Tuesday, April 03, 2012

It is Nearly Time for David Coleman to Exit Stage Right

A couple weeks ago Valerie Strauss posted a teacher's critical response to his day of training on the Common Core ELA standards, which centered on an exemplar close reading by David Coleman and friends of the Gettysburg Address. Last week Kathleen Porter-Magee gamely rose to its defense.

She gets stuck with a lot of this kind of double-talk, however:

The exemplar was just that: a model. An example of how you might implement the Common Core ELA standards. These example lessons are not—nor are they meant to be, I assume—part of a fully fleshed out, scripted curriculum that teachers must implement. Instead, it is meant to show the level of planning required to align instruction to this vision of CCSS implementation. This is an important distinction. A scripted curriculum constrains teachers’ words. A detailed model is merely meant to show the rationale behind a plan so that teachers can better understand it.

It simply isn't clear what this document is supposed to be at all -- especially, I might add, if you read it the way the Common Core teaches you to read, focusing only on what the text itself says. It calls itself a "unit," which generally refers to a much larger group of lessons. It has no objectives, and does not cite the Common Core standards directly at all -- despite, I might add, the standards' own emphasis on textual citation. It fails to explain and support its rationale for its most prominent feature: discouraging "... giving background context or substantial instructional guidance at the outset" or asking what it calls "non text-dependent questions." What this means while reading a historical primary source text is very difficult to pin down in practice. For example, the exemplar specifically recommends asking "What important thing happened in 1776?" but not "Why did the North fight the civil war?" It does helpfully suggest that "Many students will likely be familiar with the phrase civil war."

Which gets to the larger point. Why are we reading this if we aren't even necessarily familiar with the phrase "civil war?" It is not to understand Lincoln, the Civil War, or American history. It is to "Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance." Did we do that? Good! Let's move on to the next "unit!"

I could go on and on with this...

The impact of Lincoln choosing “conceive” is significant, since in one word it captures the idea that the founding or conception of the country was at once the beginning of a place and a big idea – that “all men are created equal.” Students begin to see the power of Lincoln’s language by looking at this word choice with care.

Speaking of word choice, "beginning of a place?"

Strauss posted a much better response today from Stephanie Day:

The problem was with the exemplar, a prepackaged lesson, not the actual standards.

I wouldn't go that far, but yes, the example sucks, and Common Core advocates are going to have to consider whether David Coleman is doing their movement more harm than good, and if defending his slipshod work is worth their time.

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