Posts Tagged ‘CCSS’

It was the bed head.

I don’t always feel like I am doing this the right way.

I have the big boxed sets of Lucy Calkins reading and writing lessons, but I haven’t actually been able to make sense of them yet.

Our school is a “Teacher’s College” pilot school, or lab school, or something. I’ve watched the TC lady teach two “mini lessons” but I still don’t know what exactly it is that I’m supposed to teach them.

I have my big binder of rubrics, but I don’t use them very effectively. Or very often.  Truthfully? I’m still not sure what is means by “The student develops character, plot and setting through out the story, especially at the heart of the story.”


“Heart of the story”?

Ah…..they’re ten.


I mean, I sort of feel like I know how to help kids develop a sense of themselves as writers. I feel like I know how to help them think about the plot and all that.  But…..see……I look at them, and I see little ones. Kids.  Wicked young kids.  I don’t expect them to produce more nuance in their writing that I can manage in mine.

So last week, when my “evaluator/administrator” popped into my classroom for the first time in ten weeks, my heart sank.  We were in the middle of “writers’s workshop”, where kids were working on various pieces of writing, depending on what they had already completed.

It didn’t fit the kit.


I pretended to be calm, but I hated watching that man talk to my kids, asking them about their work.  I hated watching him take notes on his stupid iPad.

See, the problem is that when your “evaluator” doesn’t like you, its kind of depressing to know that he is popping in at a time when you have already set everything up, and have already done your lesson, and the kids have already gone on to work independently.  You know his view will be sort of skewed. He won’t get it.

How could he?

He hasn’t been here in WEEKS. Now he expects to evaluate my teaching in ten minutes.

I wasn’t feeling very happy or very confident when he asked me to meet with him the next day to go over his observations.


So stupid.

He had talked to two of my students, and had a lot of concerns about their writing skills.


One of these boys goes to the Learning Center 7 times a week to address his learning disability in writing and math.  The other sees the ELA specialist twice a week because of his low reading/writing scores.  My boss didn’t bother to check in with the kids who have above grade level kills, of course. He only checked with my strugglers.


So the day after I had my “evaluation/observation” meeting, I sat down with my struggling writers.  I sighed, feeling defeated because I had obviously failed these kids.

The first little guy sat beside me, chewing his lip as we looked at his “Mystery Story”.
“OK,” I began, “how are you feeling about your story?”    He shrugged.  I turned my eyes to his computer screen and began to read.

Wow!  Punctuation, capitals, dialogue marked by quotation marks.  I read about the crime in his story, saw how he described his detective and his criminal.  I thought about the first piece of writing he did for me in September. The one with no punctuation, no breaks in paragraphs and no actual logic to make it understandable.

I was thrilled with his progress!  Wow!    I thought it was probably the work of the learning center, but I didn’t care. Good boy!  Good work!

And I kept going. I reviewed story after story, comparing progress from September in one child after another. And I saw improved syntax, improved mechanics, improved story line, improved word choice.

I wasn’t sure what to think, but it certainly seemed to me that these kids were learning to write, in spite of my inability to figure out the boxed kits.

Finally, I called up a sweet little boy who is one of my favorites. He is gentle, funny, smart but not a scholar. He is good at math, but makes those tiny mistakes. He reads a lot, but doesn’t always think hard about the themes or messages of the books. As a writer, he is what we call “a minimalist”.  Why use a complete sentence when one word will do?  His writing thus far had lacked organization, clarity, sequence. It was rudimentary at best.

I called up his story, with a little sigh.  And began to read.  And my mouth fell open.

“No I won’t!”             

“Why won’t you, we could strike it rich?”

“I already told you, we’d get caught.”

“We won’t get caught.”

“You are planning to kidnap Liam Smeel, lead singer of ‘The Kings’ right before his performance. Do you think you’re not going to get busted?”

“Are you questioning my magnificent plans?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I am. If you think I’m going to help you with your stupid plan, I’m not. Count me out.”

What???  My little guy had written this introduction to his mystery? Seriously?   I read on, following the events of the story, recognizing the “red herring”, wondering myself who did it. I got to the end, the logical, interesting, funny conclusion to the 5 page mystery story.  I looked at my little student, and I was speechless.

