Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Coming Flowering of Curricula for Common Core ELA

Michael Goldstein:

Second, national standards go nicely with the rise of blogs, self-publishing and platforms like Some amazing teachers will sell their yearlong courses, often displacing textbook companies (or making licensing relationships with them). If you're teaching 9th grade algebra, do you want a book from Scholastic, or a whole curriculum (lesson plans, homework, classwork, a yearlong calendar, remediation plans, "Do-Nows," "Tickets-to-leave", quizzes, unit tests and a final exam) from the Teacher of the Year in, say, Philadelphia?

Regardless of my other shortcomings as an English teacher, I was pretty good at getting ideas for standards-based lesson plans and curricula. Disregarding actual effectiveness, would even claim my idea-generating capacities were exceptional. I wish I could find a copy of the Hamlet unit I wrote at Brown that was a mash-up of Pacesetter English and Walter Benjamin's The Origin of German Tragic Drama (one I sadly never got to try out...). With a good set of performance standards, I'm never at a loss for possibilities.

So in theory now that we seem to have nearly national standards and platforms for sharing lessons, there should be a national flowering of awesome online curriculum (and of unimaginably horrible curriculum, but perhaps it can be sorted). My enthusiasm for this flags when I look at the actual standards, though.

For example, what can you do with this:

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

Well... hm. We can read a text and answer the question. Discuss it. Write it down. Work on underlining, taking notes, outlining, graphic organizers maybe. Look at exemplary models of this kind of analysis. Uh... analyze some simpler pop culture texts that kids are familiar with in this way...

But basically, you're just practicing answering this question for every text you read. I'm not sure there is any curriculum to write, other than, "Don't forget to ask this question every time." This question will be on the final exam. Maybe I'm missing something.

And for some of these, you aren't competing with Scholastic's book:

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

You're competing with Scholastic's semantic analysis algorithm. A computer program can not only provide cogent, useful and immediate feedback on this kind of task, it may even be able to give you feedback based on the same algorithm that will be used in your high-stakes assessment. So while a couple cool lessons might be nice for variety, sheer repetition will win the day.

These standards are designed to facilitate the School-of-One-ization of English instruction.

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