Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Yours, Mine or Ours-Teaching All Children Through the Common Core.

One of the advantages of my job as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction is that I get to go out and about to classrooms across content and grade levels to watch teachers and students in action. I don't know which students have been labeled what, I just get to see them all participating in their classrooms or activities.  This year I have seen an Amelia Bedelia fashion show, heard a gym full of starting string players make great music together, tapped words with Kindergarteners,  listened to second graders share military stories from their families, played in an orchestra with HS musicians, and shared the enthusiasm of MS Lego builders.  I have also led many discussions on what the Common Core and the Ohio Model Curriculum will look like in our classrooms.  In order for the Common Core Curriculum to REALLY be common to all of our students, we need to start with the understanding that all of the students are OUR students.

There  is a much used African proverb, "It takes a whole village to raise a child". What it means is that the village must take responsibility for that child.  A school is like a village. A classroom is also like a village.  As the new Common Core Standards are implemented, with their increased demands for rigor and depth of knowledge, a lot of teachers and administrators are wondering what this will mean for students who have been identified as "special ed".  It is the intent of the Common Core to raise expectations for ALL students and to make this education available to as many students as possible in a regular education setting.  This is a shift in how we think about "special education".  As educators, we need to move away from the thinking that if a student doesn't fall in the "norm" it is someone else's responsibility to educate this child. We need to stop thinking of Special Education, as a place and think of it more as a partnership.  It is all of our responsibility to have high expectations for our students and to differentiate our instruction to allow them to grow as learners.  We need to start acting more like a village and less like remote islands.

It starts at the top with district leaders.

  • What professional development do teachers need to help them plan lessons that will challenge all students in their classrooms?
  • How can co-teaching partnerships be supported and developed?  
  • What data can be collected to help teachers and building principals make informed decisions about educational supports and interventions? 
  • How can we continue to educate parents about their role in their child's education?
  • How do we identify resources that teachers can use to make the Common Core accessible for all students? 
  • How will we develop grading policies that accurately reflect the progress of all students on mastering grade level content standards and college/career skills like communication, collaboration and research?
  • How can we contribute to the state-wide discussions on graduation requirements and college/ career readiness to make sure that all of our students will have what they need to access education and training after their k-12 education?

Teachers also need to reflect on their own classroom practices:

  • How do you collaborate with peers and support staff to take "shared ownership" of all the students in your classroom?
  • What resources might you access to help you differentiate lesson materials to challenge all learners?
  • How are you using formative instructional practices (formative assessment) to help you plan lessons, help your students monitor their learning and help you assess progress?
  • How familiar are you with IEPs, 504s, and WEPs?  
    • What information you can gather from them? 
    • How can you provide feedback to monitor progress? 
    • How can you participate in  developing standards based goals that would help students access the Common Core?
    • How can you participate in designing appropriate modifications or accommodations to help students access the Common Core?
    • How can you help students to work on mastering goals?

Resources to Learn More About Special Education and the Common Core

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Uncommon Core Curriclum

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!  
This word cloud was made from the tribute letters written by Bay students about Bay Village teachers and staff who had been a positive influence in their lives.  The larger the word, the more times it appeared in the text of the letters.

Last night I had the opportunity to go to a unique program in our district.  The Superintendent's Best Awards evening  gives the top academic students in 8th grade and 12th grade the chance to nominate a teacher who had an impact on their lives.  One by one, students stepped up to the podium to read their tribute letter to the teacher they nominated. Some were very brief, a few were poetic, a couple were funny - they all were sincere.  In all, 53 staff members from kindergarten through high school were recognized.

What set these teachers - and really all teachers - apart in the students' minds was not just academic knowledge or the content itself.  It was the role the teachers played in helping the students build confidence in themselves and their learning. It was the extra time teachers spent getting to know the students and supporting them as they grew as individuals.  The Common Core Curriculum is just a lot of words on paper - or a website! But it is the teachers and the students who make it a real.