“I….wow…..I…..”  I took a deep breath. “Honey, this is fantastic!  Your introduction is amazing!”

He looked up at me with his gentle sky-blue eyes.  He was twisting his fingers with nerves.

“What do you think of this?”, I asked him, curious to see if he was aware of just how far he’d come in these few months.

He shrugged, his thin shoulders looking fragile as birds’ wings in his blue T shirt.  I wasn’t sure what to say to him.  I looked at his face, his elfin features and nervous smile.  I looked at his head, so close to my shoulder as we both peered at the computer screen.

It was his head that got me.  The swirls and tufts of little boy bed head that formed the delicate halo around his face. My eyes filled with tears as I realized just how young, and how tender, and how fragile he is.  I put my arm around him, at a loss for words. I gave him a gentle hug, my eyes still resting on the golden crown of his head.

“I’m so incredibly proud of all of you guys today!”, I said to my class as I struggled to control my voice.  They looked up in some surprise as they did their everyday work.

“You are my heroes”.  My voice was a little bit thick, so I took a drink of water.  I checked off the boxes in the rubric, and got ready to meet with the next little tiny literary hero.


A brief time out

I know that I recently committed to writing positive, uplifting stories from my classroom.  I continue to believe that we need those stories to carry us forward.

The very best part of writing about those moments, when I know that I have changed the life of a child, is the realization that I am nothing special.

ALL teachers have the same impact. We all change lives. Every single day.

But today I need to take a side trip, back to the frustrations and anger that come from the current push toward the Common Core and the PARCC tests.

This morning I watched Fareed Zakaria on CNN.  I generally avoid all of CNN’s programming, given that I don’t want to watch wall to wall coverage of bad weather, ignorant celebrities and missing planes.

But I have always found Mr. Zakaria to be thoughtful, knowledgeable and interesting.   I turned on his show this morning expecting to see a good discussion of the impending civil war in Ukraine.  Instead, I was shocked and saddened to hear Mr. Z talking about the problem with American education.

To be fair, I did agree with him when he said that the key issue in the US is the increasing income disparity and the large number of children being raised in poverty. But then he started to talk about those damned test scores; the ones that attempt to compare “The US” to other countries.  The ones that fail to take into account the fact that it is the poorest states that drag down our national scores. The one that fails to report that states which adequately support funds for public education (Mass, NY, Conn) score well above the world average.

He went on to talk about the “misguided” push back against the Common Core, which he called “a tragedy”.

You can find Mr. Z’s comments on the Washington Post, dated May 1st.

When I heard his comments, I put aside the giant stack of essays that I was planning to correct and I grabbed my laptop to reply.  This is the email that I sent.  I would love it if others would join me!

Dear Mr. Zakaria,

I am a long time viewer and have always been impressed with your thoughtfulness and your careful research.  I am in general agreement with most of your views, and will continue to read and watch your work.

However,I have been left  feeling angry, hurt and enormously demoralized  by your comments this morning on CNN, and your recent article in the Washington Post .

I teach fifth grade in an upper middle class public school in Massachusetts.  I have been teaching for more than 20 years, and have been ranked as a “Highly Qualified” educator.

I oppose the Common Core State Standards and the upcoming PARCC tests for several reasons, none of which you have considered in your opinion.

First: The standards no doubt are an attempt to create a uniform set of expectations for all students in the United States.   While I applaud the idea of setting standards for our children, I disagree strongly with the idea that all students in all places MUST reach them on a given day. The current system punishes schools and teachers for each child who fails to reach the standards, disregarding issues of ability/disability, native language and (most crucially) poverty.  The standards are being used as a bludgeon, rather than a goal.

Second: The CCSS were created without the input of a single elementary school teacher. Not ONE. Instead, representatives of major corporations (Pearson, Microsoft, Apple, to name a few) were part of the original consortium.  

Third: The CCSS and PARCC are funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to the above named corporations.  Dollars that could have been spent on decreasing class sizes, training teachers, building safer, cleaner, new schools or providing services to children who live in poverty.

The pushback against the Common Core is hardly a “tragedy”.  It is, in fact, a reasoned, thoughtful, powerful reaction to the corporate takeover of our public schools and the government’s failure to address the true needs of our students.

