Sunday, August 19, 2012
Parents should be given a copy of the class's policies, expectations, etc. There's no such thing as being too well-informed up front. However, I don't want to send home more than one page. My compromise is this: print the traditional disclosure and e-mail the letter. I'm glad I wrote both. I can distribute the policies using the impersonal medium of the disclosure document. I can let parents know what I'm about using the more personal medium of the e-mail.
Here are links to both documents for all my classes:
Honors English parent letter
Honors English disclosure
English 8 parent letter
English 8 disclosure
Computer Applications parent letter
Computer Applications disclosure
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Link to the document here. Text of the document below:
That was a lot of questions. I’ve tried to answer them as best I could. I’ve highlighted your questions in yellow to make my responses clearly organized.
First, the Common Core does not prescribe which books or assignments your children will do, beyond a general set of criteria. It will affect teachers more than parents and students in the end, I think. Teachers take the Core standards, and then use them to write the classroom curriculum. Core standards read like this: “Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.” As you can see, they are not specific text or topic requirements. If people are concerned about conformity and top-down curriculum, I would point out the inherent flexibility in the standards’ language.
I have some questions: Who are "the Shareholders" who gave input on this change?
A list of the people who drafted and reviewed the standards: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/07/01/36standards-side.h28.html
After that, Gov. Herbert and the state board adopted them.
Why wasn’t more public feedback sought?
Probably because core standards have not been a matter for public feedback in the past. Public feedback wasn’t sought for our old core either. Just as it isn’t sought for textbook adoption or technology adoption. I for one was surprised to see the core standards held up as a heated topic in a public forum.
How much has been spent so far on the State-wide change, and how much more is expected to be spent to implement the changes?
Well, as far as I can see, we have had a few days of professional development in my district. I think the plan was to defray the cost by spreading implementation over several years. The updated versions of the end-of-level tests aren’t expected until 2014-2015. The cost of developing and maintaining state standardized testing is something you’d have to research using the legislative website resources. The amount spent is also debatable because districts commonly do district-wide professional development anyway, especially about implementing the core standards, old or new.
In Language Arts we were told fiction will be limited to only 30% of reading materials in the later grades; does the 70% of "informational" reading take into consideration the reading of texts our children use in science, history, and other studies outside of language arts or is this emphasis only in relation to that discipline?
I’m afraid as an English teacher I was never prescribed an exact ratio of fiction to nonfiction. I’m not sure where your 30% figure comes from, whether it’s specific to your school or district. It’s not something that’s going to be enforced on a state or national level.
In mathematics, some topics have been omitted; how is it more rigorous to cover less? How will gifted/talented programs be affected? Will there still be as many, or more, AP classes offered? What about concurrent enrollment?
The Math core is a special case, which has confused some people. Utah adopted the Common Core for Language Arts and Science, but not for math. Our math core is still different from the rest of the country. So if you are arguing against the core for all subjects, you are arguing against a national core for English and Science, and against a state core for Math.
Why, when I have diligently served on my School Community Council for five years, did I only learn of these changes within the last year if this has been in the works since 2008?
Presumably because many decisions are made that are not brought to school community councils. If each decision made by the state board or USOE was held for public comment, or even review by SCCs, I think the workings of whole system would grind to a halt. You could keep up with all the changes, but it would be a career’s worth of work.
Who are all the organizations, groups, individuals, governments, etc. who have brought this to Utah?
Gov. Herbert and the State Board, USOE, National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers, US Dept of Ed.- that’s the list as far as I know.
How long until social studies, science, history, or other disciplines are also adjusted to align with the new program?
Hopefully not long for History. Common Core Science standards have already been adopted.
Will there be more public input *before* that happens?
There’s never been public input on our old standards. Maybe this dustup will change that.
What books will be qualified for use in the 30% of fiction literature?
That still depends on the school and district.
Of the 70% "informational," what genres will be included - opinion, biography, historical, etc?
That still depends on the school and district
What will this change do to Creative Writing courses?
