It is this absence of context that most worries me about the way we seem to be responding to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)--as if this document somehow represented a completed whole that we could pick up and apply directly to children like a topical cream to an itch. I keep returning to the video of David Coleman offering a model lesson "about what it might look like to take the Common Core State Standards in literacy seriously in a daily classroom and begin to show what kind of shifts that might mean." What continues to astound me is that any teaching and learning model could be offered that fails to include students. Mr. Coleman delivers his model without the students. One of the most important maturation shifts I see in teachers happens when they shift their attention from focusing rather exclusively on what they are teaching, to focusing on what children are learning and how they are expressing that learning. This shift represents important learning.
Mr. Coleman offers us a rather incomplete model, but truly it is not his offering that concerns me. Mr. Coleman is not a teacher and to expect deep understanding of something as complex as the connections between teaching and learning is to expect too much. Rather, I am deeply concerned by the large number of educators, such as state commissioners, superintendents and other administrators who have watched this model and have have failed to articulate how partial an offering Mr. Coleman serves.
The absence of students in a national model lesson is a fundamental problem, not a semantic difference. We need to ask ourselves: Do we see teaching as connected to learning or do we see it as a solo act?
On a hot June morning in suburban Delaware, in the chintzy, windowless ballroom of a hotel casino, David Coleman stood at a podium reciting poetry. After reading Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” a classic example of the villanelle form, Coleman wanted to know why green is the only color mentioned in the poem, why Thomas uses the grammatically incorrect go gentle instead of go gently, and how the poet’s expression of grief is different from Elizabeth Bishop’s in her own villanelle, “One Art.”
Why indeed is the color green the only one mentioned in the poem? "It represents life, Mr. Coleman?" I'm not sure how far it goes beyond that. In "Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay," it causes you to read "deeds" as "reeds?" Do I have evidence for that in the text? It is just how I read it. Also is "Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay," mentioning a color? No? Can you cite some evidence from the text to support your argument?
As to the significance of "go gentle" vs. "go gently," I have no clue. "Gently" seems to lilt a bit more; "gentle" flows less gently. That's just the way I read it though; do I have any evidence from the text? I guess Professor Senechal gets it:
All interesting questions. But “go gentle” is not grammatically incorrect. Here “gentle” is a predicate complement; it corresponds with the subject of the sentence, the implied “you” of the imperative. By using “gentle,” Dylan Thomas means that his father should remain ungentle, that he should not submit to “that good night.” If he had used “gently” instead, it would have modified the verb “go” and given the line a different and more limited meaning. “Gentle” applies to the father, to the person; “gently,” to the going. (To me, “gentle” carries a tinge of reverence for that reason.) These little points do matter, because when one hears the grammar in “Do not go gentle into that good night,” one also hears what makes the line unusual.
How does she know it is about his father?
Those aren't bad questions per se, especially if you want students to approach texts as academic puzzles used to generate assignments. That'll get you through your college freshman lit requirement. I'm reminded of a line by Robert Scholes:
For me the ultimate hell at the end of all our good New Critical intentions is textualized in the image of a brilliant instructor explicating a poem before a class of stupefied students.
At least everything so far maps clearly to one or more Common Core ELA standards. Presumably the comparison to the Elizabeth Bishop poem Coleman mentioned would be covered by ELA standard 9, grade band 11-12:
Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.
This is a very strange standard, and one of Coleman's favorites. For some reason, it contains a unique range of reading (certain periods of American Lit), despite sitting directly above a dedicated range of reading standard for the grade band. It asks the student to... what exactly? Demonstrate knowledge, including how texts treat themes or topics? It doesn't actually ask for a direct comparison of the texts, and there is already a complete theme standard (#2).
This could be a generic standard about making comparisons between texts (without limiting the range of texts or the type of comparison. Or it could have been a clear content standard about American Literature. Instead it is a muddle.
The weird thing is that Coleman's example doesn't fit this standard for two objective reasons:
- Dylan Thomas is not an American poet.
- Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" was written in the 1970's.
Now the point here isn't "Gotcha, it is impossible to teach this lesson under Common Core." But it is very, very peculiar that Coleman managed to construct his standards in such a way that his own examples don't fit. It is bizarre, really. And incredibly careless. Insultingly so. The idea that this standard is psychometrically distinct is ridiculous.