I would encourage you to research ACHIEVE, Pearson Corporation,, Diane Ravitch and the true story of the Common Core State Standards


Schools for Sale!!!

Oh, my flippin’ God.

This is beyond disgusting.

I just found this website on a post from the Badass Teacher’s Association.

Before you click on the link, please think about this.  My 30 years of teaching experience and my Master’s Degree and my 56 hours of graduate credit beyond that degree will be of no importance to me at all once we go to the proposed teacher evaluation system where my salary and my standing will be almost entirely dependent upon the scores that my students earn on the latest standardized tests.

Please understand that my daughter’s financial stability and job security as a teacher will depend upon the students’ scores on these tests.

And before you check this link, try to grasp the fact that students who don’t speak English, students who are autistic, students who are deaf, students who are oppositional/defiant and students who are homeless and hungry will all be tested on the same Pearson Corporation standardized test.

Now that you know all that, click on this link. Read for yourself about exactly how the damn tests are going to be scored.

To quote my students, “Seriously, dude?”  Any recent college grad with a degree in philosophy or biology or comparative religions can earn 12 bucks an hour scoring the essays that will be used to decide my fate?

Are. You. Fucking. Serious.

Read it.  Then weep.

Paranoia runs deep

So I was just over on the Badass Teachers Facebook page.  I love those crazy radicals, you know?  The fringe movement of 40,000 educators who think that all this testing is a very bad idea.   They claim that there are powerful corporate interests at work in the current insane push to implement the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC testing.

You know the interests I mean.  The ones who have created the standards.  The same ones who are selling the curriculum aligned to the standards and  who are also marketing the tests.  Those  corporate interests.  The ones with Bill Gates and Pearson Corp. in the lead.

So on the BATs page I was reading about a conference being held this weekend in Denver, including parents and teachers who oppose the imposition of all of these standards and tests.  The conference was being livestreamed on Ustream.   I guess the intention was to allow parents to make informed decisions about what kind of testing they allow their kids to participate in.

But guess what?

During the conference, the livestream site was hacked and the broadcasting was stopped.  At pretty much the same time, the Badass Teacher’s Association website was hacked and shut down.


I’m not often a conspiracy theorist, honest.  But this strains even my naivete.

Parents, teachers, administrators, freedom loving Americans everywhere, please, please, please do some research!

Who is behind the movement to have every American child take computer based tests every single year of public school life?  Bill Gates, that’s who.

Who is behind the push to have every single child in every single classroom learning the exact same lessons from the exact same shiny boxed curriculum kits? Pearson Corporation, that’s who.

Please remember: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.

Go to United Opt Out and The Badass Teachers Association and Fair Test.

But wait a bit. They seem to be “down for maintenance” right now.

#evaluate that- The Real Value in Testing

Last week we took a chapter test on multiplying fractions.  YeeHa.

Most of the kids did pretty well.  They understand the idea of fractions being numbers that are between 0 and 1.  They can change mixed numbers into improper fractions and back again, add and subtract fractions, compare them and put them in order.

A few of the kids are struggling with serious learning disabilities.  They took a modified test.

And a few kids who generally do well on these tests…..well, they failed.

So I had to decide what to do.

See, I give the unit tests because I have to.  In this day and age, we have to have “data” to show that the kids are learning. So, OK, even though I know my kids very well and watch them do math every day, I give the test. Even though I correct their homework every day and go over it with them and have conferences with the kids who need more explanation, I give them the test.

To be clear: the test scores show me absolutely nothing. I already know which kids fully understand the concepts, which kids aren’t yet ready to master the concepts and which kids just need some more time and a little more practice before they master the concepts.  The test scores reflect what I already know about 95% of the time.  Big whoop.

This time was only a little bit different.  I looked at the four tests showing failing scores. One of the kids is on the autistic spectrum. He is very, very bright, and he understands the math concepts very well.  He just can’t solve the problems in the proscribed “Common Core” manner. He sometimes struggles with problems that ask us to explain our reasoning.  I went over his test with him, giving hime some little prompts and reminders. He raised his score to a 90, but he didn’t really care either way.  He thinks these things are stupid.

