Common Core and the Man and Marzano

I have this guilty feeling that I must get off my chest.  I clearly remember when we–and I use that term loosely because very few “we” deigned to listen at the time–were introduced to “common core,” I was with my former principal at a break out session for a convention in Orlando.  We had ended up in the same session, next to each other.  The session opened with the now viral video, “What Is Common Core?” and ended with “table-top” Twitter, only on large, expensive post-it chart paper (the kind I can’t afford in my classroom at a whopping $45 a pad).  I was vaguely intrigued and more than a little excited.  It didn’t take very long until I knew how very different this would look in our classrooms, but is was much longer before we realized how the Man would bastardize our practices and the intent of CC, twisting into the fray performance pay, mysterious formative assessments, Marzano checklists and workshops, and unknown state tests.  And, here we are, almost five years later.   As a reading teacher, I am still intrigued and vaguely excited about ELA Common Core (in Florida called, ironically enough, LAFS).

In spite of the Man, I have spent 3 of the past 4 years really teaching Common Core, trying new instructional practices, anticipating this year–the year where our pay is dependent upon our VAM score and evaluations.  I have taken risks before it was necessary to take risks in order to practice and reflect.  Marzano asks the teacher and the student to do this.  Common Core (or LAFS) also does this.  Common Core got plopped down with Marzano and rewritten by the Man and (in just 4 years), at least in my district, stamped with the all-things digital stamp, which wasn’t provided for my classroom (I’m still fighting to get my three student computers upgraded or replaced).   Nonetheless, although the FCAT has finally gone away, the FCAT echoes are still bouncing off the walls of the school as my colleagues and the parents label the students by their FCAT score.  Naturally (dare I say?).  The FCAT is all we know.  Teaching to a test is all we know.  So, how do we teach to an unknown test (Florida came up with their own test) on antiquated technology (the test for 5th is entirely online, except for science, which will be the same old FCAT) with students who took the Florida Writes (an entirely different sort of writing test)?

The old saying, “It takes a village,” rings true.  In the past 5 years, one thing that became very clear in reading and practicing the standards is that my 5th students are expected to collaborate, as well as come to discussions prepared.  Teachers must do the same, and not like before.  We can’t do lipservice to the PLC gods and our administration.  We must embrace this and work together or the very thing that will be lost will be us, our profession, our art, our passion.  In Have You Tried Making Common Core Lemonade?, Amber Chandler reminds us to always keeping the students in mind.  If you think of teachers learning and maneuvering through the new practices, revised practices, new standards, performance measures (like Marzano), red-tape, endless bureaucracy, test spec’s, research and results from states that have already implemented common core, endless newspaper articles and blogs on the evil common core, etc., etc, etc., as learners and students also, you will see it really does take a village.  We must collaborate.

Indeed, right off the bat, Chandler establishes that she found common core an “awesome opportunity” to reexamine her pedagogical practices and “instigate” some conversations. Common core constantly demands teachers to question and reflect.  I love the word that Chandler chose here: instigate.  I realize that this blog is about being irresistible and all that, but I make almost no bones about it–common core has been politicized and bureaucracized so that many teachers are not even trying to wrap their heads around it.  So, how we hold court, so to speak, is paramount.   Instigation takes some finesse and, since I am in no position to convert by the sword, I have begun to realize (this year) after reaching out beyond my school, that I have to instigate some much-needed conversations.

Our school’s instructional coach, I must say, has a tough job.  It is really her job to instigate and, well, advocate for the teachers, even as she walks a fine line between administration and teacher.  It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.  Classroom teachers seem to harbor ill feelings toward anyone who demands more of us or delivers more ultimatums because we feel it is really our butts on the line.  What I have come to believe is that it is our collective butts on the line, and this is really, really scary–not at all, vaguely intriguing or mildly exciting.

When I look around, perusing the Internet in the wee hours of the morning (I’ve been on the Internet since 5 am this fine Saturday morning), I see great things in the name of Common Core.  I get to collaborate, reflect, reexamine, discuss (the power of Twitter without post-it chart paper), and reach out.  Why is it so hard at my school to hold a proper conversation in PLCs?  The verb instigate is well-chosen by Chandler.  Common Core is difficult for my colleagues (and, therefore, myself) because our discussions and our reflections must foment growth and development, not only for the students, but for us, as well.  We’re stuck fostering discord and, even <gasps>, rebellion.

