Reflection: Mastery of the Common Core Begins with a Single Step

“I know how you feel. When I was a 6th grader, I would have died for the teacher to look at my paper. I perfected the cover up. I’d never look at the teacher directly, and I never dared to raise my hand, for fear of being–wrong.”

I gave this little speech to my students a few days ago as we began a discussion on bravery. I knew we were about to dip our feet into uncharted waters with this lesson. Not that we haven’t discussed the topic before, but because my plan for the week included learning a new technology and deeper instruction into the art of public speaking.

The students I serve live in a rural area, and many of my students struggle with poverty. As a result, they often come to school with little knowledge of technology outside of gaming, and many have poor grammar skills. At the beginning of the school year, I spent countless classroom hours instructing many of my students on the basics of computer usage, such as where to find the start button, navigating the Internet, cutting and pasting, saving and inserting pictures. During our lessons, I hopped from one student to the next, answering many of the same questions time and time again. At times, I thought, “Whew, this is tiring.” However, I never gave up. I stayed the course, because I was determined to offer my students  the same education that other students are currently receiving across the country under the Common Core State Standards.

According to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), 6th grade ELA students are to master typing a three page paper in one class sitting, publish their writings on social media such as KidBlog, collaborate with other students via social media about their writings, use multimedia components in presentations to clarify information, and interpret information presented in different media formats. This is what the Common Core calls for, but I believe many educators want to abandon these standards, because at a glance they seem too rigorous, but are they? I would say they are not.

Today’s students should be moving passed the classic “poster board project”. I used to do those while I was in middle school, and honestly, I was never asked to use poster board as a public relations professional, nor in any other job. However, I did need to write well, speak clearly and fluently, and be able to utilize and adapt to new technologies. These are real world needs.

So, what does this mean for me, and any teacher who educates at-risk students? It means, we, as teachers seeking excellence, must be patient, and allow our students to explore, and ask as many questions as necessary, knowing that the students will get there. We must dedicate ourselves to their rights, as students, to a proper education, and know that they will conquer these standards.

However, patience cannot be underscored. Yes, this week, as I introduced a new presentation tool, called Haiku Deck, I answered a thousand questions, from, “Mrs. Farmer, how do you spell haiku?” to “Mrs. Farmer, how do you log in?” The students ran up to me constantly. But, honestly, I loved it. They were engaged, and excited to learn something new. I was happy to help them.

Yes, the Common Core is tough, but it’s not impossible. An education that transforms lives is a thousand mile journey that begins with a single step. Patience and faith in our students abilities is a great place to start.

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