Nothing, unless the Creative Writing course IS the English course. Usually Creative Writing is an elective, which means the core standards are whatever is set by USOE. You can view the core standards for any subject here: http://www.uen.org/core/
With the elimination of persuasive writing, and implementing argumentative writing, how will students be able to express points of view on social beliefs if there is no evidence to support their view? Will we no longer allow students to express points of view academically unless they are supported by two other points of view first (concerning for group-think when we are told the standards are to encourage critical thinking)?
I think this hypothetical is very obscure. However, let me try to answer. In teaching writing, it is prudent to have not only a variety of genres and topics, but a variety of levels. Students sometimes write one-off papers, sometimes they work on writing projects for weeks and submit multiple drafts. The Common Core does not preclude any particular type of writing, including opinion-based. One of the writing standards reads as follows:
8W2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.Not all of the standards are required to be applied to each writing assignment. As you can see, there is definitely an opportunity for writing texts that explain one’s ideas, and develop the topic with examples. I think my point can best be summed up by another standard from the Common Core: “8W10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.” The writing field is still wide open.
---8W2a Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
---8W2b Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.
---8W2c Use appropriate and varied transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
---8W2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
---8W2e Establish and maintain a formal style.
---8W2f Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented.
Will testing that is done on computers be done on a secure internal network?
It already is.
Will students be online more due to this new curriculum, and if so how will their identities be secure (note the recent security breech of state-held individuals' health information )?
UEN manages all network traffic in and out of Utah schools, so network security is partly up to them, and partly up to the individual school districts maintaining tight protocols. Security will be dependent on what they decide to do. Also, in my opinion, on how well they are funded to do it.
Who will be accessing the testing data?
To the best of my knowledge currently teachers, schools, and districts and the state can access testing data. Other entities, like school community councils, can access generalized school data as provided to them by the school administration. Parents and students can access their individual data through reports. My district uses SIS gradebook, which posts a student’s testing data within their gradebook account. Some districts use other grading applications, and I can’t tell you much about them.
Is the testing authority a local, in-state entity?
Yes, our tests are administered through USOE, which has contracted with a company named Measured Progress. The testing server is in-state, and it is administered in-state.
Are the tests and all questions on them written in-state?
I’m not sure. I know teachers have worked on writing test questions for the item pool in the past. Measured Progress, the company that created the test, is based in New Hampshire I believe. The current English tests are written according to Utah core standards (the old ones). The updated English test for the Common Core is not expected until 2014-2015. I don’t know if Measured Progress will create that test as well, or if Utah will find another provider.
How will my students' progress be tracked "from preschool to college" and who will have access to review the information?
Presumably the same way grades are currently tracked, and with the same access. The state offers reports for schools and districts that you can download and review, but reports for classes and students are restricted. This would be an issue for the State Board and Legislature, and is not directly addressed in the standards.
What will that information be used for?
That’s the golden question in my mind. Right now it’s up to the school or district how the testing information is used to inform instruction, if it is used for that at all. On the state level, the state must prepare reports about whether or not we met the requirements for “adequate yearly progress” as defined by IDEA (No Child Left Behind). Those reports are submitted to the Dept. of Ed. The reports are broken down into whichever subgroups the law requires we track: ELL students, special education students, male/female, etc. The federal reports are not submitted with individual data, but group data.
What specific disaggregations will be done on the data?
How will the implementation of this program affect special needs courses?
Special education will continue to adapt the standards and curriculum to accommodate their students, as always. There is not a national special education curriculum tied to the Common Core. As far as I know, there is no a special education curriculum per se, unless you would consider DIBELs.
Will there be any affects to current IEP/504s?
IEPs and 504s are not based on the core standards. The goals set in IEPs are defined by the SpEd teacher, parent, and LEA.
Explain how teachers will actually be awarded for student performance.
