Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rotten at the Common Core

I just had the most amazing classes with my 5-year olds! We successfully completed Standards AP 1.1, 1.2 and 1.4 and threw in an extra CE 2.3 for good measure! As if that wasn’t enough, we spiced it all up with HCC 3.2 and MCC K.3. You can imagine how proud I was when I discovered that they could Count Forward with Vocal Variety and achieve the Integrated Outcome I had planned for them. And to top it all off, we used a Big Idea (that 5-year-old children could count forward from zero to ten) and just to send the whole lesson through the roof, we spoke, sang, shouted and whispered. You can imagine how I came home beaming with joy and slept the sleep of the good and righteous, knowing that Common Core had led me into the light of pedagogical revelation. And you know the kids were just bustin’ their buttons at carpool as they jumped into the car shouting, “Mom! We aced the HCC 3.2 today!!!”

Before I read through the hundreds of pages of standards and outcomes and scientifically-tested ways to ensure my students were learning everything I taught them and were thoroughly prepared for life in the 21st century, I was a lost waif wandering aimlessly through the halls of “Uh, gee, I don’t know, kids” education. I used to let my kids play with fingerpaints without ever once testing, measuring and assessing whether “The child successfully dipped the finger in the paint can and applied it to the canvas without sucking on his/her finger, painting his neighbor’s eyeball or writing obscenities. (Standard FU 6.9).” They just had a rollicking good time trying stuff out and we talked about what he painted and what it was and how he thought about it and what he might add. 

I’d let the kids mess around on Orff xylophones and then learn a short pattern and invite them to improvise variations. Apparently, I accidentally did something good here, as Creativity was an acknowledged 21st Century Skill. But without ticking off the HUH? 6.6 box and proving that the child is now ready to appreciate John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, I was simply wandering in the dark.

Before I saw the light, I used to spend hours remembering how kids think and imagine and explore and built my lessons around that, but now I see that was time better spent making sure that they can “count forward from zero to ten using four different voices.” I used to create opportunities for play within structures that revealed the essence of the ideas and techniques of a particular lesson, watch and observe the kids’ responses, help shape and grow them, ask leading questions, engage in Socratic dialogue or simply leave them alone and prepare myself to be astonished. But no more. Everything now fits inside the neat little boxes prepared by people far away who will never meet my kids.

Before I wrote out my lesson plans to be approved by either living or mechanical robots, I’d spend that time improvising at the piano or playing around with an idea for a class until it came into form or reading brilliant educational thinkers like Whitehead, Montessori, Steiner, Dewey, but now I see the error of my ways. Children should not be left alone to just play, explore, discover, mess around, ask questions, try things out. Adults should not be encouraged to watch them, observe them, gently guide them, inquire alongside of them, celebrate them, praise them, bless them. Without the heroic efforts of the folks who brought us Common Core or any other current jargon coming from the hollowed halls of top-drawer education, we would be left wandering in the dark of our ignorance as to how to pass on our love for our subject, how to offer the necessary techniques, ideas and crafts, how to assess every minute of every class what the child needs next and think about how we can give it to her.

Wait! What’s that? An earthquake?! Or Friedrich Froebel, the visionary who first coined the word “Kindergarten,” rolling over in his grave? 

PS. For those curious, below is a sample of the brilliant lesson I extol above.

Identity: Me and My World: 
How do we use our senses to observe and learn about the world around us?
Kindergarten: Arts Integration with Dance, Music and Mathematics LESSON
3: Counting Forward With Vocal Variety
BIG IDEA: I can us my voice and body to perform counting songs and rhymes. I can count forward from zero to ten using my voice to speak, sing, shout and whisper.
INTEGRATED OUTCOME: With or without guidance and support from an adult, students will participate in a counting song or chant using appropriate voice and movements.Action
Music Elements: Timbre
MCC K. 3 Write numbers from 0 to 20. Represent a number of objects with a written numeral 0-20.

MCC K.4 When counting objects, say the number names in the standard order, paring each object with one and only one number name and each number with one and only one object.
AP 1.1 Build the range and capacity to move in a variety of ways.
AP 1.2 Perform basic locomotor skills (e.g., walk, run, gallop, jump, hop and balance).
AP 1.4 Perform simple movements in response to oral instructions (e.g., walk, turn, reach).
CE 2.3 Respond spontaneously to different types of music, rhythms, and sounds.

AP 1.2 Identify and describe basic elements in music (e.g., vocal timbre)
HCC 3.2 Sing and play simple singing games from various cultures.

AV 4.1 Create movement that corresponds to specific music.

AV 4.2 Identify, talk about, sing, or play music written for specific purposes.  Name and perform dances.
Name and play dance games.
Sing songs.
 speak, sing, shout, whisper

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