Sunday, February 22, 2015

Common Core and PARCC and Poverty

What worries Americans? Terrorists? The economy? The various discriminations? Yes, of course, these, and then there is Common Core. What about it? What does it do? Keep it? Throw it out?

First, what is Common Core? The important thing is that it is built on standards. According to the website, "Read the Standards" (, "the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy build on the best of existing standards and reflect the skills and knowledge students will need to succeed in college, career, and life."

What does this mean? Perhaps this list best illuminates the topic:
    "Standards are:
  1. Research and evidence based
  2. Clear, understandable, and consistent
  3. Aligned with college and career expectations
  4. Based on rigorous content and the application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills
  5. Built upon the strengths and lessons of current state standards
  6. Informed by other top-performing countries to prepare all students for success in our global economy and society"
 Instead of traditional textbooks, students read a novel, for example, then multiple-related and varied items of literature involving that subject. For example, accompanying texts might include poetry, essays, documents, short stories, or another  novel. The first core work, the novel, read at the beginning of the year is less complex. As the year continues, the novels become more and more complex with more challenging assignments. The essay is at the core of writing, from basic to complex. Higher order thinking skills are the heart of Common Core.

Why Common Core? Some educational expert woke up one day, observing that American students go to college lacking the writing skills to create freshmen level essays. In fact, American students have to take a year or so of remedial level writing before they can handle college level writing.  So, Common Core was born. And with it--PARCC (or The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).

So what is it? Start over. Begin in kindergarten. Restructure everything. Plan a national curriculum that is formula for all grades, all teachers, all schools, all districts, all state, and one nation to follow. A national curriculum designed to cure a lack of intellectual richness. The fallacy is that there were many teachers in isolated pockets teaching students dedicated to that higher order of teaching and learning. It has always been there, but not enough, especially in areas where resistance to education is dominant.

However, this is America. We were created on the premise that all men (women) were created equal and that each child has the right to a good education. However, until poverty is part of the dialogue, this dream world of equal access becomes moot. We are a bifurcated country: we want the best under circumstances of the worst.

Poverty changes everything (depending on the individual). My school is doing a book study on "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," by Ruby K. Payne. It was written for educators, employers, policymakers, and service providers. It is an essential read to understanding the ravages of poverty.

Until Common Core (and unrealistic goals in education), early education teachers claimed the necessity of pre-teaching words and concepts before they could begin the actual grade level. Does that sound familiar? The goal of Common Core is to prepare students for college because freshmen, far too many, have to take remedial classes in English before they are ready for college level (if ever).

In  one of the group meetings for "Understanding Poverty," my assignment was to make a presentation on Chapter Two. Two facts stand out in my memory, two things that trumpet the depths of undertow of impoverished and unprepared students. First is this: "A three-year old in a professional household has more vocabulary words than an adult in a welfare household" (32). Think of that!! Second, Mainstream American English, spoken by the middle class and above, is really a second language to children in poverty. They must learn this middle class language because it is the language of empowerment. Thus, they enter school unprepared and stay behind unless something significant is done to break that cycle of poverty and the impoverishment of language that goes along with it.

As hard as educators work, their task is quixotic. If a child is born in poverty, how can he succeed? Psychology says that just one adult, one important adult, who tends to him both physically and emotionally, can make a difference. But that adult must take that child out of poverty and show him other things, other worlds, other ways. Unless he knows of these other things, he cannot know to educate himself toward being part of that other. It is difficult, but it is possible. One person can make a difference. Volunteer in your neighborhood school. Take coats to your school. Provide crayons, paper, writing utensils. Help sponsor a trip to a museum or anywhere new and significant. Give of yourself. Find a way. If not you, then who? It can be done!

For more information about Common Core and related topics, follow one of these links:

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why study Canada?

Indeed, why should we study Canada? Do you know that most American students don't study anything about Canada? Isn't that odd?

Canada is our northernmost neighbor with whom we have many treaties and agreements.The idea of overlooking learning about an important country--which happens to be a neighbor-- is simply ridiculous!

To reconcile what isn't with what is was simple: I planned a short unit to study Canada before we finished our novel and moved to the next unit. We are reading Hatchet, which is set in Canada. Where in Canada I don't know, nor does Brian, the main character. When the pilot of this very small, two-seater airplane had a heart attack, his jerking movements knocked the plane miles off course. How far, neither Brian nor the reader knows, except that it's just far. So, I located a map of Canada and started trying to deduce where in Canada Brian is. I took the question the next day to my sixth-grade Gateway students. We started in Hampton, New York, as provided in the novel and moved northwest, aiming for the tundra oil fields, where Brian's dad works. One course took us over Hudson Bay. There is no mention of such a huge body of water in the novel. We finally concluded that there simply is no way to figure it, except through approximation.

That led me to creating a short unit on Canada. I ordered a coloring book of Canada with provinces, lakes, towns, and maps of Canada. First, students colored the provinces, learning them as we colored, Next, they cut out the provinces, creating smallish puzzle
pieces which they put together, learning the geographical placement along the way. Then they quickly researched a province for its capital and one tourist site.

I took notes as they presented their brief reports of their provinces. Here are some of their findings:
Hotel Frontenac in Quebec City is the most photographed hotel in the world.
New Brunswick is the Lobster Capital of the world.
Nova Scotia has the most extreme tidal range in the world.
Yukon was the site of gold mining in the late 1800's.
Northwest Territories experiences the aurora borealis.
British Columbia has 25% of all grizzly bears in North America.
Prince Edward Island produces the most blueberries in Canada.
Alberta and British Columbia are sites of the Canadian Rockies.

The next day I gave them a surprise quiz: smallest province, largest, most islands, an island province, the most western, one bordering New York (our character's home and starting place), one bordering other states, and so on. Nearly everyone made an A.

Today I found calendars on sale at our local shopping center. One had gorgeous photos of the aurora borealis, two taken in the Northwest Territories. I bought it to so I could place those photos on our bulletin board. Another calendar depicted "majestic mountains." I'm hoping that the locations are named and Canada's Rockies are among them. Just checked, and they aren't!
aurora borealis over the Northwest Territories

So, we've learned a bit about Canada. I'm glad to report it.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

                                           My coffee set from Tunisia

Pottery items are available in the street markets in Tunisia, a water-sourced country in North Africa. It's not heavy pottery, but fragile, not like limoges, but craftier. I worried about packing this, but every item made it back to America safe and sound. My trip was in 2005 when I went with a seminary class in New Testament fathers of the church.

A favorite souvenir

A favorite souvenir
These are my two girls from Ireland!

Judy's shared items

Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)

  • *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
  • How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
  • The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
  • In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  • *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
  • The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
  • Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
  • Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
  • Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
  • Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
  • *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
  • *Ruined by Paula Morris
  • Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
  • Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  • Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
  • *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
  • Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
  • *The Giver by Lois Lowery
  • *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski

School Library Journal - NeverEndingSearch


A semester course in one book about the Soviet Union. Click on image for my review.