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Thompson: Does Common Core Have It Backwards?

Black-Math-teacher-studentBecause I want so badly for Common Core to work, I was intensely looking forward to Susan Headden’s, "Getting Complicated with Text," in The Quick & the Ed. She presents a layperson’s view of professional development for teaching to their rigorous stands.

With Common Core, writes Headden, “Quality will now trump quantity.”  Teachers need help in asking higher order questions.  We also need to discuss with each other, as they did in Headden’s workshop, whether a speech by Eleanor Roosevelt is too union friendly, so we can better guide our students’ debates. We need to share insights about how much background information should we provide before students wrestle with the text. We must trash out the question of how much time do we let students struggle with complex sentences before we help them out. And, we need to debate the time we spend on assignments based on students’ opinions.

But, Headden’s group, “left with the overarching message that mastering text complexity is the secret to reading success,” and that is dead wrong. The key to teaching anything for mastery is understanding the human complexity within our kids. The logic underlaying that conclusion was even worse. Teachers were told that “the problem with questions based on experience is that they exclude students who haven’t had those experiences. 'Text … is the great equalizer.'” 

Even if the assessment experts who conducted the professional development have never stepped foot in the inner city, they should know that the opposite applies in high-challenge schools.  Our path to success is building on the students’ strengths, based on their real-life learning.  The kids can eventually excel with “business plans, legal briefs ... and other ‘informational’ texts,” as long as we patiently give them the emotional support they need.  Headden seems to admire Common Core, however, because it takes the all-important decisions about the people side of instruction away from teachers, who know their students, and gives it to the assessment experts.- JT(@drjohnthompson) via.

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A concern I have with the Headden article is the potential danger in promoting complex writing rather than good writing. My fear is that students and teachers may infer that, since complex writing styles may dominate the new tests (largely because dealing with such texts does pretty accurately separate stronger from weaker readers), such writing is admirable, and should be reproduced in student compositions.

Bruce raises a good point... that would, ultimately, be another step to take on the path teachers have to take to do their job. Education doesn’t exactly assess writing spectacularly as-is.

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