Perplexity and the Common Core

photo-4I am a NYC Department of Education Common Core Fellow.  This lofty title means that I have been trained (by the NYCDOE) in the evaluation of materials for alignment to the new standards, for ‘focus, coherence and rigor’, and for accessibility to diverse learners.  Since my return from Exeter, I have been engaged in workshops in which we (my fellow Fellows and I) are reviewing and revising curriculum materials that have been created by school-based teams, some of which we headed.  One focus of these reviews is the culminating task.  It is important that the culminating tasks in each unit are structured so that successful completion of said task is clear evidence of mastery of those standards to which it is aligned.

As it turns out, despite our intentions to elicit independent demonstration of learning from our students, we, as teachers, seem to be almost unable – or afraid, more likely – to allow our students to engage in the ‘productive struggle’ in these tasks.  “Too much prompting” is a frequent criticism, and “the task should be less teacher-guided.”    The gap seems to lie between what we know our students OUGHT to be able to do, and what our actual classroom experience of their ability is.   How do we make that shift ourselves?

In my view, the issue is less whether the Common Core standards represent the true direction in which education should move, but whether we can consistently raise our expectations of our students and of ourselves, ask questions that are truly open-ended and craft classroom experiences that allow our students to explore those questions – independently, cooperatively, collaboratively.   I would love to be that teacher, and every September, I try again.

Of course, juxtaposed with these lofty goals are the new performance evaluation systems for teachers which include, as one criterion, student performance on standardized tests.  It is not to difficult to understand why so many teachers will not leave student performance open-ended.  But ultimately I think we need to trust ourselves and our students in order to harness the enormous potential in 21st century learning.  Pie in the sky?  Perhaps.  But I didn’t become a career-changing teacher in my mid-40’s because I lacked imagination.

Speaking of open-ended questions, I saw this down an alley in Providence, Rhode Island last weekend.   Giant balloon animals?  The inflatable carwash man trying to escape?  Hmmm…



  1. Shauna Sheridan

    In Utah, we are one of the few states that took on the Integrated approach to the common core, and there are only 2 companies that have attempted an Integrated approach. Personally, I am not a huge fan of either. Next year is our first year attempting to do Math 2 in the High Schools. I have been working all summer to make assignments that I feel are a little better than what are in the books. With all your experience looking at stuff, would you mind telling me if I am getting close to hitting the mark with what you are seeing. I probably am still too leading, but I teach lower end students, and I am just not certain what they can tackle yet. Would you mind checking out my assignments on my blog and give me some suggestions. Money are not classroom tasks, just assignments.

    Shauna Sheridan Have an adventure today!

  2. Wendy Menard

    Shauna – from what I can see, the assignments look like a great way to sequentially build on the material. The worksheets (from what I can see of them) look like good learning activities. (You have to teach the students before you can assess their understanding, right?) Do you have any assessments? The culminating tasks I was referring to would be given at the end of the unit, and would have many of the scaffolds removed. Straightforward exams can also be a part of the assessment process, but the idea is that students need to demonstrate their learning in some kind of problem-solving capacity. This website has a comprehensive list of resources.

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