Common Core – To Doubt or Not to Doubt

Washington post opinion writer, George F. Will recently published Doubts Over Common Core and I find myself thinking, “It’s just a list of education standards and commonality eases the burden of transiency. How’s that politicized?”

I was born in SC and my family moved to FL just before I entered third grade.  In SC I was in a special ed class for speech and handwriting. In FL I was in an advanced reading group and eventually a gifted prep program (I was “almost gifted”…high verbal ability, not quite high enough math).   I returned to SC for High School and in my 9th grade science class, I was assigned the exact same text book I’d been issued in my 7th grade class in FL.  I soon lost interest in school, began skipping to go learn on my own at the public library, got pregnant at 17, but fortunately my educated truancy help me pass the entrance tests to start college while my peers finished their senior year of HS.

So it is from that perspective that I say, I believe Common standards are in the best interest of transient students.

I live in SC and serve as an Instructional Facilitator/Learning Coach in NC.  Even though both states are currently implementing Common Core State Standards there are significant curricular differences between what my kindergarten son & 5th grade daughter are currently doing in school and what students in the schools I work with are doing.

So, I’m not seeing an oppressive political agenda synchronizing students under the umbrella of liberalism.  What I do see are abundant misconceptions and a staggering number of educators compromising their natural instincts regarding what their students need in order to meet a deluge of unclear expectations that they hope will keep them employed in an industry that is underpaid and disrespected.

My hope is that the Common Core standards will foster a sense of clarity and common purpose which could ultimately free teachers to trust their natural instincts.  I also believe it could pave the way for much needed educational reform, but thanks to articles like the one linked above, I am beginning to seriously question what that reform would really look like. I don’t think it would look cookie cutter and I do believe choice is of highest importance.  I believe parents & students deserve the opportunity to choose the educational setting, curriclum, and goals that align with their values.  For many public school will be a good choice.  For others private school, charter school, or home school would be a good choice. They need to be different because people are different.  When a parent chooses private or charter school they’re usually committed to staying with that institution until their child finishes or if they have to move, they’re likely to look for a similar institution to continue the child’s education.  If they choose home school they have complete control.  If they choose public school, I believe they make that choice because they expect some degree of consistency.  Until I find enough evidence to convince me otherwise I see Common Core as a valuable touchstone around which curriculum can be built and lessons can be planned.  Common Core is NOT the curriculum. From those standards we develop “I can” statements that we want students to be able to confidently express.  The Curriculum Corner has great printable “I Can” statements for K-6.

Sadly I see publishing companies putting out textbooks with Common Core in their ad campaign and that is where I am beginning to see the political agenda emerge…in how some textbooks have spun history.  But I don’t see that as the fault of Common Core.  I do however recognize the economic power of Common Core branding and the article doubting Common Core has me pondering the political manipulation of Race to the Top funds and NCLB waivers.

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Manageable Monitoring with Portfolios

Portfolios can be used to house and organize progress monitoring notes, assessments, and student selected pieces that show the work they’re most proud of 🙂 What a great tool for student lead conferences! This link shows how to put it all together:

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Spirit Animals

Helping teachers match students to “just right books” that appeal to their interests I happened to come across Spirit Animals from Scholastic. My daughter’s oldest brother died a year ago and her dad (my ex) began representing his three children with crows because he saw some in his yard sometime between the discovery of his son’s overdose and the funeral.  Since then he has drawn crows and posted things on face book about them.  I understand the idea of spirit animals. I once had a spirit animal…I wanted it to be a Lion, but my priestess (whose name was Lion) said my spirit animal was definitely a Frog. Maybe she could tell I was still in the tadpole stage, spiritually, at that time. When I grew legs I hopped away. But I found another bog to hop around in until the misfortune and foolishness of a pretty twisted custody battle over my daughter.  It was in cell, pondering the words of an unlikely prophet that I finally found my Lion and realized the difference between a spirit animal and a savior. Abandoning the idea of a spirit animal and leaning on Biblical truths rather than my own understanding has led me out of the bog, past the swamps, and up a mountain of hope and joy.  As we help students choose texts to read, I hope we are also mindful of the worldview texts have a tendency to shape and shift.  I’m not an advocate of censorship but I am a firm believer in reflective discussion.  If your students or children like to read books of fantasy like this, challenge them to talk about the connections they make.

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SMART Goals are…


    • Who?, What?, Where?, When?, Which?, Why?


    • How much?, How many?, How will I know when it is accomplished?


