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Common Sense for the Common Core?

Let's Exercise Caution When Taking a Stand!
Let’s Exercise Caution When Taking a Stand!

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS)…once again educators, politicians, parents, and business leaders are taking sides on an issue. But is declaring “for” or “against” really going to help education? I mean, with which of these arguments for the CCSS can one truly disagree? Don’t we need

  • A common set of learning targets–what Marzano calls a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.” Enough standards that we know students are learning what needs to be learned, but limited to the quantity that can actually be taught in the time available.
  • A bit of efficiency–without the CCSS we’ve got 50 teams in 50 states creating and revising standards. That’s a lot of time and effort.
  • A way to know whether students are learning–great measures of student learning. Creating good assessment items is really difficult. In fact, I know of at least one instance where a state’s publicly available sample items were rejected test questions; they couldn’t waste good questions.

Did you say, “Well, yes, but…” to any of the above statements? For example,

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Yes, Play is Crucial!


Children's Flying Creations
Children’s Flying Creations

When did you last play? How about your employees or your students? As Linda Stone pointed out in her blog A More Resilient Species, self-directed play (experiential, voluntary and guided by one’s curiosity) is essential for developing resilience, independence and resourcefulness, let alone creativity. She quotes scholar Brian Sutton-Smith, “The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression.”

This kind of play can’t be guided by adults—adult-directed soccer or chess club or playground games have their place, but they don’t build the same skills as exploring your own interests, or negotiating with other children as you form your own club or develop your own game or turn a tree house into a castle.

And this kind of play does not happen at the expense of time spent on academics. In fact, researchers are finding that creative play is essential to the kinds of learners we are aiming to create: scientists, innovators, inventors, creative problem-solvers, great writers, and more.

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Are You Nurturing Creativity?

split apple rockLast month’s edition of Educational Leadership was all about creativity. The article that struck me the most described how Einstein cited his secondary school training in using his senses during observations, practicing visualization, and exploring the construction of devices as a patent examiner fueled his abilities as a scientist. He also directly attributed his breakthrough on the theory of relativity to his ability to think musically, nurtured by his study of violin since the age of six.

What’s the so what? These are all skills. Einstein is talking about physical and mental skills and habits of mind. He didn’t cite memorizing theorems or formulas, but skills he mastered through purposeful practice. Take a look at the schools around you. Are students getting a chance to develop in nonbook-learning ways that scientists and other problem-solvers need? Ask yourself 

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What’s Involved in this Math Problem?

k problemA blog this week asked us to guess the grade level for which this math problem was written:

Kristen has four flowers. She gives some to a friend. Now Kristen has two flowers. How many did Kristen give her friend? Draw pictures to help you solve the problem.

It’s listed as a kindergarten homework problem.

If you teach math, you know this problem includes some of the biggest arithmetic concepts there are and you’re not deceived by the use of small numbers.

  • Students need to understand hierarchical inclusion–that 4 includes 2
  • They need to understand conservation–that the number of objects remains the same, no matter how they are arranged
  • And, they need to understand cardinality, that the name of a number relates to a specific quantity–including the huge idea that “two” isn’t the second object, but a set of two objects. This is a major leap in knowledge, often hindered by memorizing names of numbers. Too often, students learn to count to 30 or 100 but don’t understand the concepts involved.
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Were You Ever a Child???

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast time, I posted about the Platinum Rule for leaders:
“Treat others in the way they would like to be treated”

I’d like to suggest a twist on it for those whose decisions affect children in our public schools:
“Would you want your own child in a classroom following these policies? How would you have fared as a student?”

For one thing, this simple data item–our own values around a policy–would halt debates on topics such as “Do students benefit from recess?” “Should a first-grader be asked to sit still for a three-hour test?” I think we could answer these with the question, “Were you ever a child?”

But more important, we need to have students as excited on their first day of their senior year as they are on their first day of kindergarten.Why? Because their learning has only just begun. To really make it in today’s world, no matter what they learned in school, they will have to keep learning their entire lives. Cultivating a love of learning is as, if not more, crucial as any content matter.

