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Anatomy of an English class: How the Common Core is shaping instruction for one Miami teacher – Hechinger Report

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Many NH teachers have found the move to the more demanding Common Core standards a challenging but invigorating change in their classrooms.

Here, from Sarah Carr in the Hechinger Report, is a Florida classroom where students are getting a similar experience.

MIAMI—English instructor Lois Seaman often speaks bluntly to her middle-school students about the increased expectations they will face under the new Common Core curriculum standards. “It’s like you are looking at this under a microscope; glean all you can from this text,” she told a class of eighth graders as they studied a passage from “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes. “Common Core says, ‘Read like a detective and write like an investigative reporter.’”

Seaman’s students at Richmond Heights Middle School will still be tested on the old state standards this school year. But like many of her colleagues, Seaman has already started adjusting her teaching approach to meet the new standards. Here are a few of her strategies, culled from her own research and materials and guidance provided to teachers by the Miami-Dade school district and the state:

Asking students to read multiple texts on the same theme:

This year, Seaman will assign the short story “The School Play” by Gary Soto, which includes a reference to the Donner Party, a group of American pioneers trapped in the Sierra Nevada snow during their mid 19th-century migration to California. Students will also read excerpts from diaries written by members of the Donner party in an effort to give them added insight into the short story. In addition, “Raymond’s Run,” a story about a girl who cares for her mentally disabled brother, will be accompanied by the poem “Brother and Sister” by Lewis Carroll. The pairings are part of Seaman’s effort to ensure students can analyze and write on multiple readings that explore similar themes—a key requirement of the Common Core.


Read the rest here: Anatomy of an English class: How the Common Core is shaping instruction for one Miami teacher | Hechinger Report.


  1. Jack Blodgett says:

    If I were a betting man (as I often find that I am when it comes to harness racing), I’d bet that this teacher has either (1) been teaching in the manner described long before the advent of the Common Core, (2) now plans to teach as scripted or adapted Common Core-aligned units recommended by district curriculum coordinators or marketed by external curriculum sources, or (3) learned to live with a humiliating combination of the former two. What difference does this make if the result is the same higher quality instruction?

    In the case of #1 above, and speaking as a veteran teacher who has struggled against the odds to engage students in Common Core-like learning in the discipline for many years, I resent the implication that if it were not now for the Common Core, we would continue our pathetic slog down the road of instructional squalor. If it were not for the Common Core in “shaping instruction” for me – as you state here and evangelically assert in other entries of this blog – my role as a teacher would be so much more chaotic, directionless, ineffectual. Let me say again: I’m not opposed to the Common Core. I just don’t want it to steal the whole show, as your spotlights help to ensure that it does. What I need more than almost anything else is TIME, as I almost hopelessly struggle against the odds to teach well under present conditions. Corporate-styled reform would prefer the quick and dirty approach that conveniently ignores the human and material conditions necessary for enacting “rigorous standards.” Let’s take one example. Consider the reasonable need to ask students to develop skills of Common Core argumentation through writing actual pieces of writing. Let’s say the teacher asks for ten short writings over a ten week period, requiring on average about ten minutes of the teacher’s time for reading and providing thoughtful feedback for each writing that is also adequate for guiding the student through subsequent editing and the production of at least one further draft. The total is now a conscientious commitment of at least twenty minutes for each completed essay per student. Sound reasonable so far? Let’s say this conscientious teacher has 150 students. No Common Core math needed here: 150 students X 10 essays X 20 minutes per essay = 500 hours, or approximately twelve additional work weeks crammed into the ten week period. It is so much easier to credit the Common Core with spearheading reforms than to wonder why conscientious teachers produce the less-than-desirable results that they do after fighting daily to carve out some semblance of the time actually needed to do the job they feel responsible for doing. With a headlining Common Core, Horace’s Compromise remains alive and well. Where is this essential time ever going to come from? Not from waving the Common Core flag, I assure you, and “time” will show that results of the order envisioned by the Common Core will require resources that appear to be off the radar screen for most Common Core proponents.

