“So, I have an idea I want to run past you,” he whispered, sliding into the chair beside me and flipping a notebook open. It was early afternoon, and although the room was full, it was silent. Students were completely enchanted by the books they were reading.
“I don’t want to disrupt them,” I whispered back, worried we’d already ruined the magic. “Should we move to another area?”
Outside, an ambulance screamed by, but the kids didn’t flinch. He smiled and pushed his notebook toward me.
“What if we did a bit of project-based learning instead of taking a test?” he asked. “Can we do that?”
“Of course you can,” I nodded. “In fact, that would be ideal.”
“Are you sure? I have some friends who said this wasn’t possible. They’re building all of these tests.”
“Yeah,” I nodded, “I know, but we’re not doing that here.”
“Because we don’t have to. Your district doesn’t want to disrupt learning in order to assess kids, and they’ve made the time and space to do things a little bit differently.”
“Great,” he sighed, relieved. “The kids love that Instructables website. They’re all over Pinterest, too. I want to let them research a bunch of DIY projects, try one and then invent their own. They could keep a reflective log and maybe blog about their experiences. Maybe they could try to get their project plans published. Can we use evidence from that work to assess their strengths and needs?”
“Is that data?”
“It is,” I nodded happily, wishing I could take his class.
I’ve spent the last four years helping Western New York school districts align to the Common Core Learning Standards and design standards-based assessments. They aren’t tests but rather, learning experiences that help teachers gather powerful information about their students. Many districts are moving in this direction if they haven’t already, and as they do, they’re placing students at the center of their design work.
Last week, a friend asked me to share what I knew about the Common Core, and it gave me pause. The fact is, the core is whatever a community makes of it. If we convince one another that the core promotes standardization, the narrowing of curricula and the end of passion-fueled learning, then this is the reality we will inevitably perpetuate. If we convince one another that we can leverage these standards to enrich our curricula and pursue our greater vision, the core becomes a very different animal. It’s our choice.
It’s time for parents and educators to begin creating a shared vision for quality learning and seeking a different kind of alignment. Rather than wallowing in fear-based anger and frustration, it’s time for everyone to put aside their assumptions and design great learning experiences for kids.
This is absolutely possible with the Common Core, and the more time we spend telling ourselves, our students, our teachers and our parents that this isn’t possible, the less we have to figure out how. Instead of arguing about what’s broken and who is to blame, let’s start talking about what matters, and aligning our work with the standards to that vision. It’s possible.
I’m grateful to be surrounded by hundreds of great educators who are calmly and confidently pursuing their vision.