Guest post by SD in Arkansas
If you stay in the education business long enough, you start to see trends in the “education reforms.” One such trend is the movement from “specific” standards to broader standards and then back again. Every decade or so, we seem to see the pendulum swing back the other way. While Common Core standards may elevate the level of expectations within grade levels, it supersedes our current state standards which were much more specific.
For example, in the 7th grade English Common Core standards, one standard mentions teaching “figurative language” and another says that the teachers can explore how the structure of a drama OR a poem affects its meaning. That OR is a big deal. This gives 7th grade teachers the option of ignoring poetry altogether. I can teach figurative language through the short stories and novels that we are reading this year. And if I teach how the structure of a drama affects its meaning, then I have met that standards, right? So, I do not have to teach poetry.
The Option NOT to Teach? Do We Stop Teaching Just Because a Topic is Hard for the Students?When teachers have the option of not teaching grammar or poetry because it is difficult, we are doing a serious disservice to our students. My husband sent me a link the other day to an article (http://news.yahoo.com/test-most-students-not-proficient-writing-150219766.html) where they were saying that students who were allowed to use computers and technology to complete the writing portion of standardized tests were not showing any larger percentage of proficiency than those who were not using technology.
Cornelia Orr, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, says that, “word processing tools alone wouldn’t result in significantly better writing scores if if students didn’t have the core skills of being able to organize ideas and present them in a clear grammatical fashion.” And yet, many of the English teachers I have collaborate with over the last 13 years want to ‘teach grammar in context.’” Which means they do not have regularly scheduled grammar lessons but will present a lesson when several students are making a grammatical error in their writing. Or, worse yet, some teachers say that grammar is to difficult for the kids, so they don’t teach it.
Poetry is difficult for students to comprehend. Does that mean we should not teach it? Isn’t the purpose of Common Core to elevate our standards? To make students demonstrate higher order thinking skills? I feel that poetry is an essential component in the English curriculum. We can not ignore it or refuse to teach it. This year, I am asking my teammates to teach several mini-lessons on poetry during our 20 minute homeroom time as the district’s adopted lessons do not have a unit focused on poetry.
Last year, pre-Common Core, I taught a nine-week poetry unit. I focused on sound devices and figurative language. Students had to read poetry, identify poetic devices, discuss why the author would use those devices and how they impacted the overall meaning of the poem, and they had to write poetry which included those devices. This year, I want to include all of these essential concepts; yet, I will have to squeeze it in when I can–in a hap-hazard way–through out the units we are mandated to teach.
Are the Common Core standards good? Yes, I think so. However, I value standards that are more specific. They give teachers a much-needed framework (especially for teachers who are just starting out) and guarantee we will not have gaps in our teaching.
SD in Arkansas