Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Another Common Core Training


Today is yet another Common Core training meeting.  It will be my second of three focused on the English Language Arts portion of Common Core.  I also have two more math trainings to attend as well.  This puts me out of my classroom twice in a matter of a week.

I don't mind training workshops, I just wish I didn't have to miss school for them.  But, then that would mean having them on days that aren't school days.  Which would be fine with me if they were the professional development days.  Missing six days out of the school year just feels like a lot to me, and I always hate being out of my classroom.

The good part is, though, that I'll be learning more about Common Core.  

Last Thursday's training was pretty good.  We learned a lot of new ideas to use in the classroom that help focus on the common core math shifts.  When there's content I can take away and implement straight in to my classroom, I like it.  It's just those training days that are nothing but telling us about the standards, what they're designed for, and the content we now have to teach.  We already know that.  We just want more ideas on how to ease it in to our classrooms without disrupting the natural order, and highlighting any gaps that are going to come about because of the shift.

I am a proponent for Common Core.  That's a loaded statement that could get a mix of responses.  I believe the educational focus needs a change, an improvement.  Content should be deeper rather than wider.  Skills should be more honed in to college and life preparedness.  We should be teaching our kids how to problem solve, think on their own, and develop their own strategies for overcoming areas where they struggle.  And the best way to do that is to align the standards to where they are built upon each year rather than introducing brand new concepts every couple of years.

I am a proponent for Common Core, I just struggle a little with being told HOW to teach it.  

Growing up, and dreaming of being a teacher, I was already brewing ideas for my classroom.  I modeled from my own teachers.  I dreamt of implementing certain lessons they'd taught, learning projects I had loved being part of.  Then, when I grew up and became a teacher, I found out that it wasn't that easy.  I couldn't just look at my standards and come up with my own plans and procedures for delivering the content to my students.

There are text books that need to be used.  There's a team that has to be collaborated with.  There are pacing guides that have to be adhered to.  

While I know that my team would be open to me "reinventing the wheel" and coming up with my own ideas to teach the skills that are being covered, I find that a lack of time to find and implement my own ideas is one of my biggest struggles.  When the majority of the team use the tools and skills associated with a text book, and work through the books in a certain order with certain time lines...it's very difficult for me to think on my feet and come up with my own materials that align and move as fluidly as the text book materials do.

Last year, I created my own units and taught the skills I wanted to for reading.  It was different, then, because the classes were set up different and I had a lot more leeway on how the content was delivered.  This year, we're focusing on grade level alignment...meaning all four classes are teaching the same skills each day.  There are no set rules about how I focus on those skills... but when I only have a week to focus on plural nouns and cause and effect, it's really hard to come up with another set of materials.

Maybe I'm just making up excuses.  Maybe I'm whining about nothing.  Well, I'm not really whining.  I don't have a problem using the basal or the materials that go with it.  I don't have a problem putting my own spin on how the content is delivered.  I just wish I had more time to put some of the ideas I have in to effect is all.  

I remember back in 4th grade, we did novel studies.  It's how I developed my love for Roald Dahl.  My teacher read his books to us, and we studied him and his writing style and the crazy vocabulary that he uses.  

In fact, when I think back to 4th grade, I don't remember a single lesson on spelling words, nouns, compound sentences, or subjects and predicates.  I remember learning how to read by reading.  I'm quite positive that my teacher taught those other things to me.  But, I don't remember it.  I took away a love for a certain author.  I took away spending my adult life collecting every single book Roald Dahl ever wrote, along with other authors I was introduced to, to build my own school library.  Ready to entice the minds of my kiddos, and hopefully instill a love of a certain author in to them.

I'm having a minor impact in that area.  During my 20 minutes a day that I do get to read aloud to my students, I've been reading them Roald Dahl books.  What I've discovered is when we go to the school library, many of my students are asking for his books.  They want to read more of his stuff.  They have started to enjoy his books, and crave more.

That's what I think the entire English Language Arts portion of my day should be about.  Developing the love of reading.  Sure, still focusing on the mechanics of reading..but in a way that resonates with the kids.  Deeper meaning.  Deeper take-away.  I would like for my own students to grow up and when asked who their favorite author is, can respond with a certain 4th grade teacher that introduced them to the world of whatever author it is they love.  

Being that I have such a mixed bag of levels in my classroom, it's a very crucial time to be able to make an impact on my students that generates a love for reading.  I have several kids that hate reading.  Not because they don't enjoy it...they hate it because they don't read as well as they think they should.  They struggle and get frustrated when asked to read from the text book or other reading materials that are used.  That's because it's too difficult for them to read.  When I read the story to them, and then ask them questions...they have more appreciation for the story.  They are able to connect with it, give opinions, analyze the writing style.  

My hope is that, at some point, I'll be able to introduce more and more ways for the kids to learn how to read by enjoying it.  Rather than assigning pages for them to complete. 

And I'm hoping that all this training we are going to receive on Common Core will help with that.  That's my hope.  Regardless of what anyone else tells me, I'm positive that it's possible to get my kids reading, enjoying to read, and still learning everything they need to know by the year's end.  

I made a pact with myself that I would NEVER teach to a test.  I figure that if I'm teaching everything they need to know, they'll do just fine on any test they are given.  Unfortunately, the real world has taught me that despite my desires, accomplishing that goal is a lot harder than it sounds.  However, last year I was able to prove that my kids learned what they needed to...and did OK on their tests at the end of the year.  So, I know it's possible.  

My hope is, now that all the crazy sport stuff is over for a while, I'll really be able to buckle down and look at implementing some changes in to my classroom.  Changes that promote self learning, self discovery, and igniting a passion for learning.  

That is my hope.

We shall see where it goes from here.

OK, time for me to stop talking and start getting ready.

Have a great Tuesday!!


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