Another child is diagnosed with PTSD and severe depression. He is successful academically when I am beside him, when I can provide that gentle, “m’hm” as he works.  We joke that I have “magical math dust” and that he breathes it in when we are side by side.  The truth is that he panics when he feels that he might fail. His failing test score was ridiculous.  With me beside him, he independently fixed every single mistake.  I gave him a hug and a “high five”, saying, “You SEE what a great mathematician you are?!”

The final two failing scores belonged to girls who just need a little more time, a few more days to practice.  They belong to girls who have identified themselves as “bad at math.” I have worked long and hard with both of them this year, encouraging them to guess, to try, to challenge themselves, to ask questions. Both have improved tremendously, and both have begun to ask for extra math conferencing with me and with the math specialist.  Both have begun to choose the “challenge math” for homework.

I sat with the two of them and asked them to review their tests.  One identified problems that were still confusing to her.  I walked her through the solutions, talking over each step.  I gave her similar problems to try on her own, and she was partly successful.  As I already knew, this child needs more time. Its ridiculous to think that we can race through these complex ideas and expect everyone to have full mastery.  By the end of our half our test review, this girl’s confidence was back, and she seemed to believe me when I told her “I KNOW that you will get this math. I know you will.”

And then there is the last test.  This girl had been out sick, and had missed two days of lessons.  I had gone over the ideas with her, and had let her practice a bit. I thought she needed more time with the work, but she wanted to take the test with the rest of the class, so I let her.

She failed.  We looked at her paper, and found that nearly all of her mistakes were simple ones.  She seemed to understand everything, solving the problems correctly, but neglecting to simplify, or missing the sign.  I pointed this out to her, saying, “See, I’m not worried! You’re a good mathematician.” She shook her head, her eyes filled with tears. “But I’m so sad,” she said.  “I made such stupid mistakes.” I put my arm around her and took the test out of her hand. “Listen to me, ” I said firmly. “You made mistakes that you know how to fix. That’s a good thing.”  I gave her the test and let her work.  She corrected every little error and I happily showed her the 100% written in bright red at the top.

It took a lot of time. It cost me my lunch and part of my planning block. It took all of my patience.  The test itself was a waste of all of our time because it taught me nothing.  The test review, though, was enormously valuable because I was able to use to show four great kids that they are successful, smart kids and that I have confidence in all of them.

Evaluate that.

Fifty years in the future…..

“Good morning, boys and girls!”

“Good morning, Ms. Brightly!”

“Sit right down and let’s get started.  Open your Pearson Math books to page 232.”  Ms. Brightly smiles at the ten year olds in front of her.  “So we have already reviewed multi-digit division and multiplication and division with decimals. And, gosh, its only October! Move into your small math groups and take the next ten minutes to read the lesson about finding the volume of irregular solids.  Go!!”

The kids move around the room, settling in with their groups. There is some chatter, but everyone knows that they only have a short time to learn the material, and pretty soon they begin to read the book together.  Ms. Brightly circles the room, stopping to confer with some of the groups and to explain the information to others.

After ten minutes, the sound of a bell is heard and the kids move back to their seats, giggling and chatting as they go. Ms. Brightly turns on her Microsoft Smartboard and demonstrates how to find the volume of an irregular solid.  She adjusts her Microsoft Biometrics bracelet and glances up toward the camera in the corner of the classroom.  She begins speaking a little more quickly.

After demonstrating two more problems, Ms. Brightly turns back to the classroom.  “OK!  Now you have ten minutes to practice by yourselves!”  The kids touch the Microsoft screens embedded in their desks and begin to work.  Ms. Brightly circles the room continually, explaining and encouraging.  She kneels next to one desk for a conference.  Although the teacher speaks quietly and gently, the student is clearly struggling and her responses become increasingly shrill.  Soon it becomes clear that the little girl is fighting back tears.  “But I don’t GET it!” she wails.   Ms. Brightly begins to explain again, but the classroom door suddenly opens, and a tall woman enters, wearing a “Pearson Advisor” badge on her sweater.   “I’ll take over.”, she states firmly.  Ms. Brightly watches quietly as the sobbing child is escorted from the classroom.

The rest of the math lesson passes in silence.

