A Recipe for Success


Every two weeks we receive a vegetable box from our community-supported agriculture, or CSA. If you are not familiar with this concept, a cooperative farm offers “shares” that others can purchase to receive locally grown food that they raise. People receive what is in season. This week, it was tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, onions, parsley, leeks, and even mushrooms! The fun part is finding recipes that incorporate these ingredients for healthy meals for our family.

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I share this because as we peered into our box this evening, it reminded me of a tweet I sent out last Friday. It received quite a bit of attention, in terms of retweets and favorites.

Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli2) addressed our entire professional staff last Friday regarding differentiated assessment and grading. The analogy he used, regarding standards as ingredients, is a great way to think about how to integrate the Common Core into our instruction. I believe this was the intended spirit of the developers of the #CCSS. They did not want to dictate curriculum, but rather provide benchmarks for educators as we prepare for coherent and appropriate instruction.

What are your thoughts? How do you make sense of the Common Core State Standards and put them in perspective? Please share in the comments.

Is Common Core Developmentally Appropriate?

The following is a comment I left on Diane Ravitch’s blog post, titled “Why The Common Core State Standards for Grades K-3 Are Wrong“.

Thank you for breaking this down. The argument presented seems to be more concerned about the assessments that will be used to determine student achievement, and not necessarily the standards themselves. I believe there are two issues here, and they each need a more thorough analysis so these conversations do not devolve into punditry.

There will always be standards. Look at Indiana. They are going to replace the Common Core with standards that are…very similar to the Common Core (Source: http://blog.heritage.org/2014/04/22/indiana-education-standards-common-core-trojan-horse/). What a colossal waste of energy, time and public dollars.

What the CCSS got right was laying out what can be expected of learners at each grade level. We tested this out in our school by focusing on informational writing this year in all content areas. Each grade level built rubrics around that standard, and then provided lots of modeling, scaffolding, and practice for students to attain proficiency.

What were the results? You be the judge: https://www.evernote.com/shard/s55/sh/51185e18-88dd-431d-8aed-638786566303/396f9c4174372f88b54f1fb20396e39a We had each grade level submit two or three pieces of exemplary work (anonymous), along with the students’ reflections. As students now walk the hallway, they can see what is expected of each learner K-5.

Of course, not every student made the mark at mid-year. We get that and continue to help each learner meet their potential. So why not strive for excellence? When I hear “not developmentally appropriate”, I cringe, because I believe it is a slippery slope toward low expectations schoolwide.

If the argument made here were more about the high stakes tests and how they are inappropriately aligned, administered, and misused, then I would agree 100%. But to lump the CCSS with high stakes tests, or with one person’s decision to cancel a kindergarten play, does few in education any favors.

Where Do Learning Targets Come From?

Where Do Learning Targets Come From?

After reading Learning Targets by Moss and Brookhart (ASCD, 2012), this graphic represents my current understanding. We take a standard and break it up into smaller learning objectives. Then we distill the learning objective into a kid-friendly phrase, visual, or action. This is what we would share with our students in our day-to-day instruction. Not the learning objective. Not the standard. The learning target– what students should be aiming for in their performance of understanding. (I offered two learning targets for each objective only as an example.)

Let me know if I am way off base on this.

Making Sense of the Complex

Many public educators are feeling overwhelmed by all the initiatives coming our way. I too get anxious when I think about everything we are expected to do. A conspiracy theorist might suggest that some people in power might want us in this frame of mind, but I try to stay focused on what I can control.

I am reading a terrific resource titled Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam (Solution Tree, 2011). Here is one of my favorite passages so far:
Trying to change students’ classroom experience through changes in curriculum is very difficult. A bad curriculum well taught is invariably a better experience for students than a good curriculum badly taught: pedagogy trumps curriculum. Or more precisely, pedagogy is curriculum, because what matters is how things are taught, rather than what is taught. (p 13)
Couldn’t you replace “curriculum” with “standards”? I know this quote helps me keep things in perspective. I don’t know who said it, but good schools are only collections of good teachers. I am happy and feel fortunate that I work in the school that I do.

A Takeaway from the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention

This is part of a post I shared with my teachers this week on our staff blog. It is a summary of what I took away from the excellent WSRA Convention in Milwaukee on February 7-9, 2013.


The Wisconsin State Reading Association conference was an excellent experience. I attended very informative sessions and had great conversations with other educators. You can read all of the tweets associated with five of the keynotes and sessions on my Storify page. I plan to share more both formally and informally.

One of the common threads during the conference was the Common Core. But not in the way I expected. Instead of hearing how schools should be addressing these standards in everything we do, the presenters encouraged us to take it slow. Focus on the students. Consider what engages them. If we can continue to make school a place of joy and allow students to achieve their personal learning goals, the Common Core will take care of itself.

Not to say that the CCSS should be relegated to the sidelines. Many well known educators and researchers such as Jeff Wilhelm and Regie Routman encouraged everyone to use what is laid out in the Common Core, but as a resource instead of a focus. These standards are not what students come to school for every day. They attend to our instruction and their learning because they want to become better readers and writers, and they believe you can help them along the way. Let’s stay the course and not get too excited about what is coming. What we know to be best practices will carry us through.

Consider Rigor, But Focus on Relevancy and Relationships

My district just hosted a professional development morning for all K-5 staff. It was very well received. One of the sessions provided a nice overview of the Common Core State Standards along with the work that our teachers have already done with regard to mapping these benchmarks of knowledge.

The expectations are high. The next question is, how do we get there? My district addressed this by purchasing 200 copies of Pathways to the Common Core for teachers. Even though I have only read the first half on reading, I am impressed with the ideas the authors provide on connecting our instruction to the CCSS. It is a very practical and down-to-earth guide for classroom teachers.

However, if we only focus on high academic expectations, or as Bill Daggett refers to as “rigor”, we disregard two equally important components of teaching he also encourages: relevance and relationships.  My current understanding of the latter two is how we connect what we teach to our students’ lives and how we connect with our students as people. I have perused the Common Core many times. From what I can tell, relevance and relationships are either rarely addressed or nonexistent in these new standards.

I am not the only one concerned about the lack of a comprehensive plan. The Marzano Center recent published a series of posts asking similar questions. In the first post, a recent study was cited that found that, over the last twenty years, increasing the rigor of standards has little if any evidence of increasing student achievement. What the posts go on to say is educators are encouraged to understand their students’ needs (relationships) using formative assessments in order to provide more tailored instruction (relevancy).

So where does one start? In my humble opinion, it all starts with relationships. I think back to my days in high school. Even though most of my teachers had high standards, the ones I worked hardest for were the ones who got to know me as a person and went out of their way to make class engaging and meaningful. They said things like, “Your class average is one of the highest. That is where you should be.” Or they just took the time to share their thinking process while reading Lord of the Flies or Flowers for Algernon. Putting themselves out there like that let the students know that trust was implied due to the relationships they built with us and their awareness of our needs as learners.

As the Common Core becomes common place, a lot of the work on making the standards understandable will be done by us and for us (or to us, depending on your current outlook). We will have rigor coming out of ears. But it is going to be the relevancy of our instruction and the relationships we build with students that will make the difference.