Where the Core gets it wrong: Instructional Material

Are there some wonderful things about Common Core State Standard? Yes, of course.

But I have issues with two main areas of application: instructional materials and methods and how it applies to special education students.

First: Instruction

Common Core is supposedly designed to allow students to access materials at developmentally appropriate times and to go beyond just rote memorization. Great! I think all students should understand WHY their math operations are working and WHAT they mean. And all students should be able to analyze and interpret the literature that they are reading.

But I also think that we should approach this  in a way that shows common sense and is straight forward.

5th Grade CCSS HW
5th Grade CCSS HW

A good friend posted a photo of his child’s homework. It shows 132 in representative base ten blocks. I saw that it had 132 units, and that two sides of the picture were labelled 12 and 11, to show that 11×12=132 or 132÷12=11. But I couldn’t see how that pictured EXPLAINED the WHY behind the division sentence. An image of 12 groups with 11 things in each group would have shown me that. Or if there were 12 groups with one base ten stick and one single cube in each group, and the student was asked to create a division equation that correctly explained the image.

As I’ve taught in different states, in public and private schools, and with pre-packaged curricula, I’ve noticed that this kind of math is the trend. And the kids more often than not DO NOT understand the ways that this math is presented. So I have fallen back on the ways that I have found the kids learn best: with hands-on manipulatives, essential explanations, and practice. Am I just teaching the way to do it, and not the why? Of course not! But I’m also not teaching the CCSS way. Last year, with my rebellious math instructional methods, ALL of my kids passed the Virginia State Standards of Learning exam in math. Yup, even the kids in the ESL program and my kiddos with IEPs.

Reading isn’t much better. No program in reading will be perfect, ever. Because no program can feasibly hit all of the things that teachers need to hit, at all of the levels that need to be reached, in two hours a day. So English language arts programs are scripted, and tightly controlled. And utterly boring. Nothing is personal, if a teacher follows the program exactly. My student told me, after weeks of following the scripted program with “enthusiasm,” that they much preferred if I just explained the topics to them, read real books, and that they then wrote based on that. So I did. And over 90% of my students passed.

What had this taught me about the standards? Nothing. The standards are acceptable. They require teachers to teach kids how to think, they require kids to all learn common material by high school graduation, and we assess them to ensure their knowledge is making progress.

The curricula and prescribed methods of teaching is where we need to work.

We need teaching materials that make sense.

We need visuals that make sense in math, that are actually linked to the numbers in the math equations in a concrete way. Kids need to understand HOW to do the math at their appropriate developmental level. They do not need to be puzzling over what the squiggles mean, or why they are arranged in a certain pattern.

What we have now is confusing, tear inducing, and frustrating for every single person involved.

~Meg

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