Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dealing with the Random Standard

I’m largely okay with the Common Core Standards.

Anyone who reads me regularly already knows this. There are limitations, sure, but by and large, they are better than previous individual state standards that, for the most part, prepare children for 1992, but aren’t so great at preparing them for 2025.

That said, there are places where the standards are either inconsistent, out of order, or blatantly strange. This blog post is about the blatantly strange. This blog post is about Reading for Literature, standard #6, for grades 9 and 10. Here’s what the standard says explicitly:

Image: @Janet_Hale from her CCSSELAPP.com web app

Everything up to this point in the 6th Reading for Literature standard, and in the standard after, are all dealing with Points of View (or perspectives) on a sophisticated level from one grade level to another. Then, in 9th grade, we drop the “outside the United States” part in there where it hasn’t been seen before and won’t be seen in the 11th and 12th grade. Random. Random. Random.

However, random or not, we still have to deal with it.

My colleague Janet Hale, who brought this standard’s specificity to my attention, and I had an in-depth conversation about finding appropriate middle-school and high-school works from a “wide range of world literature” given that the works cannot be published in America, even if the story focus is from another country (The Kite Runner, for example).

We were struggling to come up with quality texts that were both worthy of cross-cultural analysis and had analogues or comparative universal themes. We wanted to attend to the capacities around global perspectives without being U.S.-centric while also attending to the valuing-evidence and critical-thinking capacities.

After continued discussion of the implications of this standard while considering curriculum design, we decided that it would be advantageous to tweet out about our thoughts and leverage our digital learning network to find world literature (especially short stories) read by middle-school and high-school students in other countries that American students can read via an English translation. Not an easy task, but we started getting titles from around the world.

Why does this matter?

Let’s take a look at the Grade 9 unit from Engage NY, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”  Here are the standards addressed in this unit:

Image: Engage NY, screenshot from Grade 9 unit

Notice that the Reading for Literature standard number 6 is an anchor standard (RL.6) rather than a grade-specific standard (RL.9-10.6). Using the grade-specific standard would necessitate a work of literature from outside the United States as well as an American-published text, keeping in mind that analysis is also part of the standard.

To be fair, a key design feature of these Odell Education’s materials is adaptability--the ability to use some of the strategies and supports around a different text. This is important. Because Odell chose to focus on the anchor standard, they are maintaining the spirit of “point of view” and “perspective”, which is one way to deal with what may appear to be a random standard.

Is it okay to always revert back to the anchor standard when a grade level-specific standard is difficult to address? Not really, though it is dependent on several factors, primarily on whether or not the standard addresses content that will be frequently assessed, has leverage in other content areas, or is a lifelong skill that students will need. Another dependent factor is readiness. Previous to the 9th grade standard, there is no mention of texts outside the United States, but it doesn’t mean the support in previous grade levels should be ignored. The College and Career readiness capacities, which I see as the umbrella of the ELA standards document, demand that students who are college and career ready “come to understand other perspectives and cultures.” Even if not specifically in the standards, we can apply this capacity to instruction in both planning and action.

While there are teachers who may have flexibility concerning which grade-level standards get a stronger emphasis, what about those teachers who must adhere to the letter of the grade specific standard versus the spirit of the anchor standards?

This question brings us back to our digital learning network’s collaborative Google doc. We need resources to be able to engage this standard and we need a worldwide cadre of educators to connect and discuss with. We don’t yet know if all of the recommendations are appropriate (e.g., text complexity, rigor) given that they are new texts to us, some of the intended rigor or complexity may be subjective, particularly if they are being used based solely on quantitative measures (Lexiles). Through reading and analysis of qualitative measures and reader/task considerations, conversations around these international texts could yield wonderful opportunities for classroom use or possible unit substitution as a resource. (Janet and I also love the idea of having international students Skyping with American students during and after they read one another’s text based on deep understanding of the text, universal themes, and subsequent analysis found in both texts.)

So, in a nutshell, let’s recap how a teacher might deal with the random standard:

  • Revert back to the anchor standard, the “spirit” of what students need to know and be able to do.
  • Address the standard specifically with new resources and collaborative curriculum design. (Perhaps even have conversations about scaffolding in previous grade levels for the sake of readiness to meet the standard where it lives in a particular grade level.) This attends to the “letter” of what students need to know and be able to do.
  • Be mindful of how the random standard relates to the College and Career Readiness capacities and plan accordingly. This attends to a more overarching vision of college and career readiness that is perfectly appropriate to consider when planning and delivering instruction.

The blatantly strange standards sometimes give us great launching points for collaboration, global conversations, and shared resources, as it has in this case. If you’d like to continue the discussion, please comment below, contact me or contact Janet, or contribute to the Google Doc yourself.

Upgrade Your Curriculum, now available from the ASCD Bookstore.


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