Monday, December 20, 2010

Common CoreZilla: Shrink The Change!

Did you see Jurassic Park 2? There's a scene that pays homage to the old Japanese Godzilla movies where the Tyrannosaur escapes and runs down the street, with the people looking back, running away in terror.

For a lot of educators, I think the Common Core Standards and the state-specific implementation plans are a lot like that Tyrannosaur.

There are a lot of things to consider, sure, but we need to think of "shrinking the change," using a phrase from the Dan & Chip Heath book, SWITCH. A handful of 2-inch tall T-Rex's are a lot easier to deal with than their 2-story originator.

So, how do you go about it?

First, you need to look at what you've already got going for you in your districts, in your schools, even down to the classroom level:
  • Do you have curriculum models, frameworks, or maps in place that represent a child's journey through your system from K to 12?
  • Do you have regular curricular conversation both horizontally and vertically?
  • Do you prioritize based on essential skills and enduring or leveraged understandings?
  • Do the teachers in your school(s) understand multiple ways to gather assessment data, and have "agreed-upon" formative checkpoints?
  • Do you already have thematic units or genre specific models in place during the course of each grade levels curricular tracks?
  • Do you provide supplemental guidance and resources for differentiated instruction, research based instructional strategies, and professional development for teachers, especially those that teach special education or English Language Learners?
Any of these could easily be their own initiatives and last for months and months...but we don't necessarily have the gift of unlimited implementation time. BUT, if you are already doing some of these things--then you can check them off your RTTT list, and just continue doing them.

Otherwise, you need to map out a plan of attack.

At the "core" of these is student learning. To begin with, make that your focus. Then, bit by bit, starting tackling each of these components:

  1. The curricular framework or map is very important. Not only does it provide opportunities for curricular conversation and consensus, it provides a roadmap of sorts that documents what we intend as well as a diary of what actually happened. It is meant to be fully transparent, and help teachers situate themselves in the context of their colleagues. Bena Kallick (author of several books on mapping and data) talks about this when she discusses "Evidences versus Claims." It's not enough anymore to SAY what we think--we need to prove it. Having an articulated framework that shows how content and skills are related to specific assessments, and further how that impacts instructional practice, methodologies, and activities helps to enhance everyone's professional practice and build capacity around everyone's growth--students AND teachers! There are many books to help you get started with this, choosing from some of the heavy hitters in the field: Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Janet Hale, and Susan Udelhofen, just to name a few.
  2. The next thing to look at, as far as the RTTT grant is concerned is multiple ways to assess students. What are you doing now? If it's all multiple choice, objective testing, you might want to expand things a little. Standardized objective tests are often at mid and high cognitive levels, while the tests that are used to "prepare" for those tests are often at lower cognitive levels. This means that you can give practice tests every single day and still not really be preparing your students for those standardized banes of education. The RTTT grant language is asking for instruction and assessment that is more formative in nature, those assessments that don't lead to a grade, but lead to proficiency. The development of Common Assessments that are formative in nature can be explored within these resources:
3. The last big hurdle is instructional strategies, with resources and examples. Here you go:
Yes, there is still much to be overwhelmed about. You don't want the Common CoreZilla to eat you alive!

Take it one step at a time. Look at what you're already doing, make a plan to integrate the parts of the puzzle you need to improve. Add those puzzle pieces one at a time. Pretty soon, the whole metaphor of the "Dinosaur" curriculum will cease to exist, except perhaps during the elementary field trip to the local Science museum...

photo: thiagors on, remixed by M.Fisher 2010

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