I tend to keep my voice out of the “to be or not to be a Common Core proponent” debate. I have made this choice because, in my opinion, that is not the critical argument. Regardless of whether the standards are embraced, we–educators–still need to get clear. We must get clear on topics such as how do we define critical thinking; how do we decide on the appropriate learning process in relation to the purpose for learning; how do we interpret the language of the standards; how do we coach for performance excellence and my list can go on.
Earlier today I read an article written against the CCSS that gave me pause. I won’t cite the source because it is not my intention to incite a negative disposition. On the contrary, my desire is to encourage insightful dialogue. In the article the author stated,
According to the [...] Common Core “Standards for Mathematical Practice,” first-graders are expected to “decontextualize — to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents — and the ability to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved.” I’m sorry, but that is further out there than Pluto, and I have no idea what that means. Neither will 7-year-olds and their hapless teachers.
This gave me pause because of the suggestion that a 7-year-old nor their unlucky teacher would be able to interpret the supporting language of the standards. My immediate thinking-outloud thought was, “I do not believe the CCSS’ authors intended for 7-year-olds to read that; however, they most likely intended for professionals who should be knowledgeable about pedagogy and their discipline to be able to interpret the language–even if it required several attempts.”
My response reminded me of a professional learning session I delivered to school leaders two years ago. In the session they were required to engage in close reading in order to understand and reflect on it so that they could improve their ability to lead literacy.
Let me be clear: close reading can be challenging.
That being said, the majority of school leaders (instructional leaders) balked at the process indicating that there was no need for them to learn the “how” or “why” of close reading in order to evaluate and support teachers. (Please note that there was a silent minority who disagreed with this position.) The questions I asked and continue to ask are these: If you’ve never done it before and aren’t familiar with close reading, how can you evaluate and support others in their delivery of the process? Furthermore, how much value do you believe your teachers will ascribe to your feedback and how might their attitudes contribute to your culture of adult learning in the short and long run? Finally, how might the impact on your adult learning culture influence student learning?
Now as I remove myself from the “to be or not to be” debate, I leave you with a practical recommendation: Close Reading the Common Core – Professional Learning Action Steps.
- Step 1: Select the language of focus from the CCSS (not an actual standard, but the language about the intentions of the standards)
- Step 2: Apply Level 1 of close reading to the language
- Step 3: Share the results of Level 1 with peers
- Step 4: Apply Level 2 of close reading to the language
- Step 5: Share the results of Level 2 with peers
- Step 6: Apply Level 3 of close reading to the language
- Step 7: Share the results of Level 3 and arrive at a consensus
Note: To push further, apply Levels 4 and 5. If you embrace any portion of this challenge, please share your results with me as I would love to hear about your learning. Or if you’d like me to do it, drop me a line.
If we are going to move forward with the standards, whether in agreement or disagreement, we must first get in the minds of the CCSS’ authors (Level 5 of close reading.) We must get clear.