Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thoughts on the Common Core and PARCC

It's all we've heard about for awhile:  The Common Core State Standards.  Specifically Language Arts.  Really, Reading Literature and Informational Text Standards.  Every educator has an opinion on them.  Some people say they are great.  Some people hate them.  Some people have picked through them, whether because they need to know them or because they hate them and have found every flaw there is.  Some people say it's going to teach my students to think deeper.  Some people say it's going to make my students hate to read.  And then if you're going to talk the standards, then you need to talk about the "big" assessment:  PARCC or Smarter Balanced.  In Illinois, we are getting ready for the PARCC. What to do, what to think?

Here are my thoughts, take them or leave them.  

Illinois has adopted the standards and we're getting ready to roll out the PARCC.  They are here, whether you love, like or despise them.  It's my job as an educator and as a literacy coach to help teachers and students understand them, use them, and apply them to their daily lives.  The PARCC is the assessment that we will be using to determine if our students have met those standards or not.  It's my job as an educator and as a literacy coach to help teacher and students to prepare for this test, understand what this test will look and feel like and have an understanding of what will happen when they take the test.  

So.  The standards.  I actually do like them.  I can see how they are encouraging teachers to take their students deeper into the text, not only thinking about the text, but also the craft the author used when writing the text.  The first 3 standards are covered so frequently in our lessons, but I don't think I always used them to the extent I was supposed to - I was more "surface level".  Now, it's not just what is the setting of the story?  It's what words did the author lay out in the sentence that made you know and understand the setting?  How is the setting important?  How did the location of the story make an impact on the events?  I know I haven't always been asking those questions!  I also did not dig very deep into the author's craft.  How did the author put the story together?  How did one paragraph impact another... maybe even change the story?  What structure did the author use?  What did the author do here to move the story along?  What patterns are you noticing that the author used over and over again?  Nope, had not been asking those questions!  After playing with the standards and using them more and more, I do think the kids are capable of understanding them, using them and applying them.  I do think it's the conversation that we have with the students - encouraging, and not always asking - about what they are reading and their thoughts, their reflections, that take the understanding of the standards to move the students thinking forward.  As teachers, we cannot stand in front of our class asking the questions, getting specific responses, and robotically teaching and drilling the standards.

I also understand there are problems with the standards.  How do we make sure students with learning disabilities, no matter the severity, meet them?  How do we make sure students who don't have a disability, but are having trouble learning to read meet them?  Our ELL students?  How about our low-income families?  There is a certain amount of understanding that while educators have their work cut out in front of them while the kids are at school, there is also an amount of "continuing education" that parents must do at home.  Namely, ensure that all students are reading, and reading a lot more, at home.  Not everyone has access to books or someone at home who is ensuring more gets done at home.  How do these kids overcome the difficulties ahead of them and make sure they are "college and career" ready?

Then, after we teach, we have the PARCC.  When I first saw this test, I had A LOT of questions.  Mostly, if I am getting some of these questions wrong, what are the students going to do???  How many tears are we going to have on assessment day?  The kids have to TYPE their responses???????  And my favorite thought I've had.  There is no way I am smart enough to teach kids how to be ready for this assessment.  It's been almost a year since I started learning about this assessment and I still have a lot of questions.  I still have worries - is this assessment developmentally appropriate??  Is the technology going to hold out for us while everyone takes the test?  And I still have some feelings of inadequacy, but I am feeling better.  I think, the bottom line is we are going to be taking this test.  I don't know for how many years, but I cannot ignore it.  It's not going away.  For now anyway.  So I will prepare everyone as much as I can.  I will learn about it and put the knowledge to good use.  I do not want to walk away from this assessment without being able to say I did my best to get everyone prepared.  Learn from it and continue on.  The one part about the PARCC is they are going to use "real" texts!  None of this pay money to a company to write a story that goes along with our testing questions.  It's real literature.  And with the close reading and multiple readings the kids will be doing, I think that is a step up from what we're used to.

Then there is the "rigor" part.  Yes, the standards are more "rigorous".  Check, got it.  Yes, students need to be reading and writing more.  Teachers need to be very specific about what they are teaching (still working on that part myself).  But.  I am a reading specialist.  I chose that job because I.  Love.  Reading.  Period.  And I don't want to ever forget that.  If I just focus on the standards and I just focus on the upcoming PARCC test, it doesn't leave much room to love reading.  And I don't want to be teaching if I can't remember that.  I want to help teachers find time to let their kids love reading.  I want everyone, teachers and students, to get excited about a book that is coming out - that feeling of I can't wait to get my hands on it!!!!  I want kids to talk to each other about what they are reading.  Let it be part of their daily conversation.  And I do think both can be done.  I've done a lot of professional reading, and I see how other experts are doing it.  Thank you Kylene Beers and Bob Probst for Notice and Note.  Thank you Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts for Falling in Love with Close Reading.  Thank you Donalyn Miller for Reading in the Wild.  Thank you Sunday Cummins for Close Reading of Informational Texts.  These are books I will use to guide my teaching and love for reading.

Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading    Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts--and Life   17196305   Close Reading of Informational Texts: Assessment-Driven Instruction in Grades 3-8

I'm going to try and balance this blog with a mix of everything.  I want to encourage readers to pick up the books I review.  I want them to know what their own style of reading is and be able to choose books.  Get excited about a new book to read!  And then I am also going to post lessons that I am using to teach standards.  The lessons will always be tied to a great book and then have a CCSS tie-in.  See something you like?  Great, try it out and let me know how it went.  

And if the PARCC is gone by next year and the standards are all rewritten?  Well, that's ok.  I'll keep learning and thinking about what our students need.  

But it will all begin with a book.

Happy Reading :)

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