Recently, my colleague Sam Williams wrote “Is Common Core Too Challenging for Kindergarten,” which addressed the necessity for play yet the lack thereof due to the rigor of the CCSS.
As a third grade teacher, I hear and see similar concerns among my fellow intermediate teachers every day. The new buzzwords are being tossed all over faculty meetings and trainings—close reading, text complexity, rigor, text-dependent questions, exemplar text, etc. I’ve sat through Common Core trainings where we’ve practiced writing “text-dependent questions” and then argued whether or not they were REALLY “text-dependent.” I’ve sat through trainings where we practiced what close reading is and what it looks like.
In fact, I can barely surf the net or Facebook without seeing the latest news story, video, or blog sharing an educator’s or parent’s contempt for the Common Core. I’ve read things that go as far as to say “Common Core is killing innovation” and “It’s a one size fits all approach.”
I hear all of it, I read all of it and I have my own opinions on all of it, but come 8:00 a.m. every morning I still have to open my doors to 18 third graders and teach them how to read—and more importantly, how to love reading.
So I ask you to think about these two questions. What is within your realm of control and how can you keep your creative juices flowing?
Here are some examples of how I try to engage my students while still meeting the CCSS. Let’s take a look at this standard: “Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic” (RI.3.9).
This is the end goal, right? First I have to teach them how to do this. So I start by looking for texts that are engaging. A lot of the texts I choose come from the Internet, a magazine, or sometimes a topic that I choose to write an article about myself.
For this specific lesson, I used an article in Scholastic’s Super Science magazine. This article talked about what your pet actually wants in their pet food and the process behind making it. The article points out the fact that dogs actually do not prefer the smell of bacon; it actually overwhelms their sensitive noses. But dog owners do like the smell of bacon and that is why pet food makers sell dog treats that smell like bacon. Basically, the food has to be appealing to the dog owner, not just the dog.
In order to kick off the lesson, I started by showing my students the commercial for “Beggin’Strips.”. They loved it and they were engaged right from the start. I then told my students that some of the information presented in this commercial contrasted the information in the text and I needed them to find it. Their first mission was to read the text and then take a Wikki Stix and wrap it around the section of text that related to the commercial. They were off to scan for bacon! After they found the section, they were asked to read the section one time in a whisper voice and then a second time standing up. (The students can’t wait to hear how they will be asked to read the text each day!) Students then answered the question of how the text contrasts with the commercial. This task will lead up to them eventually doing the same thing with two different texts, but this was one way to teach the concept.
Let’s take a look at another example. Another standard requires students to “Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers” (RI.3.1). Students were given an article to read on hippos. Prior to reading the article and without any discussion about what they were about to see, the students watched a thirty-second video of a hippo flinging its poop at the zoo. (If this doesn’t get your students’ attention, I don’t know what will!)
Immediately after watching the video, students were instructed to read the article and use Wikki Stix to underline the section of text that related to the video. Students then read the article a second time, this time when students were done reading the article they were given six minutes to model with play dough a fact about hippos from the article. It had to come directly from the text. Students then took clipboards and visited three of their classmates’ designs. They had to look at the play dough design and scan the text for what they thought was being modeled. They then had to write the sentence from the text that was related to the model on a sticky note and place it in the designer’s folder. Again, students are up and moving and having a great time.
Both of these examples were shortened to show how I try to implement engaging and meaningful play in my classroom. However, these lessons also included parts where students answered text-dependent questions and completed performance tasks. I aim to reach all learners through multiple intelligences, learning styles, and ability levels. Students in these examples were engaged visually through videos, and kinesthetically through the use of play dough and movement.
Here are just a few of the things I like to think about as I plan:
- What are some hot topics right now in my classroom? What are their current interests?
- How can I present this information? Is there a song, or video that will help engage my students? After all, one of the new standards expects students to “integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words” (R.7)
- How can I get my students moving?
- What tools can we use during the lesson? (Wikki Stix, play dough, colored pencils, markers, highlighters, sticky notes, highlighter tape, plastic fingers, pointers, stickers, tablets, etc.)
- Are there any cooperative learning strategies I can utilize during this lesson?
- How can I incorporate technology in this lesson? (We have limited technology resources at our school, but I have written many grants and utilized Donors Choose as a way to accumulate the resources I have.)
Even the best-written standards can be meaningless if they are implemented with ineffective instruction and lack of understanding on the part of the educator. Standards are just that, standards. It is up to us, the teachers, to decide how we present this information so that our students learn and meet the expectations placed upon them.
We are teachers. We hold tremendous power in our classrooms. We have the power and responsibility to teach and change lives. And honestly, it’s a challenge but it’s what gets me out of bed every morning.
Karen Jackson is a third grade teacher in Tampa, Florida. She has been a classroom teacher for over 12 years. She is a professional development writer and trainer. She owns an educational resource company that supplies resources and professional development for teachers around the country. You can find Karen at www.sharpenyoungminds.org.