Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CCSS Storytime - Using Stories To Explain Why CCSS Are Already Working

"Teacher's voices are a superpower", according to Sandra Alberti, a leader in developing strategies and tools to help teachers make the shift to the CCSS.   There is a lot of truth to this.  I know as a classroom teacher, my students and their parents put a lot of value in what I said - both about my content and about being successful as a middle school student.  Our teacher voice also has a lot of power when it comes to helping our peers and our community understand the shifts in teaching that are taking place in our classrooms. Sometimes the best way to help people understand what it is you are trying to say is to tell a story that helps them to create a mental "visual" of what you want them to know.  I took time to think through three of my own CCSS stories.

The first story focuses on the power of collaboration when it comes to really understanding what students are supposed to be able to know and do - and what instructional tools will be needed to get them to that level of understanding. Notice that I included a specific standard within the story.

One of my first teams to really start to work with shifting to the CCSS was my Kindergarten staff. We all met on a hot afternoon in August to dive into the standards for math. Our goal for the day was to make a map of learning for the first few months of the school year based on our New Learning Standards. We spent time deciding how to best  teach to the standard that expects students to be able to break apart numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way. We looked over all of our materials and decided we needed a different way to help students really understand what a number was before they could break it apart. So we made dot number flashcards out of paper plates and sticky dots similar to the face of die or a domino to help them see that a number is made up of parts. After using the number cards in class, one of the teachers shared this with me, “It is neat to see how their little brains work. When I hold up a dot number card for 5, every kid sees it in a different way. One says, ‘ I see two on top and two on the bottom and I know two and two is four and one more is five’. Another says, ‘ I see three, like on the three card and two more dots is five.’They are using addition skills and building a foundation of what a number is. They are just not memorizing a number.”

The second story emphasizes the power of vertical teams working on the alignment of the standards by focusing on one of the 6 instructional shifts we are implementing with the CCSS. In this story, I also pull in some of my own teaching experience. By sharing your own experience in your own classroom, you add a lot of credibility to your story.

Teachers are working across grade levels since the new standards support collaboration vertically by helping teachers see how what they teach builds on past learning and supports future learning.  My Grade K-12 English team is working together to help their colleagues in all subject areas help students to build vocabulary by reading and writing about all types of challenging materials, both literary and informational, and by making connections between a word and its context.  This is one of the key shifts in the CCSS for English/ Literacy. In the world beyond k-12 education, adults continue to add to their vocabulary by experiencing words through the reading and writing they do on the job and for pleasure. Studies have shown that a child’s vocabulary abilities at grade 1 are a predictor of reading comprehension in grade 11.   As a science teacher, I helped students learn the parts of a cell not by using coloring pages with lists of terms and arrows pointing to parts, but through reading articles about cells. Based on evidence from what we read, we made an analogy that cells are like cities.  In our analogy, the city hall would be like the nucleus, the cell structure that houses the instructions for how to do all of the functions of the cell.  Students really understood the idea of “nucleus” and could understand it in context, and write scientifically using the term correctly.

My third story is meant to show the power of aligning assessments to the standards by looking closely at what the purpose of an assessment is, and what evidence of learning it will provide to the student or the teacher. In this story I use my parent perspective to look at tests through the eyes of my own daughter. Personalizing stories help to make connections to people who are listening to your story.

There are two types of tests that can be used along side the CCSS.   One type helps to guide further instruction. The second type can be used to show mastery of the standards. Both are tests that will help the teachers and the students show evidence that the students really know or can do what we expect.   These are tests worth giving, much like, on a larger scale, our state plan for our Next Generation Assessments.  Students who are 9th and 10th graders need to know how to identify a theme in what they are reading, analyze its development through the text,  include how it is shaped by specific details, and provide a summary of the text. It would be difficult to gather evidence that a student could do this by using a test with just multiple choice questions or short answers.  My daughter’s test over her summer reading material helped her show evidence of where she was in her understanding of how to do the skills defined in the standard. She wrote an essay summarizing the novel in addition to citing specific evidence to support what she felt the theme of the story was and how it developed. This was work worth doing and an assessment worth giving.  It helped her teacher understand her skills and her knowledge. It helped Sarah really focus on where she needed to grow as a learner. The work teachers are doing to help guide the development of the CCSS aligned tests through the  PARCC or Smarter Balanced Consortium is leading to new English and math tests will result in a test that is worth giving and not a distraction from learning.

Teachers are great story tellers. Find ways to begin to share your CCSS stories with your colleagues, your administrators and your parents. I know there are some great things happening in our classrooms! Tell your story!

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