Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Monday, September 16, 2013

Editorial on the Common Core

I think you'll find this interesting!

How the Common Core Standards Lie

Michael Ben-Chaim


The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been widely presented as a once-in-a-generation initiative to upgrade basic skills in literacy and math in public education. Already adopted by forty-five states and the District of Columbia, CCSS initiative is the most recent nationwide phase in school reform that, so far, has failed to demonstrate the path to progress in American public education. Last year, for example, reading scores on the SAT reached a four-decade low, down one point from the previous year and 34 points since 1972. These recent results reaffirm a major report by the National Endowment for the Arts dating from 2007, warning that “there is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans.”  It may take years to ascertain the success of the implementation of CCSS; but now is the time to question their promised efficacy to bring about much-needed change in the level of literacy education in public schools.

A close and critical reading of CCSS for English language arts shows how they lie on an inadequate notion of literacy, and reading in particular, that will most likely mislead teachers and students alike. According to this notion, texts are containers of knowledge and students are workers who are expected to unpack them as thoroughly as possible. As CCSS lead authors David Coleman and Susan Pimentel explain, the Standards “sharpen the focus on the close connection between comprehension of text and acquisition of knowledge” and “make plain that…drawing knowledge from the text itself is the point of reading; reading well means gaining the maximum insight or knowledge possible from each source.” What the Standards and their authors fail to take into consideration is that texts are social devices for purposeful organizations of information, rather than mere containers of it. The point of reading is not knowledge acquisition, but rather participation in a social interaction that is mediated by literacy in order to achieve a purpose that the text is designed to serve. Reading, undoubtedly, involves gaining information, but the reader searches for and acquires information as a means to recognizing, appreciating, and achieving the purpose a text is meant to serve.   

Students who are not aware of the purpose that the text serves and how it is designed to serve it cannot be intrinsically motivated readers. Blind to the value of the text, they lose sight of the point of gaining knowledge of it. Their emotional and intellectual engagement lessens, their attention to textual details is compromised, and their ability to monitor their comprehension declines. Lacking an intrinsic interest in the text, some students conform to the teacher’s expectations as their principal reason for reading. Motivated primarily by the desire to respond correctly to the teacher’s questions and assignments, they fail to grasp or even notice why the text is worthy of their attention. Other students find the reading assignment so pointless that they are not even motivated to please their teacher. In either case, the more complex the text is, the more confusing the information they retrieve appears to be. Implementing CCSS is likely to demonstrate once again considerable gaps between expectation and achievement in reading comprehension.   

Texts serve a wide variety of purposes. Consider, for example, the difference between a cooking recipe, a parking ticket, and a scientific article. CCSS overlook the great functional diversity of texts in our culture and offers, accordingly, a generic definition of reading as knowledge acquisition. However, the problem of literacy education is specific rather than generic. There is a rapidly growing population of young and older Americans who are enthusiastic and competent users of digital social media literacy, for example, despite, and apparently irrespective of the national records of chronic mediocrity in reading school literature. The average American is a competent Twitter and yet does not know sufficiently well how to recognize, appreciate, and achieve the special purpose school literature is designed to serve. The main reason for this relative ignorance is that standards of literacy education have traditionally been too generic to address this specific knowledge explicitly and methodically. Unfortunately, CCSS reinforce this mistaken and misleading pedagogical custom.  

Education has always been predicated on learning from the experience of others. The ultimate and most distinctive purpose of literacy education is cultivating the intellectual abilities of young people by introducing them to the intellectual achievements of past generations. The point of reading at school is learning from example rather than answering questions that are prefabricated in compliance with standards of education administrators. Like the tools of physical education, the poem and the scientific article offer exemplary exercises that are embedded in the virtual world they help readers to recreate. Their language is organized to display, on the one hand, dissonant experiences, contrasting opinions, or conflicting assumptions and beliefs; and, on the other, the resources to reconcile conceptual tensions by articulating more coherent, nuanced, and encompassing modes of thought and ideas.

Far from being a mere container of information, the educational text is the real instructor in the classroom. It is our best available means to learn how to question what is often taken for granted, revise and expand habits of thought and beliefs, organize and analyze ideas in ways that offer new perspectives on phenomena, articulate reasons for or against views of public concern, or develop theories and narratives that shed new light on human life and its habitats. The role of the classroom teacher is to help her or his students realize the educational value of the text in accordance with their personal abilities and life experiences.

Reading at school is and ought to be the student’s personal investment in our shared intellectual assets. When a text is recognized by a community of adult readers as an intellectual asset, a younger generation of students can capitalizes on it by learning to use it to realize their innate intellectual abilities and the value of their cultural heritage. Public education must be regulated, but the endeavor to standardize it should not take priority over the intergenerational transmission of learning. 


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