Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Standards Within the Standards

Aida Walqui, Nanette Koelsch, and Mary Schmida:

Persuasion Across Time and Space

This unit shows instructional approaches that are likely to help ELLs meet new standards in English Language Arts. The lessons address potent literacy goals and build on students’ background knowledge and linguistic resources. Built around a set of famous persuasive speeches, the unit supports students in reading a range of complex texts. It invites them to write and speak in a variety of ways and for different audiences and purposes. To learn more, see the lessons below and read our Guidelines for ELA Instructional Materials Development.

Lesli Maxwell:

Susan Pimentel, a lead author of the English/language arts common standards—which 46 states have adopted—and a member of the Understanding Language team, said the persuasion unit is especially strong in its "range and quality of text." During a webinar on the unit last month, she called it a "model in what the common core means" by selecting text that is connected by purpose and topic.

I looked over the unit, and let me tell you, after looking at that bizarro crap Student Achievement Partners has been turning out as Common Core exemplars, it is a breath of fresh air, almost as if it has been written by people who have actually taught English to middle school students and find writing curriculum to be an interesting task.

At the same time, in reinforces my concerns about the design of the CC standards. Look, this unit is about persuasion, and persuasion is rather pointedly excluded from the Common Core standards, at least according to a strict reading of the text, and in comparison to similar documents. You can say I'm being overly pedantic, but look, why did they take it out? It wasn't an accident, it had to be a deliberate decision.

Similarly, the unit authors do exactly what I would and put ethos, logos, and pathos as the centerpiece of the unit with a three period lesson. The question is, do you need to teach that for the Common Core? It is hard to imagine not doing it when the standards are so focused on argument, but there are no standards that make it clear that students need to, even though there certainly could be. I'm honestly not sure what the standards demand here, particularly because there is this weird commentary about not teaching vocabulary specific to the discipline of English. Are we supposed to be ignoring that?

I can't tell if there is an entire second set of implied ELA standards that we're all supposed to know are required by phrases like "evaluate a speaker's... use of... rhetoric." Are we supposed to know that that implicitly requires something in particular? Can't someone write that down then?

Also, I find Pimentel's comment to be strange because these texts aren't connected by topic, just purpose. This is not the kind of thing that will systematically build subject area knowledge in, say, history.

To a great extent, my concerns are academic and don't matter: people will reasonably expand upon the literal wording of the standards, teach persuasion, etc., and it will be fine for the most part. And let me make it clear that I like this unit as a unit after a quick scan. But still, my main argument is that the Common Core ELA standards are just not very well executed standards. The issues I'm raising should not be debatable issues at all.

No comments: