _______, so I brought one toy for each student.” He went around the classroom with a heart full of joy and carefully picked out one toy for each student. My students absolutely loved their used toy and began immediately playing with them. This student gave the best gift of all…one from a selfless and pure heart…This kind of love reminds me of what Christmas is all about.”

Lauralee's Christmas Spirit

I believe this 3rd grade boy will make a difference in this world. I believe this kind of character surpasses anything the SBAC test will measure come this March.   This child is a snowflake.

I’m a snowflake too.

This night of the Eve before Christmas, I find myself thankful for two former students who reminded me of the spirit of education. In my angst, an instant message appeared on my phone this past summer. The two former students found me on Facebook and took me back to the good ole’ days. Both are now 28 year old, lovely ladies with young children of their own.   It was timely as I had been growing more and more depressed with the direction of my job and finding the mandates placed upon me sapping me of everything I believed and embraced about how children learn. My ability to create, develop, innovate, and use my talents learned through college and graduate school, and 25 years of experience with children, seemed to not matter anymore.   What mattered is I followed the federal, state, and district mandates and fit into the “common” box of teaching so students could fit in the “common” box of learning.

My Christmas gift this year comes from the memories ignited as their words tumbled forth upon my screen. It brings joy to my heart to be reminded of the kind of teaching that inspires… the kind of teaching that lights fires… the kind of teaching that captures and celebrates everything one high stakes test will never unearth.

This Common Core Grinch remembers being a snowflake and teaching snowflakes.

What learning and experiences stuck for these two former 4th and 5th grade snowflakes? Just what did these two beautiful and unique, young ladies share with me?

They remembered the three months spent practicing for the multiple act play. They remember learning 14 songs and dances, reading related content continuously, designing the props from the mathematics learned within class, drawing scaled models, measuring, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Designing the tickets, running the fund raisers and keeping ledgers of the profits (using decimals in context), sewing costumes, drawing and painting the set…. This led to three performances and the gym packed to capacity each time.  (A group of 5th graders, 11 year olds, pulled this off!)

Cast 1    Oz Cast 2

They remembered the winter we studied the Arctic Regions. The students studied the native people and the animals.   They made temperature charts and learned about weather… they explored ice cube melting rates and made graphs of the melting times… they found the area of the continent… and this sparked them to find the area of each continent. They compared the sizes of each and made a sequenced list examining large numbers in context and created graphs. This gave them yet another context and “spring boarded” a study of area and perimeter utilizing algebra and multiplication.   The culmination of the unit happened in the school gym and the students entitled it, “Cold, Cold Places!” Each student designed a scientific experiment or learning experience that would help other students learn about the Artic Regions.   A “museum” was designed and set up for the whole school. During the day approximately 450 K-5th grade students visited the student created Museum and in the evening another 300 came from the community including their parents.

The following are just a few examples of the impact on student learning:  

*Upon arrival, eyes traveled to the ceiling as a 100 foot Blue Whale expanded the diagonal of the gym. The student designing this display discovered the length and width of the gym was too short. He had to figure out a way to make it fit. As a result the concept of diagonals of polygons emerged.

*Another student drew a 2D version of the average size of a male polar bear.   Visitors stood in front of the Polar Bear. He marked their height with a dot and then helped them measure their own height. Soon a scatter plot emerged and we had discussions around the data. In the classroom, this “spring boarded” into utilizing the various heights and making comparisons. The study of ratios was given flight.

*One young lady designed an experiment in which visitors to her station found the temperature of a bowl of ice cubes using a thermometer.   They were challenged to place their hand in the middle of the bowl and keep it there for one minute.   After the visitor finished, she shared the graphs she made showing temperature ranges in Antarctica.

These units of study went deep and my students engaged with text constantly. My students were able to “teach” others. Research says 90% of what you are able to teach another lodges in long term memory.  As I reflect back, and think of experiences like the play and thematic units of study, my wonderings include:

  • What was the result? Did their reading scores go up? Did this learning go into long term memory?
  • Can anyone design a test item question that measures the pride these students felt?   Did they have a level 4 in pride? A 3? Or were they below “the standard” with a 2 or 1?
  • Can anyone design a test item that measures their ability to follow through and complete a huge task?   Can anyone design a test item that measures the cooperation they learned or their increased ability to collaborate?
  • Can anyone help me design a test item to measure the level of creative thinking they showed as they problem solved together in various ways throughout the three months?
  • Are we seriously going to try to include only those learning experiences in our classrooms that can be measured by a test?   Is there anything else we value for our children?   Is everything important revolve around learning targets that can be measured?

