Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Word from IRA

I just returned from the annual International Reading Association conference, and wow. In spite of so much negative media lately around testing and reports of low teacher morale, I have to note that when you meet with these educators face-to-face, those reports seem off-kilter. 

What did I hear at IRA? Lots of talk about the impacts of the Common Core State Standards initiative. To publishers and classrooms and libraries, CCSS means a shift not necessarily in content but in delivery and processing of that information. The folks who drafted these standards want to raise the bar for students and for those of us who are providing materials and instruction for those students. Components include close reading of texts, providing evidence, critical thinking in the sense that answers aren’t simply provided and exams simply rote, but rather, connections drawn and context built upon layers of learning… In short, thinking and analyzing information instead of memorizing and expelling it.

One might be inclined to say, “How are schools going to accomplish that? I thought schools were failing…” Well, perhaps they have been. But I witnessed a lot of teachers who seem eager to answer this battle cry. They want to “teach to the top” and drive things from a place of high expectations rather than low permissibility.

CCSS adopters or not, the bottom line is that teachers are still excited to help their students. Sometimes this amazes me when I stop to consider everything educators face on a daily basis. But I’m excited to help them and their students. I’m glad to offer series such as Six Questions of American History, which already dives into that push toward questioning information and really thinking about its greater impacts. And I’m looking forward to what the future may hold for the students helped by these initiatives.

From what I can ascertain, implementing CCSS is a big shift and a lot of heavy lifting. But a positive attitude goes a long way toward success, and the teachers I met at IRA have just that. Whatever our age, we can all learn from that lesson.

If you haven’t thanked a teacher lately, do!

4 comments:

  1. Being an ESL teacher in South Korea for a year made me realize just how prevalant "memorizing and expelling" truly is. I think it's great that we're trying to push students to achieve high. I think with all of the technology at their fingertips, students of today's generation should be excited to learn because of the amazing things they will be able to accomplish which some of us only dream of doing.

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  2. Common Core is a step in the right direction, but still faces some challenging gaps in what is supposed to be taught. Our school analyzed the 1st to 3rd grade Common Core Standards for NC and discovered some things such as time and money concepts missing from the Core. We also noticed that there were gaps in standard and metric measurements. Reading Comprehension takes a difficult turn from grade levels 2 to 3, especially if your child is about a grade level behind. Now that state testing is leaning towards explaining answers rather than multiple choice questions, we teachers wonder how the state is going to handle the expense of manually checking written answers rather than computer scored answers. This will require at least one person to grade and one person to oversee the grader. It will be interesting. Children seem to encounter more difficulty with reading comprehension related to non-fiction, analyzing poems, and informational text.

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  3. A librarian friend told me that Meltdown! fits CCSS perfectly. I hope she's right.

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  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    Erin - I completely agree.

    Anon - I see your points. The implementation will certainly be a challenge, and even Dr. Tim Shanahan was discussing in his IRA session the potential failure rates of some students in the early mix of CCSS (estimates range from 60% to 80% in the first year?!). I hope that testing and limited state budgets don't become (or continue to be) the tripping point of raising these learning bars, though. As for reading comprehension related to informational text, those difficulties would seem to point to the very need for this type of change in teaching and learning (and text clarity, really; this is a bit of a cry for more expository information at early levels, isn't it?). How will students function as critically thinking adults if they don't get a tighter handle on how to assess, dissect, and digest informative texts?

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