Monday, August 23, 2010

Wait, What's a Standard?

What you need to know about the Common Core Common Core State Standards Initiative ELA Curriculum maps is that for each unit they list both:

Focus standards. These standards are taken directly from the CCSS and have been identified as especially important for the unit. Other standards are covered in each unit as well, but the focus standards are the ones that the unit has been designed to address specifically. Each grade includes a standards checklist that can be linked to from any unit in the grade. The checklist indicates which standards are covered in which unit—allowing teachers to overview standards coverage for the entire school year. 

Student objectives. These are the main goals for student learning and student work in the unit. They describe what students should know and be able to do when the unit is completed. It is not an exhaustive list; it is meant to provide focus and clarity for teacher planning purposes.

That is, they yadda yadda the CCSSI standards, but what the students should actually "know and be able to do" is entirely different. I don't know what the fuck anybody actually thinks standards are for. I have no idea. What are we even talking about?

For example, in grade 9, Epic Poetry, Heroism, focus standards:

  • RL.9-10.2: 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.
  • RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
  • RI.9-10.7: Analyze various accounts of a subject in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story told in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.
  • W.9-10.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • SL.9-10.3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
  • L.9-10.1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

And the student outcomes:

  • Identify and explain the elements of an epic poem.
  • Identify and explain the characteristics of an epic hero.
  • Analyze the relationship between myths and legends and epic poetry.
  • Examine the historical context of literary works.
  • Compare and contrast how related themes may be treated in different genres (here, epic poetry and contemporary nonfiction).
  • Hone effective listening skills during oral presentations and class discussions.

The outcomes don't follow from the standards at all. They're a completely different set of standards.

OK, sample activities and assessments:


Write an essay in which you take a position on whether or not Aeneas or Odysseus (or a contemporary soldier from another reading) exhibits the characteristics of an epic hero. State your thesis clearly and include at least three pieces of evidence to support the thesis.  (W.9-10.1)


Write a poem or prose narrative about a journey you or someone you know has taken, using epic similes, epithets, and allusions. (W.9-10.3)


Write an essay in which you compare the ways in which the theme of heroism is treated in The Aeneid or The Odyssey and one of the contemporary nonfiction accounts. State thesis clearly and include at least three pieces of evidence to support the thesis. (RL.9-10.2, RI.9-10.7, W.9-10.2)

Oral Presentation/Class Discussion

Play excerpts from Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas and lead the class in a discussion on whether this rendering of an epic in another medium is or is not “faithful” to the original. Discuss why or why not. Ask classmates to provide specific evidence for their opinions. (RL.9-10.7, SL.9-10.2, SL.9-10.3, SL.9-10.4)


Select a one-minute passage from The Odyssey or The Aeneid and recite it from memory. Include an introduction that states:

  • What the excerpt is.
  • Who wrote it.
  • Why it is significant as an example of an important literary tradition. (RL.9-10.6, SL9-10.6)
Seminar Question

“Is Aeneas/Odysseus courageous?” The seminar question may also be used as an essay topic. (RL.9-10.3 and SL.9-10.1, SL.9-10.4, and SL.9-10.6)

Those are nice enough assignments, but look this isn't mysterious. That's not based on the standards. A curriculum aligned to the CCSSI standards would look more like this:

Determine the theme or central idea of [THE ODYSSEY] and analyze in detail its development over the course of [THE ODYSSEY], including how it emerges and is refined and shaped by specific details; provide an objective summary of [THE ODYSSEY]. In an essay, s'il vous plaît.

Analyze how [ODYSSEUS] develops over the course of [THE ODYSSEY], interacts with [TELEMACHUS and PENELOPE], and advances the plot or develops the themes of [THE ODYSSEY] (as you described above). In an essay, s'il vous plaît.

That's what's in the standards. They weren't written that way by accident.

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