During summer vacation I look forward to relaxing and recharging after completing another school year. One item I crossed off my to do list was to call an old friend who just moved to San Diego. I asked him how he was adjusting to life in sunny Southern California. He said he enjoyed beginning his day running on the beach, but found it hard making new friends. To help him cope being a displaced Northwest transplant, he’d been using a counseling strategy he learned in grad school called “radical acceptance.”
Radical acceptance is embracing the chaos in our lives. Humans are hard-wired to crave organization; we resist tumult. However, we can learn how to alter this worldview. Radical acceptance lets us cope with chaos. He said this was his survival mechanism living in a foreign environment.
As my Social Media Teacher Leader (STMLs) colleagues and I put the books on year one implementing the Common Core in our classrooms, I feel radical acceptance offers us an apt metaphor to reflect on our trials and errors. Reading over our writings over the past six months, I will glean in two blog posts our collective advice for helping our fellow educators embrace Common Core Radical Acceptance. In this first post, I will address the common themes amongst the classroom teachers in our group: Tom and Alisa, and Brooke who teach elementary school, and Lindsey and myself who teach high school. In blog post two, I will report on the findings from our instructional coach, Kelly, and our librarians, Chris and Mary. Let’s begin with the lessons the classroom teachers teach us about the Common Core.
1. We All Have Standards: Tom White has immersed himself in the standards, literally. In a venture that is both practical in his classroom, and for anyone who is interested in learning about Common Core Literacy Standards, Tom has chosen to write about a different standard in each blog post. In one post he reflected on using Close Reading in his 4th grade classroom. Tom had his students focus on the tall tales of “Paul Bunyan” and “Pecos Bill” examining regional dialect, and how each tall tale hero dealt with conflict. Then, students were asked to create their own stories using one of the tall tale heroes they discussed in class facing a new challenge. Tom’s conclusions? “It was worth it…When my reading groups successfully struggled through these paragraphs, they began to see the humor and the uniqueness of this type of writing.” He added: “My students found those problems and cited explicit textual evidence to back up their conclusions.” In this way, Tom’s students are demonstrating they are meeting the Common Core Literacy Standard of “closely examining a text,” while demonstrating their own creativity in their own writing.
2. To Know Vocabulary, You Need Vocabulary: ELL teacher Alisa Louie reminds me that no matter what population or discipline we teach, we all deal with common issues in instructing our students. Case in point, Alisa discussed in one post the importance of instructing academic vocabulary used in exams in order for students to be able decode new vocabulary within a reading passage. This is especially true with an ELL classroom, where students enter Alison’s classroom with a myriad of different literacy skills across numerous languages and cultures. To prepare her students for the SBAC pilot, Alisa instructs her students 12 Power Words suggested by Larry Bell. In her post, she unequivocally defends why it is vital to instruct academic vocabulary to her students: “Vocabulary is imperative in learning vocabulary. It’s essential for literary and language success in life.” Alison reminds us all teachers, no matter what discipline or age they teach, must instruct common academic vocabulary for our students to be successful passing Common Core aligned exams like the SBAC.
3. Embrace Your Mistakes: In this test-driven era of high stakes standardized tests, students are becoming hypersensitive about making mistakes. My colleague Brooke Carlyle wants to change this paradigm in her classroom. She has adopted a strategy when instructing Math called “My Favorite No.” Brooke starts each Math lesson with a warm-up activity and then selects the “best wrong answers” for her students to analyze. As a class they examine their common mistakes. This reminds me of an NPR story I heard that discussed some of the differences between schooling in America vs. Japan. In Japan, the student who makes the most mistakes is asked to come to the chalkboard. The student’s peers help the student learn from his mistakes so they can collectively learn together. Brooke reflects on her students own progress: “At the heart of it, this strategy is about student self-assessment, a skill that when honed will be beneficial throughout their entire academic careers.” By using “My Favorite No” as a reflection technique, Brooke is preparing her students to both meet the Common Core, and more importantly, become reflective learners who grow from their mistakes.
4. The Proof Is In the Data: One of my best examples of Common Core Radical Acceptance this year is learning how to embrace student data. In the past, I looked at student data as a means to an end. My principal asked me to produce student data as part of my evaluation, thus I would collect student data before my classroom observations to appease my evaluator. But, last year I volunteered to be a TPEP guinea pig at my school. I learned during my TPEP training that student data was an essential part of the evaluation process for me to demonstrate my students had met a goal for my “cycle of inquiry.” This frightened me at first, but as I told my principal later, student data turned me into a better teacher: “I told [my principal) I learned that tracking student data demonstrates good instruction proven by tangible student growth.” The Common Core and TPEP forced me to collect and track my students’ progress, but equally as important, it helped my students reflect on their own progress.
Conclusion and Invitation: Tom learned his students became better writers through Close Reading. Alisa taught her students academic vocabulary so they could independently decode new vocabulary. Brooke transformed her students thinking to see the power of embracing mistakes. I embraced the importance of collecting student data and it is now made me a better teacher and made my students more reflective learners.
How about you? How have you embraced Common Core Radical Acceptance? Here you’ll find a forum where we’ll celebrate your trials and errors.