Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A New Mix

One part teacher values+ one part state standards= one hard to swallow pill

Over the past few years, as our school has undergone the transformation from teacher led departmental meetings to district Professional Learning Communities, the challenge of being a good teacher has increased dramatically. With each PLC meeting, I feel an ever-growing urgency to defend practices and assignments in my classroom that I think hold larger value than the state standards that are passed down onto me and my colleagues.

As I was sitting in my last PLC meeting, I began reflecting over the last two years of PLC time. Here we were two to three years ago being handed state standards and asked to write essential learnings and common assessments. It literally took us two years to get to a place where we all agreed on the essential learnings and common assessments for those standards. And now, we have a new set of standards to address. A new set of essential learnings we are asked to create and assess.

Rather than approach the state standards as I have done in the past with much contempt and stubbornness, I looked over what the CDE is asking me to do as a teacher:

Standard 1: Oral Expression and Listening: Deliver organized and effective oral presentations for diverse audiences and varied purposes. Demonstrate skill in inferential and evaluative listening.
1. Oral presentations require effective preparation strategies
a. Give formal and informal talks to various audiences for various purposes using appropriate level of formality and rhetorical devices
b. Use verbal and non-verbal speaking techniques to communicate information
c. Define a position and select evidence to support that position
d. Develop a well organizes presentation and defend a position
e. Use effective audience and oral delivery skills to persuade an audience
2. Listening critically to comprehend a speaker’s message requires mental and physical strategies to direct and maintain attention
a. Follow the speaker’s arguments as they develop; take notes when appropriate
b. Give verbal and non-verbal feedback to the speaker
c. Ask clarifying questions
d. Evaluate arguments and evidence
e. Explain how variables such as background knowledge, experiences, values and beliefs can affect communication.

Standard 2: Reading for all Purposes: Read a wide range of literature (American and world) to understand important universal themes and the human experience. Demonstrate comprehension of a variety of informational, literary, and persuasive texts.
1. Increasingly complex literary elements in traditional and contemporary works of literature require scrutiny and comparison.
a. Analyze character types, including dynamic and round character, static/flat character, stereotype, and caricature
b. Explain the relationship among elements of literature: characters, plot, setting, tone, point of view and theme
c. Identify the characteristics that distinguish literary forms and genres
d. Examine the ways in which works of literature are related to the issues and themes of their historical periods
e. Use literary terms to describe and analyze selections.
2. Increasingly complex informational texts require mature interpretation and study
a. Identify the intended effects of rhetorical strategies the author uses to influence readers perspectives.
b. Evaluate the clarity and accuracy of information through close text study and investigation via other sources
c. Describe how the organizational structure and text features support the meaning and purpose of the text.
d. Use flexible reading and note taking strategies (outlining, mapping systems, skimming, scanning, key word search) to organize information and make connections within and across informational texts.
e. Critique the author’s choice of expository, narrative, or descriptive modes to convey a message.

Standard 3: Writing and Composition: Master the techniques of effective informational, literary, and persuasive writing. Apply standard English conventions to effectively communicate with written language.
1. Literary and narrative texts develop a controlling idea or theme with descriptive and expressive language.

a. Write well focused texts with an explicit or implicit theme and details that contribute to a definite point of view and tone.
b. Organize paragraphs or stanzas to present ideas clearly and purposefully for a specific audience
c. Write literary and narrative texts using a range of poetic techniques, figurative language, and graphic elements to engage or entertain the intended audience.
d. Refine the expression of voice and tone in a text by selecting and using appropriate vocabulary, sentence structure, and sentence organization.
e. Review and revise ideas and development in substantive ways to improve the depth of ideas and vividness in supporting details.
f. Explain the strengths and weaknesses of own writing and the writing of others using criteria.
2. Informational and persuasive texts develop a topic and establish a controlling idea or thesis with relevant support.
a. Develop texts that define or classify a topic
b. Use appropriate rhetorical appeals and genre to engage and guide the intended audience
c. Arrange paragraphs into a logical progression
d. Anticipate and address readers’ biases and expectations
e. Revise ideas and structure to improve depth of information and logic of organization
f. Explain and imitate emotional , logical and ethical appeals used by writers who are trying to persuade and audience.
3. Writing for grammar, usage, mechanics, and clarity requires ongoing refinement and revision
a. Use punctuation correctly (semi-colons with conjunctive adverbs to combine clauses; colons for emphasis and to introduce a list)
b. Identify comma splices and fused sentences writing and revise to eliminate them
c. Distinguish between phrases and clauses and use this knowledge to write varied, strong, correct, complete sentences
d. Use various reference tools to vary word choice and make sure words and spelled correctly

