Education is always changing. Ask any teacher. I’ve heard it again and again from my colleagues – “Every time I figure something out, it changes!” This kind of frustration refers to curriculum, policy, standards, and best practices. While it can be overwhelming, there’s also a huge sense of security in constant change for teachers. I”ve also heard this again and again – “We’ll give it a try and tweak things to make it work.” The fact that things change is stressful and empowering at the same time. We sometimes feel like we don’t have time to perfect things, but also feel that we have the liberty to adapt and improve over time.
I would argue that the children and populations we serve are changing. The kids we serve are morphing not only at the individual level, but at the systemic level as well. The topic is too large to examine in 1 blog post. After all, entire PhD theses are focused on the causes of change in populations! But we know that technology and outside influences are impacting the situations our students come to school in each day. So change is good. As educators, we must adapt our practice, in an ongoing way, to fit the needs of our kids.
What is the most interesting about this is the fact that we often see educational philosophies and curriculum come full circle. As we move forward towards success for all students, small cycles occur in the process. I’ve not been teaching a terribly long time, and even in my years as a teacher, I’ve see tools and instructional strategies go and come right back. We continue to do great things for our students within these cycles. While school philosophy and culture varies at the state, district, school, and even grade/department level, this educational cycle is there.
When thinking about Common Core, specifically ELA standards, the need for students to be able to intake information (through reading, listening and viewing) from a variety of sources and genres, analyze it, and produce meaning (through speaking and writing), is the current umbrella statement at all levels. According to a sampling of the 4th grade CCSS, grade-level students:
- Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears. (ELA – L.RI.4.7)
- Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably. (ELA – RI.4.9)
- Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic. (ELA – L.W.4.7)
- Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources. (ELA – L.W.4.8)
- Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. (ELA – L.W.4.9)
Mastery of these standards cannot occur without collaborative research projects. Students must interact with a variety of sources, internalize what they’re learning, search out clarification, and appropriately share analyses over time. This is a lot for kids! This is a lot for parents! This is a lot for teachers!
As a child I remember thematic learning and research was a big ‘thing.’ As an education student in college I remember a push for book groups and novel studies. As a young teacher, I remember direct instruction with test-stemmed material being the practice of preference in my district. And with CCSS, I’m seeing a shift towards more rubric-based instruction towards research. Have we come full circle?
I understand that none of these strategies for becoming capable readers stand in isolation. I also understand that they’re all effective instructional practices for different goals and targets. And I understand that, of course, my childhood reading experiences and my reading experiences as a teacher now are not identical. However, this shift seems to be cyclical. While I don’t think deliberately developed research tasks and projects have every completely left the school house, I do believe this instructional tool has been hiding a bit but is back in full force. And research needs to be living in our classrooms! It’s the only way we will be able to help our students be successful under their given standards and become college and career ready.
I like where I’ve been. And I like where I am. For now, I’m happy with helping students use high cognitive skills to think about reading rigorous information for gathering useful information in creative ways. There is incredible value in students being able to really think about information and utilize it. This is what will leave them college and career ready. This is Common Core.
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.