Show and Tell

Video: Teachers show off student work aligned to Common Core

Work of Art: NYC teachers show off student work aligned to new learning standards

Instead of drawings, paintings or sculptures, GothamSchools’ makeshift art gallery Monday night featured student essays about wolves, personal conflict, and classic fiction dotted the walls.

Middle and high school teachers from across the city brought the work to the Upper East Side to put on display during “The Art of Teaching and Learning to the Common Core,” an event we held with the support of Teaching Matters and Azure.

New York State is one of 45 states that has agreed to adopt the Common Core, new learning standards for math and English. Elementary and middle school state tests will be aligned to the new standards at the end of the school year, but New York City has asked teachers in all grades to begin working with the new standards.

The work on display last night was aligned to English language arts standards, but varied by task. In the video above, teachers who presented talk about the challenges and opportunities the new standards have brought to their classrooms.

Chris Fazio, a teacher at Queens Metropolitan High School, presented exemplary work of an assignment that asked students to write about a time they got in trouble. One objective of the task was to improve skills in organization and writing for detail.

Christina Roberts, a science teacher at Jill Chaifetz Transfer High School, used the subject of wolf species in Yellowstone National Park as a way to introduce students to her ecology unit. The students read related articles and then began the process of writing an essay about the importance of “keystone species” in ecosystems.

Other educators who presented student work were Ryan Fanning from Abraham Lincoln High School; Omolade Otulaja from M.S. 22 in the Bronx; Victoria Dedaj and Mark Anderson, both from Jonas Bronck Academy; Holly Obernauer from M.S. 131 in Manhattan.

The gallery exhibit was followed by a panel that included Anderson; the city Department of Education’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow Suransky; and Sandra Stotsky, a critic of the Common Core.

We could not have made the evening happen without our two sponsors, Teaching Matters and Azure, the building that donated space for the event.

As an added bonus, Teaching Matters is inviting educators who attended our event to attend one of its workshops about the Common Core. Here’s what the organization has to say about its offer:

Teaching Matters is offering attendees from GothamSchools’ Nov. 26 event an opportunity to attend a workshop and receive a sample Common Core-aligned curriculum unit. Teaching Matters’ Writing Editorials unit includes a set of lessons, animations and organizers that guide teachers in effectively addressing argument writing. In addition, the unit is accompanied by a performance task posted on the NYC DOE’s Common Core Library.

Teaching Matters also welcomes teachers to attend a full-day institute on Dec. 12, entitled Text Dependent Questioning. At this session, teachers will discuss effective questioning strategies to support students’ access to complex texts. Teachers will also learn time-efficient techniques to link questions to formal and informal assessment. The strategies can be applied across content areas.

To receive a complimentary copy of the Writing Editorials Unit and/or to take part in the institute, please email Emily Durkin. To learn more about Teaching Matters’ work please visit.http://teachingmatters.org.

Detroit Story Booth

Why one woman thinks special education reform can’t happen in isolation

PHOTO: Colin Maloney
Sharon Kelso, student advocate from Detroit

When Sharon Kelso’s kids and grandkids were still in school, they’d come home and hear the same question from her almost every day: “How was your day in school?” One day, a little over a decade ago, Kelso’s grandson gave a troubling answer. He felt violated when security guards at his school conducted a mass search of students’ personal belongings.

Kelso, a Cass Tech grad, felt compelled to act. Eventually, she became the plaintiff in two cases which outlawed unreasonable mass searches of students in Detroit’s main district.

Fast forward to August, when her three great-nephews lost both their mother and father in the space of a week and Kelso became their guardian. Today, she asks them the same question she has asked two generations of Detroit students: “How was your day in school?”

The answers she receives still deeply inform her advocacy work.

Watch the full video here:

– Colin Maloney

First Person

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

“With fidelity” are some of the most damaging words in education.

Districts spend a ton of money paying people to pick out massively expensive, packaged curriculums, as if every one of a thousand classrooms needs the exact same things. Then officials say, over and over again, that they must be implemented “with fidelity.” What they mean is that teachers better not do anything that would serve their students’ specific needs.

When that curriculum does nothing to increase student achievement, it is not blamed. The district person who found it and purchased it is never blamed. Nope. They say, “Well, the teachers must not have been implementing it with fidelity.”

It keeps happening because admitting that schools are messy and students are human and teaching is both creative and artistic would also mean you have to trust teachers and let them have some power. Also, there are some really crappy teachers out there, and programs for everyone are often meant to push that worst-case-scenario line a little higher.

And if everyone’s doing just what they’re supposed to, we’ll get such good, clean numbers, and isn’t that worth a few thousand more dollars?

I was talking with a friend recently, a teacher at an urban school on the East Coast. He had been called to task by his principal for splitting his kids into groups to offer differentiated math instruction based on students’ needs. “But,” the principal said, “did the pacing guide say to differentiate? You need to trust the system.”

I understand the desire to find out if a curriculum “works.” But I don’t trust anyone who can say “trust the system” without vomiting. Not when the system is so much worse than anything teachers would put together.

Last year, my old district implemented Reading Plus, an online reading program that forces students to read at a pace determined by their scores. The trainers promised, literally promised us, that there wasn’t a single reading selection anywhere in the program that could be considered offensive to anyone. God knows I never learned anything from a book that made me feel uncomfortable!

Oh, and students were supposed to use this program — forced-paced reading of benign material followed by multiple-choice questions and more forced-pace reading — for 90 minutes a week. We heard a lot about fidelity when the program did almost nothing for students (and, I believe quite strongly, did far worse than encouraging independent reading of high-interest books for 90 minutes a week would have done).

At the end of that year, I was handed copies of next year’s great adventure in fidelity. I’m not in that district any longer, but the whole district was all switching over to SpringBoard, another curriculum, in language arts classes. On came the emails about implementing with fidelity and getting everyone on the same page. We were promised flexibility, you know, so long as we also stuck to the pacing guide of the workbook.

I gave it a look, I did, because only idiots turn down potential tools. But man, it seemed custom-built to keep thinking — especially any creative, critical thought from either students or teachers — to a bare minimum.

I just got an email from two students from last year. They said hi, told me they missed creative writing class, and said they hated SpringBoard, the “evil twin of Reading Plus.”

That district ran out of money and had to cut teachers (including me) at the end of the year. But if they hadn’t, I don’t think I would have lasted long if forced to teach from a pacing guide. I’m a good teacher. Good teachers love to be challenged and supported. They take feedback well, but man do we hate mandates for stuff we know isn’t best for the kids in our room.

Because, from inside a classroom full of dynamic, chaotic brilliance;

from a classroom where that kid just shared that thing that broke all of our hearts;

from a classroom where that other kid figured out that idea they’ve been working on for weeks;

from that classroom where that other kid, who doesn’t know enough of the language, hides how hard he works to keep up and still misses things;

and from that classroom where one kid isn’t sure if they trust you yet, and that other kid trusts you too much, too easily, because their bar had been set too low after years of teachers that didn’t care enough;

from inside that classroom, it’s impossible to trust that anyone else has a better idea than I do about what my students need to do for our next 50 minutes.

Tom Rademacher is a teacher living in Minneapolis who was named Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. His book, “It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching,” was published in April. He can be found on Twitter @mrtomrad and writes on misterrad.tumblr.com, where this post first appeared.