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Direct Instruction? Sure, If You Don’t Want Einsteins!

We can't just box students in with direct instruction, yet some need to be taught how to explore!!
We can’t just box students in with direct instruction, yet some need to be taught how to explore!!

I get a bit hot under the collar–okay, a lot hot under the collar, when I read posts like this:

What Can We Learn from Direct Instruction and Siegfried Engelmann?

Don’t get me wrong. The blogger has definitely pulled together some key data on the benefits of direct instruction, where teachers demonstrate “how” and students then practice for mastery, for children in poverty. There are key reasons to use direct instruction.

But…not all students from poverty have the same learning needs. And this kind of instruction is what made Einstein and Edison drop out of school. And here’s my big point:

It isn’t EITHER Direct Instruction OR  Student-Centered Instruction. It’s both. 

Sorry to shout. But either/or thinking won’t work on this issue. Here’s three big reasons why.

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Caution: Use as Directed!

Me, a lover of Shakespeare, at the site of the original Globe Theater
Me, a lover of Shakespeare, at the site of the original Globe Theater

I was just 10 years old when I attended my first Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. My guess is that buying a ticket for me was cheaper than hiring a sitter. There I was, though, up in the first row of the balcony of Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater with one of my big brothers, watching Shakespeare.

I didn’t understand a single word of the first scene. I was not some sort of geeky, born-to-love-Shakespeare genius. I was truly wondering if staying awake was going to be worth it.

And then—something clicked in my brain. The language, the gestures, the plot, even the humor made sense. Katherina, Petruchio, Gremio, Bianca all came alive. It just took awhile for me to catch on.

My point? Shakespeare wrote his plays to be watched, not read.

When they’re well acted (huzzah for Kenneth Branagh and St. Crispin’s), students can enjoy them as intended. On paper, the words are foreign, stilted. Spoken, they can work their magic. Listen to a couple of examples of how Shakespeare sounded in the original to see what I mean!

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Get Real: The Key to Leadership

DSC00085 - Version 2Reality Testing—your capacity to see things the way they are rather than the way you wish them to be—is one of the top key components of emotional intelligence (EQ) for effective leadership. And if you still think that EQ is the touchy-feely, unimportant side of leadership, get this: It’s more predictive of leadership success than IQ or experience. It counts. And I seem to be seeing less and less savvy Reality Testing in leaders, especially in connection with regard to implementing “initiatives”—new strategies or programs designed to bring about change. Instead, I hear things like

“In this economy, they simply need to do more with less.”
“Every initiative is a priority. They need to figure out how to get it all done. Period.”
“ I have no say. These initiatives come from above and we have to carry them out.”

Sound familiar? As I worked with teams worldwide last year, “initiative fatigue” was what I heard, what I saw in people’s eyes. They’ve brought you in to get us to do even more, described the general mood. Douglas Reeves coined the term initiative fatigue in his book Transforming Professional Development into Student Results (2010):

When the number of initiatives increases while time, resources and emotional energy are constant, then each new initiative, no matter how well conceived or well intentioned—will receive fewer minutes, dollars, and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors (p. 27).
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If the Common Core Devalues Narrative Writing, Who Are We Devaluing?

L Superior 2011-08-20 199Last week I voiced my concerns about decreasing the emphasis on narrative writing in schools, with more effort going to evidence-based argument and other skills that business and colleges say are essential.

Could we think beyond the needs of business for a moment?

My first reason for wanting to do so: Could we think of other cultures? And the high value placed on story as one conveys values, truths, societal norms, warnings, rules, wisdom and so much more through narrative? I’ve done some work with schools for Native American children, for example. In a powerful book, Our Stories Remember, James Bruchak says this about the use of narratives.

What is the place and purpose of stories? What is their proper use? Stories were never “just a story,” in the sense of being merely entertainment. They were and remain a powerful tool for teaching. Lesson stories were used by every American Indian nation as a way of socializing the young and strengthening the values of their tribal nation for both young and old (p. 35)

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