Maybe, in my radical dreamer’s heart, Common Core will instigate a rebellion against Marzano and the Man and VAM and performance pay and etc., etc., et cetera.  What our PLCs sometimes turn into is data-meetings without really good common data (something I have noticed throughout my teaching career).  I try to create formative assessments (and avail myself of already-made summative assessments) that reflect our standards and demonstrate what our students know and don’t know.  I deconstruct the standards and carefully craft my lessons.  I use information on state- and district-assessments that drives my instruction.  I am writing unit plans for the first time since grad school (there was a movement away from unit plans when I started teaching 10 years ago).  My colleagues share their lessons, but…

But.  We don’t collaborate.  We don’t discuss.  We share, but we never change (unless we do so independently).  We often complain (of course, we are frustrated).  We are told to collaborate, required to collaborate, forced to collaborate, but…

But.  The best conversation, when not instigated by a crafty, savvy teacher or administrator, is natural.  That’s why FCAT ghosts haunt us.  That’s why the conversations inevitable turn to the amount of paperwork and collaboration required in our jobs and how much work we are doing outside of work hours because we are so busy preparing Common Core and waiting for the Indians to attack the fort (with their Marzano I-pads) and rate us as beginners in absolutely everything because pay is tied to it in the name of teacher accountability.  Naturally.  And I dare say it!

There is good in Common Core (or LAFS–I just love that acronym).  There is good in Marzano (it is a really good tool).  There is some good (dare I say?) in the Man.  We all are striving, to reiterate Chandler, to better our students’ lives.  In reading her blog, I realized, too, that I am also guilty of being a literature teacher, craving it, sticking to it, being too comfortable in it, and slipping back into it when at a loss for collaboration.  Reflection tells me that if I am uncomfortable in something, it probably means I have something to learn, so just in the mere act of writing this blog, I realize that I must increase the nonfiction/informational exposure in my classroom, not just do lipservice.  Indeed, I already have irresistible ideas fomenting in my head and a day ahead of unit planning (oh, boy!).  I have to admit.  I am guiltily (because it is Saturday and I am a mom of 3 teenagers in various activities with an insistent husband who hovers over my shoulder and wants to know why I am up) looking forward to planning and creating irresistible circumstances for the coming week, in the name of Common Core, Marzano, and the Man.

I just wish I didn’t feel it was time to add instigation to part of my skill set and job duties.  I wish that the conversations flowed easily at my workplace (now that my eye’s are open and I see endless possibilities), that we were so all very human.

The literature teacher, the reader, the human in me has registered openings for my minor insurrection, such as “Resistance is futile,” and “Let me play the devil’s advocate…” and “whether ’tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune…” and “but…”

But.  I am still vaguely intrigued and excited.


Why Teachers Should Blog


This is my first year blogging as a teacher.  Every morning I get up and check my work emails, which also contain the new posts and comments on a few educational blogs I follow.  Anyone who reads this, which is probably mostly just me, knows that I love Two Writing Teachers, but recently through Slice of Life Tuesday participation, I have discovered so many dedicated, talented teachers I get excited just to get up and check my work email.

Every teacher should blog about their profession.  It may be quite a mixture of mundane with magical, the everyday with the teachable moment, the dirty with the sparkly fresh new year, but in the end it is small insights in one’s posts that inspire, cause me to stop and hold my breath, make me think.  There is absolutely time for analyzing, griping just a bit, and reorganizing oneself with fresh ideas that you beg, borrow, and steal from someone else.  Likewise, there is time for whimsy and exploration, discovery and research, writing and reflecting.

Each day, therefore, like a new school year, becomes a possibility.  Each blog I write moves me forward to (perhaps) uncharted territory.  Each word I blog helps me see more and that makes me strive to be better.  Something amazing happens when you think of yourself as a writer.  You become a creator.  I think every teacher should blog (just a bit), dabble (just a bit), and take a risk (just a bit), if only to hear their own voice and share in the eternal conversation that teachers love to share.