If I were Ruler of the Education World for just one day, I would put in place the Uncommon Core Curriculum.   The strands would include Character, Vision, Sense of Self, and Life Long Learner. These are the things that make us unique individuals and lead to our success or failure in life. These strands are difficult to measure using traditional assessments.  Instead, teachers sometimes have to wait years to see the results.  These are difficult to teach using traditional approaches.  Lectures and worksheets, group projects, lab activities and research papers don't always allow students to directly learn these strands.  Often it is the modeling and the encouragement that is given by the classroom teacher, an administrator or a staff member that can have the greatest impact on the students who are learning these strands.

Anchor Standards

  • Analyze how decisions made will impact others and yourself.
  • Describe an idea or event from various points of view
  • Demonstrate empathetic behavior in a variety of circumstances
Anchor Standards
  • Identify short term and long term goals and plan for how to meet them.
  • Illustrate how current activities or work will help lead to a larger goal
  • Communicate your goals clearly to others
Sense of Self
Anchor Standards
  • Use a variety of methods to confidently communicate opinions and ideas to others
  • Identify areas of strength and weakness to plan for personal growth
  • Demonstrate pride in accomplishments and celebrate success
Life Long Learner
Anchor Standards
  • Apply strategies that are effective for learning new material
  • Participate in a variety of experiences and activities 
  • Demonstrate ways to share a joy for learning with others

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Common Core Ingredients

My daughter and I like to watch Chopped every Sunday on the Food Channel.  Each week, chefs are given a basket of "mystery ingredients".  They have a short time to turn these ingredients into something that not only tastes good, but looks good too.   The real challenge, figuring out ways to combine ingredients that may not traditionally go together in a dish.   Often, the chefs are faced with ingredients they have never worked with before.   If there were an Education Channel, I think I would host Core each week.  On Core, teachers would be given a set of standards from each of the 4 core content areas and would have 50 minutes to put together a lesson that not only taught the standards, but kept the students engaged too.  The challenge, figuring out how to relate the standards to each other, to the real world experience of the students and make the whole lesson approachable to a wide range of student learning styles and abilities.   There is no Education Channel, but as Ohio moves toward implementing the Common Core and Model Curriculum for the 4 core content areas, teachers will need to look at new ways of integrating the core standards to create lessons that teach to a greater rigor or depth and allow students to make connections to real world problems.

No matter what grade or content you teach, when faced with new content standards, you can build engaging, integrated lessons if you follow some basic unit "recipe" rules.

Char's Integrated Lesson Recipe
To build a successful integrated unit or lesson using the new Common Core Standards and the Ohio Model Curriculum, think outside the boundaries of a single content area to find the "common denominator" for the unit or lesson - what real world context could each of the content standards you are working with fit into?


  • Reading Activity - often times, the reading activity can be the "base" for the lesson - it might be an article, a novel, a picture book, a primary source document, or data base materials. This is a good place to differentiate - picking reading that is approachable by the range of students in your classroom.  Usually the social studies standard or the science standard can be used as the "frame" for the integrated lesson. Don't forget to include opportunities for CLOSE READING.
  • Math Activity - math is the international language for a reason - math can be taught within the context of almost any real world scenario. Once you have identified the science or social studies standards you will include in the lesson or the reading materials you will use - write the math lesson components within that "framework" 
  • Writing Activity - remember, writing can be about solving a math problem, it can be a journal entry, it can be research, it can be an argument or persuasive piece, it can be more creative. This can be a final assessment or it can be more formative instruction.
  • Collaborative Activity - students work together to create a product - this can be the "real world' piece where they create a product as part of a service learning activity, it might be a presentation, a model, a video or poster project - something that requires them to APPLY the skills/knowledge learned in the lessons. This is a good place to put the Performance Task in a larger unit or in a single lesson, this is a good reinforcing activity.
  • Inquiry Activity - Inquiry can be included by encouraging students to ask questions and pose possible answers, letting students try out possible solutions, giving students data or information to analyze or giving students opportunities to decide how where to go next with their learning.
  • Connection Activity - doing mind mapping, using living word walls, think pair shares, entrance and exit cards, cartoons, journaling - any activity that helps students connect the new knowledge they have been building to their existing knowledge base. This is a good beginning activity in a set of lessons but it can also take place as the lessons progress to help students stay focused on their own learning. This is also a good place to do specific instruction on vocabulary students need to access the unit or lesson materials.