Another bell sounds, and Ms. Brightly sighs with relief, then quickly glances at the Biometrics band on her wrist.  The flashing number shows her that her pulse is too high to meet the Common Health Expectations Standards (“CHEST”).  She tries some yoga breathing as she moves into the “Pearson Reading Area”.

“OK!” she begins, turning her smile on the children in front of her.  “Come on up for a mini-lesson on how to use meaningful dialogue to advance a story along the story arc!”   The kids get up and stretch, and then  move slowly toward the front of the classroom, where they gather  in a circle under the McGraw Hill Biometric Reading Comprehension Dome.  Ms. Brightly sits in the teacher chair, and a series of pale yellow Led Lights begin to blink in the dome.

Ms. Brightly taps her tablet and a hologram of a story appears in the center of the circle. A smiling man begins to wave at the children.  Before the story begins, though, a little hand shoots up.  Ms. Brightly smiles.  She loves it when the kids show some enthusiasm for the lessons!  Her Biometrics band gives a little chirp of delight.  “Yes, Michael?”

“Ms. Brightly, can we read a real story today?”

“What do you mean by a “real” story, honey?”

“Well, at home I have a book that has kids doing really cool things like killing monsters and…..”

Ms. Brightly interrupts. “That kind of book isn’t appropriate for school, Michael.”


Ms. Brightly tries to think fast.  She’s pretty sure that her classroom door is going to pop open again if this keeps us.

“Yeah, why?” Asks another little voice.  All 70 eyes gaze up at her as Ms. Brightly reaches for a firm and clear response.  “The stories that we read in school are written to meet the Standards.  They teach us exactly how to craft our own narratives….”

“Yeah, but they kinda suck.”  A series of giggles erupts and the Dome lights turn a dark red.


“These stories are boring. Nothing ever happens.”

“These stories follow the correct story arc. They have a clear beginning, middle and end.”

“But they’re all exactly alike!”

Ms. Brightly gulps. They are all exactly alike.  She hears the sound of footsteps approaching rapidly down the hall.  The Dome lights are now glowing a brilliant orange/red and her Biometrics band is humming a warning.   She doesn’t know what to do.  By now the kids have begun to chatter, calling out the names of forbidden stories and talking about the authors.

One little voice calls out a question. “Why are the stories at home so much more fun?”

As the sound of the opening door reaches her ears, Ms. Brightly knows that her brief teaching career is over.  She unsnaps her Biometric band and drops it to the floor.

“Those books are more exciting, boys and girls because they were all written by……” She looks into each eager face, leans in to be as close to them as she can be for this last moment. “……..HOMESCHOOLERS.”

I have an idea!!

I have a wicked good idea!

I have been a good little teacher for the past couple of years, doing my best to follow orders (mostly) and to teach to the prescribed Common Corp Standards. I have even learned to capitalize those words as if they are The Word of God.

I have a nicely packaged kit for teaching math, complete with enough redundancy to have tripled its cost.  I use my lovely spiral bound boxed set for teaching reading and my shiny packaged writing program.  My classroom has been equipped with a big red box full of history materials, including a class set of laminated maps. Even though we have a giant Smartboard. With Google Earth access.

So I have been thinking about all these expensive packaged teaching kits.  See,we didn’t have these things five years ago (before The Common Core Standards). Now we do.  Now our district, and every district around us, is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into getting all of these scripts and packages and laminated maps and spiral bound lists of Questions for Comprehension.  I have been thinking about all of this. And I realized something very interesting.

Somebody is making a boatload of cash off of the this stuff.

Why not me?  Why not get on the old bandwagon and come up with a package of my own that I can sell to every school in the United States?

Why not indeed?

So I have begun work on my Big Idea.  I will call it

“Happy Classrooms in the Age of the Common Core Standards”.

Chapter 1 will teach teachers how to do amazing and revolutionary things like

  • Take the time to talk to the kids in the morning
  • Give them notebooks, let them decorate them and tell them “Go write a fun story”
  • Throw away the rubric and ask the kids to share their stories
  • Laugh with the kids every day
  • Go out for recess and have fun
  • Paint

As long as I can put it in a shiny, pretty package, maybe it will sell.  Maybe I will get rich.  Then I can quit my job and open a school where the kids have fun and the teachers are smiling.

Huh.  What an idea.




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