Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Second Quick Pass at K-12 Common Core

I took a second skim over the draft K-12 Common Core English Language Arts standards this morning. Quick thoughts:

  • They are actually called English Language Arts standards now.

  • They insist on dividing literature into narrative, drama, and poetry. Google tells me this formulation is not unheard of, but given that poetry and drama can also be narrative to varying degrees, and the document's definition of narrative writing says "Narrative writing is fundamental to novels, short stories, biographies, autobiographies, historical accounts, and plays," there's a considerable amount of conceptual slop here for a document which aims to define the discipline for a generation.
  • I'm not qualified to judge the elementary grades, but my overall impression is that it is a pretty steep slope up to fifth grade, at which point you're doing everything you're ever going to be required to do in English, just at a lower level. After that, it is lather, rinse, repeat at higher levels of difficulty for seven more years.
  • Narrative writing is excluded from the high school standards, and the author's are so guilt-wracked by including it at all that I'm not sure I could fulfill the standard, let alone the average educated adult. Actually, the "narrative" standard is rather clearly a "short story" standard, so again, the underdeveloped concept of genre within the standards is problematic. "Genre" is a useful construct in the language arts -- they should use it!
  • In particular, some of the "Observing craft and structure" standards for literature will be particularly deadly in their classroom implementation; e.g.: for grades 9 and 10: "evaluate how playwrights use soliloquies to portray the internal thinking and feeling of characters." That means lots of evaluate the soliloquy questions on the grade 10 test, and two years of drill on soliloquy evaluation for millions of kids. Ug. Each of these narrow little standards is ok on its own, but there aren't very many of them, so you'll end up over-emphasizing what's a pretty arbitrary set of academic tasks.

More to come...

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