 (Sidenote: This class had approximately 24 – 28 students depending on the month. Six students were qualified as special education and several were deemed gifted and talented.  This was a blended classroom model.  No child was pulled out of class at any time during the day. I believe teaching like this reaches ALL students and considers EACH of their learning styles and needs.)

Maybe my former students can continue to help us with these big questions?

One shared she didn’t remember picking up a pencil in mathematics until the concept was completely understood through concrete, physical models.   She remembered the time spent drawing pictures of the models and bridging this to practicing the skills she understood with a pencil. The result showed mastery of the skills. Often the skills were placed in contexts that were meaningful, and scaffolded throughout each unit of study.   This led to the students being able to utilize the skills with reasoning and solve complex problems. Of equal importance, the students grew to build confidence in mathematics and fall in love with the study of this subject.   A mindset was created.   Together, they tackled difficult problems and didn’t give up. Being perplexed became fun.

  • How do we measure this learning?
  • Is all valuable learning measurable?
  • Are these critical and important skills for our children to learn and do they promote the growth of the whole child?
  • Do children need these kind of experiences to strengthen all the regions of their brains?

And… how about this one…

  • Are these students, who are exhibiting a love of learning, being prepared for college and career?

The Common Core Grinch side of me wonders if I returned to the classroom if I would be allowed to continue this creative and passionate method of teaching?   Marazono’s Framework “supposedly” points an educator on the “how” to achieve a level 4, Innovative Teacher.   However, how can teachers be innovative with lock step schedules and programs like EngageNY or Journeys? How can teachers effectively integrate content throughout the day when mandated to teach 120 minutes from the literacy program, 30 minutes a day from the writing program, and 90 minutes a day from the math program? How can teachers establish living, breathing environments of curiosity when all the test prep is added? What of science? The Arts? History?

What are we sacrificing within the walls of our classrooms to push our children to achieve these common standards?  Are they developmentally appropriate at the elementary level?  500 early childhood specialists say no:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/29/a-tough-critique-of-common-core-on-early-childhood-education/

I wonder how a teacher can even breath?   Hand them a piece of white chalk, a black chalkboard, handcuff them, and put them in a restricted cell…   Then point the finger at them when their students do not meet the standard. Take away the oils, the colors, the varying canvases… Take away the heart of what makes teaching, teaching… and learning, learning.

Will Common Core be the death of the teacher snowflakes…   the death of the student snowflakes?

I sure hope not.

Teachers like “The Child Whisperer”, Brandon Parsons, and Lauralee Klingler are just a few examples of thousands more doing the same.   Struggling, yet finding a way. They believe in snowflakes.

Our children… our students… ARE our snowflakes.   No two are alike.   No two learn in the same exact way. No two have the same exact interests, and no two master skills and concepts at the same exact time. In order to learn, they must be exposed to multiple paths, multiple modalities, and various resources.

How do we judge a teacher?  They are snowflakes.  (Click on “judge a teacher” to read The Tale of Two Teachers)

How do we determine what children have learned and what is important to learn? They are snowflakes.

How does one write a rubric or a “scale” to judge a snowflake?   What makes a snowflake a level 4, Advanced? Or what makes a snowflake a level 1, Below Basic? How would a snowflake be Proficient, level 3? Or just not quite making the cut with a level 2, Basic? How can anyone write a test item question to evaluate the essence of a snowflake?

Anthony Cody, 18 year educator, science teacher, and educational writer said this, I am not reflexively against any and all standards. Appropriate standards, tied to subject matter, allow flexibility to educators. Teachers ought to be able to tailor their instruction to the needs of their students. Loose standards allow educators to work together, to share strategies and curriculum, and to build common assessments for authentic learning. Such standards are necessary and valuable; they set goals and aspirations and create a common framework so that students do not encounter the same materials in different grades. They are not punitive, nor are they tethered to expectations that yield failure for anyone unable to meet them.”

See more of Anthony Cody’s writing here:   http://www.livingindialogue.com/

Anthony Cody is another snowflake.

Somewhere in my Common Core Grinch heart, I have reminiscence of the brilliant sparkles of what once was…. Classrooms filled with snowflakes… with the freedom to flourish and thrive and blanket our nation with their individual beauty and unique imprints.

If we are against something, then what are we for?

I’m for Snowflakes.

Respectfully,

RAZ ON FIRE

DivineSpark

Fire is Catching

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2 thoughts on “A Common Core Grinch at Christmas… Part Two… Remembering The Snowflakes

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