Posts Tagged ‘common core’

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


April Fools!!!

Oh, man I love April Fools Day.

The kids came in at their usual time, to see our typical morning message on the Smartboard.

Good morning!  I think you’ll find this math review paper to be fun and challenging.  Try to work independently; I am sure you’ll remember the formulas from last year!”  They all came in, handed in homework, put away binders and settled in to do the math.

Which was a college level calculus paper.

Oh, funny, funny me!!!!

It took a few minutes, but pretty soon everyone was giggling and snickering and I was desperately trying to hold onto my serious old teacher lady face. I got the best answers to these problems.  Things like, “I know the answer, but I can’t tell you.”   and “There are x number of weird symbols.  Minus something.”

Eventually, one of the kids noticed the daily schedule written on the board, and the giggles got louder.

Before School Work

Morning Meeting

Math Test

Spelling Test

Reading Test

Music Test


Lunch Test

Ballroom Dancing


Random Comments

Bus Test

They chortled and snorted and I thought I was the best. teacher. ever.

Then came morning meeting.  One child signed up for sharing, and told us that her father took a bad fall last night and was rushed to the hospital. She gave very specific medical details about his injury, inspiring gasps, moans of sympathy and  a truly heartfelt, “Oh, honey! Give him our very best!” from me.  She kept her head down, her shoulders slumped. She was the very picture of a worried little girl.  “Oh, and I forgot to tell you,”, she added.  She lifted her head with a devilish grin. “Pranked!!!!!”  The whole class burst into laughter, including me.

We had a false technical emergency today.  I found a plastic iguana in my water glass.  I dealt with a pretend head injury and a made-up best friend fight.

The kids, in turn, were given a fake spelling test (with the words “cardiology” and “tardive dyskinesia” on the list) and a pretend homework assignment to memorize the foreign dictionary of their choice.

I am not sure that we “advanced toward the standards” today.  We may not have engaged in 21st century learning or mastered any of the Common Core.

But you know what?

We had fun. We learned not to take ourselves so seriously.  We looked at each other and giggled.  We were happy to be in school.

# Evaluate that, you stupid ed reform idiots.

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.

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.”

Let’s get rigorous!

So I’m not all that up to date with all the latest Pearson Inspired Common Core Standards Based education.  Ya know? I’m old.  When I’m teaching math, I use words like “multiply” and “sum”.  When I teach reading, I use phrases like “Do you like the book?” and “What’s gonna happen next?”   So last decade. So uninformed.  I know nothing, I tell you, nothing.

But I’m a good sport!  I am studying a whole variety of shiny boxed kits that tell me how to teach.  These kits were written by people who obviously know WAY more than I do about teaching.  They’re being paid by Pearson Corporation! They MUST be brilliant!

So the other day when I was forced to sit through yet another workshop on how to teach reading and writing, lead by yet another perky little girly on the Pearson payroll, I did my best to Talk the Talk.  I want to fit in! I do! Just listen to how well I slung the shit… I mean “engaged in meaningful dialogue about the latest trends in enhancing literacy.”

Perky: ‘So, have you found that the rubric is helping you to guide students toward a more rigorous approach to the standards?’                                                                                                                                                                                      

Me: ‘Totally! I find that when I facilitate a close reading of the mentor text, the rubric gives me so much information about which student is approaching grade level on which strand of each standard!”                    

 Perky: ‘So don’t you find that when you confer using the guidance of the rubric and the checklist both you and the student can find common ground for generating next steps?’                                                                              

Me: (nodding wisely) “Well, naturally, we continually refer to the anchor charts generated during each mini-lesson to identify the key areas for continued growth.”                                                                                                    

Perky: So don’t you think that its imperative to continually develop more rigorous assessments to insure comprehensive student growth across all domains?”  (Perky seems to start every sentence with “So”.  I think its in the Perky Standards and noted on the Perky Rubric.)                                                                                                  

Me: “While I’m totally sure that you are right, I’m having a little bit of difficulty decoding the main idea of the body of your thesis, given that your supporting details were framed using non-specific word choice.  I mean, from the voice in your persuasive comments I can infer that you support the idea of more rigorous assessment, both formative and summative, to inform our teaching, but I am not sure that your transitional phrases led me toward the correct conclusion.”                                                                                                                      

Perky: (blinking rapidly): ‘I, ah……’                                                                                                                                                  

Me: (giving my most warm and engaging smile) “I’m sorry! What I meant to say is that I believe in the intrinsic value of self-reflection as students dig deeper into the texts to infer the author’s purpose, and I know that it is essential for me to adhere to the best practice of providing models of grade level comprehension strategies, but how do I maintain a focus on authentic assessment while attempting to integrate cross-curricular units while continually providing the correct individual reading level for each student? I mean, gosh! (I widen my eyes and grin) how many just right books on the Articles of Confederation can there possibly be in one classroom?”                                                                                                                                                    

Perky’s mouth opened and closed, but no sound emerged.

See?  I did my best!  I tried to sling the shit, but the truth is none of it actually means anything and no matter how I try to hide it, I know that.   Fifth graders fall in love with great books when teachers read them out loud with passion, and then talk about them with interest and knowledge.  They learn to write when they are inspired to say something.  Truth? They don’t need to be told what their reading level is: they need to be surrounded by books and they need to play around with them.  Truth? They don’t need a rubric to learn how to craft a story where “the dialogue moves the story forward on the story arc” (Seriously? Whoever wrote this crap never read Vonnegut).  They know that a story is good when their friends tell them, “This was great!”

I did my best with Perky Girly. I don’t know if she accepted my nonsense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did.  All you really have to do to appease these folks is to use all of the latest jargon from the latest shiny box of    up-to-date curriculae.

How sad is that?

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