I want to tell you a short story about how I got started writing. There are many versions of the story, each true, and I’ve never told this one till now, because I’ve not had quite this audience before.
When my first daughter was just four or five years old, I started thinking about her education and wanted to be sure she learned to write well. One day, I picked up a Psychology Today magazine and read an article about a man in New Hampshire who was doing great things teaching kids to write. I bought Writing: Teacher & Children at Work by Donald Graves and was amazed at his work. He was teaching the writing process to kids. His work was followed by Lucy Calkins, one of his students.
Graves said a simple thing: if you want kids to learn to write, you should model it in front of them.
Now—I am very good at following instructions. And soon, I was the one writing, looking for everything I could about how to write better. But there was so much in his book, that it was my only textbook for a while. He emphasizes kids speaking, doing prewriting as an oral exercise and kids discussing a book (read his book for a model of the speaking/listening required in the Common Core). Drafting was very important and the examples were a revelation for me (Read his book for more on writing with the Common Core).
Graves book is interesting, too, because he emphasized the importance of good teachers and gives examples. One teacher, Mrs Anderson (Graves, Ch. 7, pp.70-72) loved poetry and used it extensively for speaking, listening, memorization, and writing. She didn’t do extensive discussions of a poem, she just started where she was passionate.
For example, she used a poem about a parade:
A parade! A parade!
I know a parade
By the sound of the drum
Here it comes.
Down the street
I know a parade
By the sound of the feet
Music and feet
Music and feet
Can’t you feel
The sound and the beat?
What a great way to learn to write with voice.
Mrs. Anderson started with her passion, which was poetry.
For me, the Common Core is a structure within which a teacher should feel free to explore his or her own passions. Yes, even poetry, which is deprecated under the Common Core could be the basis for a strong Common Core classroom.
These Standards just tell us what to teach and in what order. But a good teacher will bring passions to the classroom and that tell tell him or her HOW to teach.
What if you love maps? Then make everything about maps, map making, and map makers. For an argument essay, compare and contrast various early maps of what the Americas looked like. What does each map tell us about the world view of the mapmaker? For an informational essay, write about how to create and use a legend or key in making a map. Write a narrative about how researched your neighborhood and drew a map of it.
I love technology, so I am constantly doing videos with kids. For me, that is true teaching. Here is a video about my book, WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS, the story of how the oldest known wild bird in the world survived the Japanese tsunami; at the age of 60+, she is still laying eggs and hatching chicks. Here, in order to understand the sheer size of an albatross, the kids compare their arm span to a life-size cardboard drawing of an albatross’s wingspan.
If you can’t see this video, click here.
Good Common Core classrooms will reflect the passions of the teacher.
Don’t let the Common Core State Standards shake your confidence, rob you of your passions or instill a debilitating mistrust in your own abilities.
Follow your passions. Your students will thank you.