Maryland. She is currently a working on her PhD in Language, Literacy and Culture. Her current research focus is on the impact of educational policy/reform on student and teacher identity.
Common Goals: Supporting Teachers and Students During the Transition to Common Core
So what are we to do in this rocky time of transition? How can we make sure that our students have the best possible learning experience?
The more research I do, the more I am convinced that teachers are the key to making or breaking our students’ experiences in the classroom. Although they can't change the system or undo social conditions that create obstacles for many students, they are the experts on how to best meet our students’ needs in a developmentally appropriate way. Unfortunately, teacher expertise is all too often ignored by the politicians, policy makers, assessment corporations, and textbook companies that are making the decisions.
From my perspective, the best way forward begins with a close partnership between parents, teachers, and students. Below, I have a few ways that we as parents can support teachers and students during this time.
Supporting Our Teachers
Give them time
The number one thing teachers say they need right now is TIME! They need time to study the standards and work together to develop engaging activities and lessons that address the standards. Many teachers are in survival mode and are relying heavily on the ready-made worksheets and activities provided by the county.
As a teacher, I would use these materials as a starting place to create my own creative spin specifically designed for my group of students. But that takes time. If we want our teachers to have the time they need to be creative and have fun with the material, we need to find ways to alleviate their workload. Volunteering in class, making copies, and offering to make materials at home for particular lessons or activities are some ways to free up teacher time.
Encourage professional development
One of the best ways for me to get inspired and better understand recent reforms and classroom trends is to attend conferences. There are many national professional organizations filled with passionate, innovative teachers. These organizations hold national conferences annually. It would be great if we could sponsor a pair of teachers each year to attend one of these major conferences. They aren’t cheep, but if teachers can go, get great ideas, and bring them back to share with their colleagues, it could be well worth the money! How wonderful it would be if we could send a pair to IRA and a pair to NCTM.
Create a climate of learning to love learning
We need to send a clear message to our teachers and administrators that we are more interested in LEARNING than test scores. Test scores are important for schools and students, but only to the extent that they encourage learning.
There is so much more that we want our students to get out of their time in elementary school. We want them to love books, ask questions, take risks, make discoveries, work together to solve problems, express themselves creatively, explore new ideas, care about those around them, gain confidence, and develop a lifelong love of learning. These are the intangibles that can’t be measured by a test and are rarely factored into teacher evaluations.
We need to make sure that teachers know that we appreciate these things just as much if not more than the scores on standardized tests. One way we can encourage this is by making sure we send thank you notes to acknowledge the great things that our teachers do for our kids that are above and beyond the culture of test achievement. Although I am not as extreme in my views, I love this blog post.
Teachers are still figuring things out. They have had very little say in what is going on and are doing the best they can to use their professional expertise to meet the changing demands of practice. We need to realize that more than anyone else involved, they are on our side, wanting to do what is best for our students, so we need to do whatever we can to partner with them during this time.
Supporting our Students
Let them be kids!
All too often we forget that education and schooling are not necessarily the same thing. What happens at school is only a portion of what our students are learning on any given day.
We need to consider what we are doing at home that can compliment their experiences at school. Because many of us are concerned with the rigor and emphasis on testing achievement at school, the best way we can compliment what is happening in school is to offer students lots of time to play, explore, and be creative!
They need unstructured downtime, outdoor play, and time to express themselves through art, music and dance. Take them to the library to find books that capture their imagination, and visit museums, zoos, farms, and state parks to let them have the hands on, interactive experiences that are not always practical in the classroom.
I have been leaving art supplies out on the table every day, and my kids spend hours every day just cutting, pasting, and drawing. I am careful not to distinguish between school work and fun, making sure that I talk about school work and homework as a different kind of fun through learning, and I keep math workbooks around and learning apps available because my kids seem to think these are fun to do on their own time at their own pace.
Brush up on math
Parents are concerned about their ability to support students with the new approach to math. Here are some tools for supporting students in math:
o HCPSS Family Mathematics Support Center—one great thing about Race to the Top is that one of the conditions of the grant is that any products created with the money have to be made publically available to everyone! Howard County put together this great site. Click on Elementary Math to access your child’s grade level.
o Khan Academy—Khan academy is deigned to let students progress at their own pace. If they don’t know how to do something, they can watch a tutorial video. Once they master a concept, the system moves them to the next level. The tutorials are also helpful for parents!
o Parent Road Maps to the Common Core Standards
Growth mindset v. fixed mindset
With today’s emphasis on achievement rather than learning, we need to make sure we foster a growth mindset for our students, helping them realize that the struggle to find the answer is more important than already knowing the right answer.
Salmon Khan has a great blog post about this idea, which is based on the research from Carol Dweck. What this means for me and my kids is that when it comes to standardized tests, I don’t tell my daughter that they don’t matter, but I do tell her that the most important thing is that she tries her best to figure things out no matter what she is doing because that is where the learning happens. I’m more interested in the learning process than the test score itself at this point.
One way we can support teachers is to be careful what we say around students. If students sense our frustration with the curriculum, assessments, teachers or the school, then they will be less willing to cooperate with what teachers are trying to do. We need to send a clear message to our students that we expect them to try hard and do their best no matter what. We should listen to and validate students' frustrations and concerns, but we also need to model positive problem solving and constructive self-advocacy.
It is clear that the implementation of the Common Core should have been handled differently, but the past cannot be changed. As we look forward to the future, we need to consider how best to empower teachers and advocate for students in the face of reforms that often value data more than individuals. By supporting teachers as experts who care and students as children who love to play and learn, we can help both teachers and students adapt to new standards and expectations.
We also need to continue the conversations raised during the Common Core debate. We need to continue to question corporate interest in schools, demand quality resources and materials, and fight to limit unnecessary and unproductive standardized testing.
Thank you for letting me share some of my research findings with you in this informal forum. I look forward to continuing the dialogue!