This is a matter separate from the Common Core Standards. It is a legislative matter. The legislature passed a bill last session about teacher performance pay, among other things. You can view it here: http://le.utah.gov/~2012/htmdoc/sbillhtm/sb0064.htm
Is there ANY kind of opt-out classroom available within a district for families who are uncertain if this is in the best interest of their children (which would also provide comparisons on achievement for those taught the new curriculum and those who are taught with status quo)? Will homeschooled children be subject to these changes? I have many, many more questions. My concerns are even greater.
Homeschooled children are not currently subject to any of the core standards, old or new. It would take a law to change that. There would be no classroom (presumably) in the district that could opt out of the Common Core, any more than a classroom or school could opt out of any other requirement placed on them. I, as a teacher, am contractually obligated to teach the Core Standards. I can’t opt out of my contract with my district without penalty, and the district has similar obligations to the state.
In regards to literature, I am very interested in maintaining higher levels of fiction as a basis for learning writing styles, effective communication, enjoyment in reading, and many other reasons.
It seems like you are thinking along the same lines as teachers, and indeed the same people who designed the Common Core. The Common Core has pushed for greater use of fiction in learning writing style, while the old core emphasized reading fiction for the sake of learning to read fiction. Example from the Common Core for English: “8RL1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. 8RL5 Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.” The old core merely required things like “Determine which incidents are important to moving the plot forward and to making predictions (e.g., flashback, foreshadowing)” or “Define and describe settings in literature (e.g., place, time, and customs)”
As I have been updating my curriculum for the new core, I have been particularly pleased with how I have changed teaching The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Formerly, the emphasis was on simply knowing the story. Now, I emphasize the story AND how the author created the story. I gave me a great chance to explore satire with Twain, and classic rhetoric with Anne Frank. I don’t know that I would have moved the class in that direction without being prompted by the new core.
Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." I believe his insights to be accurate. Reducing the "fairy tales" to biased (you cannot escape bias) "informational" texts should be more alarming to everyone who prizes critical thinking. Who will be choosing the 70% of non fiction texts? Will parents be any more a part of those decisions than they were in implementing these changes?
In my classroom, I choose the texts. That will probably continue to be the case. I have an anthology, common to our district, to choose from. I send home a list of longer-length texts to parents for perusal at the beginning of the year, as do the other English teachers in my district. Outside of our adopted textbook, I choose what constitutes an eighth-grade informational text based on what skills or concepts I am teaching, and what I know is appropriate for my students.
In regards to mathematics, the texts I have reviewed are heavy with word problems. I am not discounting the value of problem solving, but our district has experimented with different curriculums over the past decade and our students were more successful when more practice and drill was kept in the lessons. Also, when standard equations were presented out right, rather than having students have to discover why they are standard, students were less frustrated and more on task. The context of the word problems also introduces some themes that could be controversial in our state.
That would be surprising, as the new Math core is custom to Utah.
I have not had time to review the propsed texts in depth, but I am concerned these changes, along with omitting some math topics, are rushed decisions. Are we trying to create more mathematicians, or more broad undersanding of basic mathematic application in every day situations? In wanting to increase the number of students who have foundational mastery, will we be discouraging those with a natural drive and talent in this field from more voracious study?
I know mathematicians reviewed the Common Core math standards. I don’t know how the new Math standards for Utah came about. I have commonly heard them referred to as “International Math Standards.”
I am concerned along with Sandra Stotsky, who was the senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999-2003 where, among other duties, she oversaw the development or revision of all the state’s K-12 standards; reviewed all states’ English language arts and reading standards for the Fordham Institute in 1997, 2000, and 2005; co-authored Achieve’s American Diploma Project high school exit test standards for English in 2004; co-authored the 2008 Texas English language arts and reading standards; served on the National Mathematics Advisory Panel from 2006-2008; and, served on Common Core’s Validation Committee from 2009-2010. She testified in Texas of "the mediocre quality of Common Core’s English language arts/reading standards, especially in grades 6-12." She also addressed "the non-transparent process that was used to develop Common Core’s standards" along with "the non-transparent process now being used to develop a national curriculum and national tests based on Common Core’s standards by the two testing consortia funded by the U.S. D.E."
