In the Classroom: Some Questions About Some Common Core Lessons

As a teacher in a private school I am not currently required to follow the Common Core State Standards. That said, because I am a teacher, I am following closely the discussion about them, their implementation, issues, and so forth. One resource I’ve come across is the Achieve the Core website created by Student Achievement Partners, who describe themselves as  “….a non-profit organization working to support teachers across the country in their efforts to realize the promise of the Common Core State Standards for all students.”  As for the site, they state the following:

This website is full of free content designed to help educators understand and implement the Common Core State Standards. It includes practical tools designed to help students and teachers see their hard work deliver results. achievethecore.org was created in the spirit of collaboration. Please steal these tools and share them with others.

So I decided to check out a few of the ELA/Literacy “Common Core-aligned sample lessons with explanations and supporting resources.” And the ones I looked at were so full of problems that it made me wonder who is vetting them as worthy of teacher use.

One  that I looked at particularly closely is on Charlotte’s Web. (I came across it by looking through their lessons for fourth grade. I can’t link to it directly, I’m afraid, as it takes you to a word document of the lesson.) Because I feel I’m pretty expert at the teaching of  Charlotte’s Web, I was curious about the lesson they had on the book.  And I found it very problematic. The questions seem to suggest it is a play version of the book, but no reference for it is cited. No edition of the book or play is given although there are page numbers given for various questions.  The level of questioning is simplistic, surprising given the desire of the Common Core creators to make experiences with reading more complex and rigorous.  Since I feel White’s book is a wonderful one to use with children as an entry into close reading, the lack of it and very low-level engagement recommended in this particular lesson was something I found despiriting. It looked similar to the many poor lessons about the book I have seen over the years.

The final task is to “Write an essay explaining what makes Charlotte ‘no ordinary spider’.  How do these special qualities help Wilbur? Use evidence from the story to support your answer.”  That makes me so sad — there is so much more to this book. The major themes of the book (say that of life and death) that fourth graders are completely capable of discussing are completely missing from this incredibly muddled lesson plan.

I then also looked at a lesson focused on a single chapter from the book, “Escape.”  It is evidently  to be taught in five sessions over five days, 45 minutes each. I can only say that I’d curl up and die if I had to spend that much time with that particular chapter. Sure, it is a fun one, but it barely even gets to the serious themes of the book. While I could perhaps see spending more than a period on “The Cool of the Evening,” or “The Last Day,” even then I  couldn’t see spending five periods on them or on any one chapter of any book. Further, in these five lessons there is little about the wonderful opening that was White’s original beginning of the book or anything much on the glorious writing itself, say White’s extraordinary use of language to convey sensory details. Now THAT I could and do spend quite a bit of time on (but still probably not a full period, much less five).

At the end, students are asked “Describe what lesson(s) Wilbur learns at the end of the story. What in the text helps you to know this?” The answer provided is:

Wilbur learns that sometimes we aren’t ready to accept the consequences for our actions/decisions. He also found out that he was too young to go out into the world alone.

Hmm…I don’t think that the first sentence is the point of the chapter at all. (I’m guessing it is more likely something the writer of the lesson wanted to emphasize for his or her own reasons.) The second is closer to what I think White had in mind, relating it more to the theme of growing-up that runs through the book.  Yet to take five days to study this one chapter in isolation from the whole book — I can’t even imagine it.

Then there is the culminating task that is again about the moral lesson:

Wilbur has second thoughts about his choice to escape. First, describe what it means to have second thoughts about something. Then, use evidence from the text to explain how Wilbur’s second thoughts show that sometimes we are not ready to accept the consequences of our actions.

Nothing against moral lessons, but again, I don’t believe that is the main point White wanted to make.

I looked at a few more lessons and none of them seemed any better.  So just be wary, folks, of some of the lessons being touted for Common Core.

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8 Comments

Filed under Charlotte's Web, In the Classroom, Teaching

8 responses to “In the Classroom: Some Questions About Some Common Core Lessons

  1. snarly

    Thanks for this, Monica. Sharing with both my kids’ school communities.

  2. I agree with your observations here. I have seen way too many lessons that are hardly what I would expect given the demand for rigor and close reading. They are lessons I would never have elected to use before CCSS either. It does make me wonder how they are passed along to other teachers. Thanks, Monica, for talking about what is important.

  3. Jan Tappan

    My district is requiring that we use some of these lessons, and I agree with you that they are not what you’d expect, given the demand for rigor. I haven’t found the kind of teacher support I’d expect, either – for teaching lessons leading to the required lesson, or for evaluating the results. I’m having more success with reading a wide variety of material and looking at it more carefully, looking for themes, patterns that related to other books they’ve read and the like. My class is excited about literature this year, but it’s because we read terrific stories, not because of the common core.

    • I hope you get to tweak them to work for you. And there may be some in the collection that are decent. I just looked at a handful on topics I know well and, sadly, they were all pretty limited.

  4. Tracy @Liberating Working Moms

    I’m a teacher whose state has adopted common core. Everyone and their mother is claiming to have aligned and fabulous CCSS curriculum. But a lot if them are crap. Even my district leaders warn against trusting so much of what’s in the Internet, especially as it’s so new. You can’t judge CCSS based on this. You just can’t. And what teacher takes a lesson they find online word for word? I’m always changing and adapting. I’m just cranky over so much negativity surrounding CCSS. It’s new. It takes time to adapt. And for great lessons and assessments to be developed. I wish the judgements would stop.

    • I completely agree with you that this takes time. I actually like elements of CCSS in principal (I adore teaching close reading, I’m all for rigor), but I am very concerned about the reality of implementation. This site especially concerned me as it was set up by some of the CCSS creators as a source for great lessons for teachers to use. That these two were, to be blunt, dreadful alarmed me.

      I was delighted to see yesterday that New York State has decided to back off on its rush to implement. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/ny-teachers-years-common-core-article-1.1609007 Hopefully that will give teachers a chance to do something good with CCSS here.

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