    • Feasible, Appropriate, Within School’s Control


    • Based on results rather than intentions


    • Realistic time frame


How to transform a General Goal into a SMART Goal:

General Goal:Improve reading proficiency.
SMART Goal: 3rd Composite Reading Proficiency will increase from 65% to 72% by May 30, 2014 as measured by mCLASS DIBELS

Action Plan:
Goal Planning Templates
–The goal – what needs to be improved
–Strategies to achieve the goal
–Who will be responsible
–Time frame for each step/activity
–Expected outcomes (Evidence)


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Guided Reading Plan & Communication Tool

This document is ideal for use when teachers, teacher assistants, interns, &/or literacy specialists work with groups of students they have in common.  Teachers have also found it useful for their own record keeping and reflection as well as a tool for monitoring progress and referencing as data in PLC conversations.

Guided Reading Plan and Communication Tool

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The Art of Coaching

Elena Aguilar is a fantastic trainer of coaches!  I got a lot out of her three day training for instructional facilitators of Gaston County Title I schools. Her coaching resources are of exceptional value!

I thought I had already gotten a lot of good stuff from reading her blog last spring.  Then I started reading her book at the end of summer and realized that everything came into context and made so much more sense after face to face training with her.

The thoughtfulness, flexibility, and depth of Elena’s face to face training complemented to the thoroughness of her book and the generosity of her website (where numerous free tools can be found). I deeply respect the compassion of her work and highly value the tools she has shared with me and my colleagues.  We are better equipped to nurture and inspire, using a variety of coaching lenses and question stems to gently and patiently transform the schools we love.

the art of coaching

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NO Rolling Book Bags!

A recent Google search on the issue of rolling book bags Image

quickly revealed several pdf links to documents prohibiting them from schools.

I was hoping to find out why, but found little to support my argument that they should be options for students who need them.  Dr. Mark Locke has seen, “a steady increase in children developing pain and needing to seek medical treatment for back pain. Twenty years ago, it was rare for a child to complain of back pain. Now, this type of pain is seen daily. Book bag related pain seems to be most prevalent in middle school-aged children, who sometimes carry loads of up to 25 percent of their body weight.”

As a parent, this became an issue for me when my 5th grader complained of back & shoulder pain at her annual physical.  Her pediatrician, Dr. Beddingfield of Gastonia Children’s Clinic believed the pain was related to her book bag, which she said should be “not more than 10% of her body weight.” She wrote a note for the school advocating a rolling book bag. Scarlet’s back pack was 17% of her body weight until her school nurse helped her lighten the load by taking several items out, encouraging her to leave them at school. That seemed an obvious and easy fix.

A few weeks later I note an unacceptable side effect to that solution. Now my daughter doesn’t always have what she needs to do her homework.  There was an offer to send home copies of textbooks, but the teachers said she wouldn’t need them.  They were right.  She doesn’t need textbooks.  But she does need items that she’s placed in her large binder.  The binder itself is a cumbersome object and the intention is that it’s contents allow the student to have everything they need in a well organized system.  My daughter’s well-organized system has to be strategically managed because to lighten her book bag enough, she has to pull items out of her book bag and put them in her take home folder.  Then return to school and take them from her folder to put back in her binder.

Safety and noise are the leading arguments against rolling book bags.

As I reflect on the possibile objections to my request for permission to provide my daughter a rolling book bag, my research led me to these words, “Rolling book bags are an option, but not a solution. This style bag can create a safety hazard by blocking the aisle on the school bus. Although it is better to pull than to carry heavy books, rolling bag weight can lead to its own set of problems, such as arm and leg pain.” I guess it depends on the weight of what is being pulled.  As for the safety concerns…what if the student is not a bus rider?  And if they are, what if a system were established to secure the book bag off the ground?

I value teaching children to honor the procedures and expectations of their school, which is why it is important that everyone involved in establishing  policies and procedures…school board members, administrators, parents & teachers serving on committees…thoughtfully consider what is in the best interests of all children, which means taking a careful look at what is best for each child on a case by case basis.

Dr. Locke’s goes on to say, “The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that nearly 5,000 emergency room visits each year result from injuries related to book bags and backpack carriers. Many students have no lockers, or limited access to lockers between classes because of security or disciplinary issues. You will need to be an advocate for your child in order to create solutions to this problem. I believe that if teachers and principals had to carry these heavy book bags all day, they might be more inclined to recognize that a problem exists.”

I will take the advice of Dr. Locke, which is to work with my child’s school to ensure that she remains free of back pain and injuries.

My daughter is a healthy, physically active child who has a lot on her mind.  She’s capable of carrying the load, physically & mentally. But when fatigue and frustration begin to cloud her confidence, I feel it is my job as her mom to advocate for a beneficial tweak in policy. Use of a rolling book bag may just boost her rate of success and consequently her self-esteem, by ensuring that she is equipped with the materials she needs for optimum performance.

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