I can’t really speak to that. I think it would be a case of seeing who can make a higher stack of experts on their side.
Consistency is the foundation for children to learn best. We have changed curriculums and standards multiple times just since the 13 years my children entered school, not to mention in the interim from when I was in school. I feel my Utah public education was not just adequate, but gave me direction to develop critical thinking and creativity. Why are those of us who are now directing the education of our children dismissing a critical variable for success - consistency with classic models that are tried and true, so to speak?
Consistency is very important to me as a teacher too. I look forward to the core standards for my course being more consistent across the years and across the country. People move so much; it’s a shame that such relocation often results in repetition in school. One of my favorite aspects of my new core is that maybe it won’t be so subject to the vagaries and political trends of the state.
Also, I listened to Education committee meetings during the legislative session. In one, Superintendent Shumway told legislators that implementing and funding the Adaptive Testing required for Common Core was his priority. When a legislator pressed, asking if he was sure it was a higher priority than reducing class size or teacher pay, Superintendent Shumway firmly stuck to his answer. Education Funding is a concern for most of us. The priority of adopting and mandating statewide the implementation of new testing is very costly, especially when our priority in our schools and communities are different.
This is something that the state legislature can control. The Common Core did not mandate adaptive testing- our state legislature did. I agree we are spending a lot- maybe too much- on testing. However, it is a separate issue from Core Standards adoption.
Though the emphasis that these standards will prepare more of our students for college better, the definition of Utah's Common Core in HB15 (2012) is as follows, beginning on line 46: "" S. [ Common ] Utah's common .S core" means H. [ a ] the .H core set of English language mathematic mathematics standards developed H. [ by states ] .H and adopted by the State Boadefines huh define the knowledge and skills students should have in kindergarten through grade 12 to enable them to be prepared for college or workforce training." Note that though this change is promoted by focusing on college readiness, there is also an "or" rather than "and/or" to prepare our children for workforce training. Though having the skills to earn an income in the future is something most of us as parents hope our children gain, my reason for sending my children to school is to educate them, to give them a foundation of knowledge and help them use their minds to apply what they learned in a way that allows them to think more clearly and confidently independent of school. It is misleading to omit the 2nd goal of this curriculum.
The Common Core doesn’t make that distinction, it’s true. Since the Common Core is only adopted in Language Arts and Science, though, it’s not really the determining factor in whether the district offers college AND career training. Again, separate issue. I think the bill is referring to the entire set of Utah core standards, which spans dozens of courses. Those standards can be found here: http://www.uen.org/core/. As you look through the long lists of courses and standards, you will see a definite emphasis on workplace-ready training, especially in CTE.
I have been talking to educators in my area. Though none of them will publicly voice their concerns - citing concern about maintaining their job, not one of them thinks common core should be implemented. They are concerned for a variety of reasons, and tell me they can't speak against it because it is their job to do as they are told.
That’s just odd. The English and Science teachers in my district are very supportive of the Common Core. We talk about it at lunch, at meetings, at dinner with friends, and the feedback is almost always positive. It’s strange but possible that there is a wide gap of feeling between teachers in different districts.
This is NOT a locally initiated change, but a top-down decision. None of these educators were asked during an exploratory process what their ideas, suggestions, questions, feelings, opinions, etc. were relating in consideration of these changes. After decisions had been made, money spent, elected officials created mandates, and there was no turning back - then they were made aware as they would be the ones who would be required to adapt their classrooms to accommodate.
Yep- welcome to my life. This is how most decisions in my profession are made. I just keep doing my best. This is usually pretty annoying for me. The decision to implement the Common Core, though, is one I’m glad of.
If what Kimberly Harmon says is accurate, that this is allowing students to become thinkers and not just passive followers, could you give me sources to support your position?
The best source I can think of is the core itself: “8RI9 Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.” That’s one of my favorite new standards. I based a lesson on Benedict Arnold around this standard. I had students read two articles by historians: one portrayed Arnold as more hero than villain, the other was the opposite. Students had to not only analyze why the authors’ viewpoints differed, but decide whether our common interpretation of Benedict Arnold was just. It was a great chance for value-based debate.