Standard 4: Research and Reasoning: Gather information from a variety of sources; analyze and evaluate the quality and relevance of the source; and use it to answer complex questions. Demonstrate the use of a range of strategies, research techniques, and persistence, when engaging with difficult texts or examining complex problems or issues.

1. Informational materials, including electronic resources, need to be collected, evaluated, and analyzed for accuracy, relevance, and effectiveness for answering research questions
a. Integrate information from different sources to research and complete a project
b. Integrate information from different sources to form conclusions about an author’s assumptions, biases, credibility, cultural and social perspectives, or world views
c. Judge the usefulness of information based on relevance to purpose, sources, objectivity, copyright date, cultural and world perspective (such as editorials), and support the decision.
d. Examine materials to determine appropriate primary and secondary sources to use for investigating a question, topic, or issue (e.g., library databases, print and electronic encyclopedia and or other reference materials, pamphlets, book excerpts, online and print newspaper and magazine articles, letters to an editor, digital forums, oral records, research summaries, scientific and trade journals)
2. Effective problem solving strategies require high-quality reasoning
a. Analyze the purpose, question at issue, information, points of view, implications and consequences, inferences, assumptions and concepts inherent in thinking
b. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of their thinking and thinking of others by using criteria including relevance, clarity, accuracy, fairness, significance, depth, breadth, logic and precision
c. Implement a purposeful and articulated process to solve a problem
d. Monitor and reflect on the rationale for, and effectiveness of, choices made throughout the problem solving process.

With each standard, we are to create one essential learning and common assessment. Thinking about what I value in my own classroom, I am not sure where my values align with what the state and district is asking me to do? How as a 21st century teacher and learner can I contribute to effective discussions about the standards, make sure my students are achieving these standards and at the same time feel as though I am preparing my kids for more than just another year of school? I do believe many of the learning activities my students currently are engaged in are present in these standards, but what is going to happen if my department doesn’t agree? If my PLC doesn’t agree? What happens if our interpretations don’t match? I really do fear giving up what I value most: the creative genius, the out of the box thinking, the critical thinking and problem solving nature, the independence, the autonomy to be my own teacher and learner and for my kids to feel and be the same in my classroom. What happens when I have to give out 9 common assessments throughout the school year, not including the pretest and post tests that accompany each assessment? What happens when all I am doing is giving assessments that measure essential learnings? What happens when the mix doesn’t work?

I don’t have answers to all of my questions. Like cooking, I know recipes for success can always vary. I know with each new recipe I try, I am tempting fate that it might not turn out. I feel the same way approaching this year of PLC meetings, new standards, new assessments, and essential learnings- it might not turn out like the picture in the recipe book. But, with each new recipe I try, I also can create a new formula for success. I can challenge the way previous ingredients have been combined and make a new and improved version. I can create a new mix that improves both the product and the chef.

On a side note, the old state standards for Language Arts (reading and writing) comprised 21 pages, the new state standards (reading, writing, and communicating) 168 pages.


Lani said...

Hi Anne,

My heart cringed as the dissonance in your post touched a deep place in me. And then it sang with the hope I sensed in your last paragraph.

IMHO, in these hard times, our youngsters will learn and thrive because of educators like you who question deeply, who hold fast to their values, and then work even more diligently to "create a new mix", a new and improved version.

With great respect for your practice, I know your improved versions will be as inspiring a model for many to follow as those that you've already shared here.

168 pages is............


annes said...


It's been so long! Thanks for the feedback, encouragement and support. By inspiring me to do more and be more, great things will happen!