    In the case of #2 above, a more complicated set of circumstances that I’ve had some experience in addressing in a variety of roles as coordinator of professional development activities for teachers, I would say again: I’m not opposed to the Common Core. To the extent the standards are packaged and promoted as “shaping instruction,” however, the implication is that other supports to teachers are secondary. Time will show again that many students will not engage with activities that appear inauthentic, the effect of one-shot workshops and colorful materials designed for efficiency in transmitting expectations and props for classroom implementation. If we assume that teachers are willing and able to learn new practices in view of evolving standards, they learn and integrate those practices authentically and credibly over TIME in an environment that makes TIME for much professional interaction in the context of classroom practice. Where is this essential time going to come from? Clearly not from waving the Common Core flag, but instead in advocating for the quantity and type of additional resources that appear to be off the radar screen for most Common Core proponents.

    In the case of #3 above, many of those teachers are no longer teaching and do not worry anymore about their lives being upstaged by a set of principles championed by those with that corporate proclivity for wanting it fast, wanting it cheap, and, of course, wanting it good.

    If any other teachers are reading this, I’d welcome your thoughts on this issue.

    • Bill Duncan says:

      If anyone knows what Jack is talking about, please fill me in. In the mean time, I will not be trying to reinterpret what this teacher is saying to fit my position on the Common Core. I will just take it at face value.

      • Jack Blodgett says:

        After a close reading of my own text, I belief my point is that the academic results which the Common Core is designed to effect will not occur until the public is willing to support the conditions most critical to high quality teaching and learning. Advocating exclusively for the Common Core sustains longstanding public ignorance or denial of entrenched conditions in schools that prevent even the most conscientious of teachers from being as effective as they know how to be. A more productive approach would be to credit teachers, not the Common Core, for shaping instruction, and then explore more inquiringly what teachers honestly need at ground level for raising performance to the levels envisioned by the Common Core.

        • Bill Duncan says:

          I’m not sure why you would think that I am advocating “exclusively” for CCSS, if that’s what you’re saying here. Just look at the variety of issues discussed on this site, and my previous one ( Teachers and what works for them, in their judgment, are at the center of what ANHPE is about. Back awhile, I wrote in great detail about the new teacher evaluation policy, for instance.

          And that’s why they are featured here. If I had heard a different story – about CCSS or anything else – as I visited classrooms, I would be telling that story.

          If you think there are subtleties I’m missing in advocating for what teachers need, you should get out there and correct the imbalance.

  2. Jack Blodgett says:

    “A more productive approach would be to credit teachers, not the Common Core, for shaping instruction, and then explore more inquiringly what teachers honestly need at ground level for raising performance to the levels envisioned by the Common Core.”

    I’m not sure how else I can make this point, although I suppose I could be clearer about the exclusivity issue. At the beginning of our conversation, I suggested that what I found missing in your posts about the Common Core was a more nuanced view from the teachers’ perspective. By this I mean a more thoughtfully skeptical view, which I maintain is a reasonable stance to take for any teacher faced with a whole new system of standards and assessments while the old barriers to high quality teaching continue to be ignored or sloughed off by much of the public and many school administrators, respectively. Read Ted Sizer’s old standard “Horace’s Compromise” to get a better sense of the complexities involved (if you haven’t already). I gave you one good example in my first reply: the absurdly high student loads given to teachers who are expected to build sophisticated skills in analytical writing (and now doubled down on by the Common Core). The example is not fictional, and I’ll leave it to your imagination to guess what really happens when a teacher is faced with how to fit an extra 10-12 weeks of reading/reviewing student work inside 10 weeks of his regular job. There are all sorts of tricks, all sorts of short-cuts, all sorts of cover-ups – – and all sorts of students slipping through without the skills ostensibly “taught.” If it’s a new day for standards with the CCSS, it should also be a new day for finding out what teachers need to honestly implement them – – and finding the resources to provide what is needed. I can surmise one response to this issue: let poor performance on standards-based assessments expose where the needs are, and then we’ll argue for the resources to address them. But it doesn’t take a cynic to see the callousness of that approach.

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