In our presentation, we were told that persuasive writing was going to be completely replaced with argumentative writing. Argumentative writing was presented as being more rigorous in that instead of simply presenting your point of view and using your writing skills to persuade the reader to an understanding of your perspective, students are now required to support ANY and ALL points with at least two sources of evidence.
I wasn’t given that specific requirement in my district. I view argumentative writing as a process of exploration and research before decision, instead of making the decision and then just finding convenient research to back it up. At least, that is how my instructional emphasis has changed over the last year or so as a result of the Common Core standards. I can tell you that my students produced the best argumentative/persuasive writing of the last four years this year. I keep all of my students’ papers as saved MS Word files, and went back to compare. Emphasizing the process of analysis and argument over persuasion sharpened their reasoning.
Jenny Cassidy Olsen, currently informational texts are utilized in both the language arts and other disciplines. How is increasing these materials, especially when those texts are already the primary material in classes outside of language arts (history, science, etc.), "more rigorous?"
So much of what we teach in English is about reading and literacy skills, not just literature appreciation. This has always been the case. The process of literacy instruction is so much more complex inspiring a love of reading (if only that did the trick!). You have to teach kids how to attend to textual clues, how to break down meanings, how to outline details, how to remember the ideas from multiple paragraphs and combine them later to create understanding. . . and that’s just a tiny bit. The Common Core requires that students analyze informative text. “Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.” The old core simple said, “Infer meaning from explicit information in text.” That’s an example of how the new core is more rigorous in regards to informative text.
It certainly is a different emphasis, but as an English teacher, do you not appreciate the depth that a student gleans in reading a variety of genres, especially creative writing styles where an author can communicate a variety of themes using so many different writing approaches?
Yes, which is why I will continue to read a variety of genres with my students. I think you’ve concluded that students will somehow be fiction-deficient. I don’t see that, and I’m actually planning years’ worth of curriculum for seventh and eighth grade. I have seen nothing from my department, district, or the state that would make me think fiction is losing its place in my classroom.
How is exposing our students to less fiction going to improve their writing skills, understanding of literature, enjoyment (motivation) of reading, appreciation for creative contributions, etc?
Fiction isn’t going anywhere. See above. If your school does abandon fiction, you as a school community council member are perfectly poised to counter that.
Stuart Bailey, your comment hits home. "I'm so tired of doing more with less." This is a real concern, as education funding is limited. What cost analysis was done before agreeing to the new consortia?
I’m not sure.
What data do we have to justify the expense of implementing all of the changes, many mandated to the schools from the State (legislature and State School Board) without even fully funding the mandates?
I’m sure there will be a cost involved (textbooks, training, etc) but the mandates are the same. Online testing, regular textbook adoption, and professional development are already mandated. Ascribing all the cost of the things to the Common Core would be inaccurate. They were there anyway. How different the cost would be if we stuck to the old core . . . that I can’t say. I don’t know if anyone has really run those numbers. Professional development isn’t exactly a fixed cost each year, so it may be impossible to predict the difference.
We need to be very prudent with the limited funds we have, and we need to be mindful of those who are charged with the daily compliance - it will be a burden to them. And is it all worth it?
In my professional opinion, yes.
When questions go unanswered, what other sources do we have to turn to? If we want the public to be accurately informed, it is the duty of those making the commitments to ensure there is adequate access to information, and open communication.
In the case of the Common Core, the backlash caught me by surprise. I have my class curriculum posted on my class website, with a link to the core standards it is based on. It’s there, it’s just that no one has really taken an interest before now. I don’t think I’m alone in being bewildered by the political maelstrom. Publicly validating the state’s core standards has just never come up before on a wide scale.
Teachers, can you be specific? Not just a feel-good everything is going well type post. I want to know specifically what you are seeing that is making a difference in your classrooms.
I hope I have been.
