I’m a checklists girl. It’s quite possible you’ve never seen a checklists girl quite as extreme as me. Luckily I’m married to a checklists guy, so I don’t drive him absolutely insane! I operate all facets of my life with calendars, lists, and binders full of color-coded tabs. Needless to say, Google Keep is my best friend! Some call it organized. Some call it over the top. Regardless, my system works well for me.
Several years ago, in the time of EARLs (Washington’s state standards prior to adoption of the Common Core), my building found great success in identifying skill deficits for students and using interventions to bring students to benchmark where they had math ‘holes’. At the time, I was in heaven. I was part of a team creating checklists of skills to be mastered, linking assessments to the checklist, and finding materials that matched each individual standard. Our results on the state test (at that time the MSP) were great. Our students were showing great success, by this one measure. I recently discussed, we are doing our children a HUGE disservice if we identify them by one test score. While we see kids in my building as children with their own stories, not a single score, we were still very proud of our measurable success.
With the adoption of CCSS and consequently the SBA, I grew excited about the opportunity to redesign my checklists. After all, the thought of reorganizing my scope and sequence into neat units with clear teacher tasks and student tasks for each was exciting for a Type A teacher like myself. And then, somebody finally slapped me upside the head. Thankfully, metaphorically! There is no way students can demonstrate mastery of Common Core standards if each skill is compartmentalized. My detail-oriented self needed to visualize the big picture!
My colleagues have addressed CCSS shifts for ELA on Corelaborate often. Al discusses the 3 ELA shifts here and Carina wrote a series explaining each of the shifts in greater detail. Math has three shifts too. They are:
1 – Focus strongly where the standards focus
2 – Coherence: Think across grades, and link to major topics within grades
3 – Rigor: In major topics, pursue with equal intensity: conceptual understanding, procedural skill/fluency, and application
Rigor, the 3rd math shift, is where my checklists went awry. Creating a checklist of skills to master did an incredible job of tracking procedural skill and fluency. As a 4th grade teacher at the time, I measured clearly if students could multiply two 2-digit numbers accurately, convert fractions to mixed numbers, and find the range of a set of data. However each assessment was independent of any other. Sometimes the assessments I had tied to each individual skill had evidence of conceptual understanding. Sometimes they did not. And while I ‘taught’ problem solving, we had a routine of using mirrored problems to master solving specific stems.
With the adoption of CCSS and my epiphany I saw that I could not help students have strong coherence across grades, or even within our grade sometimes. Furthermore, the lack of opportunity students had to develop conceptual understanding with clarity was problematic. And the most horrific realization of all was that my ‘problem solving’ practices did not lend to strong application skills.
True demonstration of mastery of math standards comes when students are able to approach performance tasks or application problems they may not have seen before. Using their conceptual understanding of grade level skills, and perseverance, students can create a solution to an age-appropriate task.
There were a lot of effective math practices I was using students prior to adoption of the CCSS, I haven’t reinvented the wheel. I’m still using good teaching to help kids learn, however, needed resources to help me move away from individual skills on a checklist to conceptual understanding of topics. Two of my favorite free resources I’ve used to find materials that increase rigor are:
Application is only a third of the skills necessary to make a rigorous math program. Direct instruction of conceptual and procedural skills still has an important place in the classroom, but Common Core was never intended to be a checklist. While I’m sad to see my little check boxes go, I know my students are gaining mathematics skills in a way more applicable to real life problem solving. Improved student achievement is a change my Type A personality is willing to take on!
How have you adapted your problem solving and application practices since the adoption of CCSS?
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.