Reading Should Not Be a Reading Log

I have to agree with Donalyn Miller in her latest blog, No More Language Arts and Crafts.  I feel terrible requiring parent signatures for so many reasons.

First, many of my students don’t have parents that read with their children or follow what their children are reading.  They either do or don’t sign the reading log, and (like a fly on the wall) I can hear them say, “Do your homework or you’ll fail,” but with no real interest or love toward either their child or reading or both.  It’s just something that has to be done, just like it is something I have to assign.  I feel like a traitor every time I hold some child out of recess on Friday for “study hall” (even though, to my credit, I provide time in class for them to read and I will sign their logs myself).

Secondly, many of my students don’t read at home, even the ones that fill out their reading log.  They play sports or dance or play video games.  They probably have parents that will sign their reading logs, but they don’t even really do them, just go through the motions.  This is the majority.  The reading log is just another year of mindless accountability that they actually read 30 minutes on their slow trot to AR points assigned by STAR testing.  Some of these kids will do their reading logs all quin long, but come up with no passed or taken AR tests at the end of the quin (parents are always so surprised) and a few of these will actually read a big point book, like Eragon or Harry Potter or Divergent and get all there points in the nick of time (which I actually admire, as that was me as a child when it came to turning in assignments–not actually in the reading–but always the procrastinator).

And, lastly, there are students that do all their reading and more every night, accumulating hundreds of points, writing beautiful reading logs.  They have supportive parents.  These children and their parents do the right thing every time, never questioning the assignment, rarely making excuses for their children or themselves.  They are the quintessential students and families.  I dream of having all them in all my classes (but, alas, it is not so).  The problem?  The reading log is not stretching them as readers, pushing them, supporting them as they grow.  They already have the strategies to pick and choose reading log books, as well as discipline and organization to get them done and turned in on time.  There parents are well-versed in the reading log routine (sometimes even saying it is the bane of their evening existence on Thursday nights), but nonetheless supportive.

I justify reading logs for two reasons:  1) my team and school has required them to be standard across grade and they are mandatory across the school; and 2) the middle school (I’m at a K-8) always has a weekly reading log involving lots and lots of writing and summarizing (same format pretty much for all three years).  I have felt it would be somewhat unjust not to prepare my 5th graders for that and I also ardently want my students to read outside of school, even if they have sports or math homework or even play video games.  Realistically, I know many of my students live in home environments that are not conducive to reading or studying or homework, much less living free from stress.  I justify again thinking that reading might be an escape.

Wouldn’t it be great to have Donalyn Miller’s granddaughter in my reading class?  Oh, yes!  One of my students recently told me her grandmother showed her a trick for her spelling words.  After she showed me her trick, I asked if her grandmother was a teacher.

“Oh, yes!” my student says, “And she wrote a book about it.  She was a teacher on the circus train.”

Wow!  Yes!  Bring on Donalyn’s granddaughter and her wordless, award-winning story books.  How ridiculous that a child’s stress is from writing down such a title on her reading log.  Reading logs have become factory-driven products of learning.  What do they actually teach?  You can’t send home something students can’t do independently, so how do they help them grow?  Summarize, characterize, list a vocabulary word you didn’t know, draw a thinking map…blah blah blah blah blah.  And, I grade them!  I take them very seriously.

The dilemma exists in teacher evaluations.  I have to show that I have done everything and anything for each of my students to ensure they are on grade level, differentiating and tracking and accumulating data, just in case they don’t pass this new Florida test, and then documenting that they were below all year long, showed some growth.  Reading logs could show their growth.  Could, but at what cost?  Stress?  Apathy?  Avoidance?  Boredom?

Donalyn Miller’s blog reminded me that all of school (including homework) should be irresistible. Especially reading!  Not every aspect can be stress-free, but how will we know what a student can do if we limit them to a prescribed reading log.  How can we put a number on how many minimum minutes they have to read?  Reading should be like dinner with family and breath and play, and all those essential daily must-do’s.  Reading should be, as it is in my house, late into the night under the covers with a flashlight (and now the Kindle) because the reading is too irresistible to stop.  Reading should not be a reading log.