Have you noticed ANYTHING that concerns you?
Yes, I am concerned we did not adopt the Common Math core. I think we should have.
Those who are simply stating they are "an educator," could you be more specific about your role in education? And again, specifically, what do you see that leads you to write in support of this change? Compare and contrast. ;)
Hopefully I did so. To be very specific, I teach 8th grade Honors English, 8th grade English, and 7th grade Computer Applications at Diamond Fork Jr High in Nebo district.
Monday, November 21, 2011
grading: 4.7339 hours
lesson prep: 4.9808 hours
switching out teacher workstations: 2.116 hours
literacy letter: 7.4116 hours
The literacy letter is the best example of where I could work smarter, not harder. For starters, I don't know what to have other people do, or how to get them started, or when to have them help. I've been doing what was right in front of me without looking far enough ahead to plan for help. Hopefully, by tracking my time I can plan next year's letter better.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
7th grade spelling curriculum: 3.98 hours
I'm planning and conducting model lessons for the 7th grade teachers in addition to writing the curriculum.
Computer Applications grading: 0.47 hours
I've been stealing a lot of class time to grade their assignments this week, while they have worked on projects.
Honors English 8: 8.75 hours
I had a couple of grading and planning binges. Moving to the new core, and emphasizing mastery grading over completion grading is a lot of work.
Literacy Letter: 3.07 hours
I worked on this during the school day as well. It's done, and all that's left is the printing and stuffing. Hoorah!
Tech Services (mobile lab maintenance): 2.21 hours
There have been many unhappy laptops lately, and I think it might continue. There's got to be something going on with the software updates . . .
Updating school website: 0.48
My goal of having that site run itself gets a bit closer each year.
School Community Council: 1.12 hours
In "Studying Teacher Moves," Michael Goldstein offers some good sense about what we know and what we need to know about effective teaching. Not just effective teaching- efficient teaching. The passage that seems most relevant to my life is:
That's the question that keeps ringing in my head: exactly what am I allowed to stop doing? Or just do less of?
A second issue is that researchers don’t worry about teacher time. Education researchers often put forward strategies that make teachers’ lives harder, not easier. Have you ever tried to “differentiate instruction”? When policy experts give a lecture or speak publicly, do they create five different iterations for their varied audience? Probably not.
The return on investment for teacher time and the opportunity cost of spending it one way rather than another is rarely taken into account. In what other, valuable ways could teachers be spending the time taken up with building “differentiation” into a lesson plan? They could phone parents, tutor kids after school, grade papers, or analyze data. Much research implies that teachers should spend more time doing X while not indicating where they should spend less time.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Adapting to the new core has been a good challenge. Teachers in my school have always pushed informational reading strategies, but I feel this takes it up a level. Reading to find whether a conflict is grounded in differing facts or differing interpretations of fact is an essential skill for any literate adult. It's also a skill that takes some time and instruction to develop.
"Snared in the web of a Wikipedia liar" from New York Times
"In an effort to boost reliability, Wikipedia looks to experts" from Wall Street Journal
"Is Wikipedia a Victim of Its Own Success?" from Time Magazine
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Every single one gets checked daily. It takes around 8 minutes at the beginning of class, and it saves re-teaching time later in the lesson. I pick one skill from the assignment that is essential, or I predict may need re-teaching, and make sure students can do that first thing. Checking every bellwork every day means that no student, no matter what dire academic straights he or she is in, can get through the class period without showing that they know something.
Today we worked with Audacity. For bellwork, students opened a 30 second piece of music and changed the pitch 40%.
When we worked with Adobe Fireworks, I made single-tool tasks for the students like
Remove the tree from this picture with the rubber stamp tool.
Use the effects menu to change Bob Hope to match the background colors.
Cut the penguin out using the lasso tool and paste in 5 more so he has company.
When we worked with Flash, students would create simple tweens.
Starting class with these small tasks has, I believe, ensured that students are ready to learn. It has been valuable feedback for me as a teacher, and I get it right at the beginning of class.