Thursday, March 10, 2016

Inconceivable! Common core, modifying homework, cursive.....

1. Common Core

Sometimes I wonder if people who complain mercilessly about Common Core have ever read the standards themselves.  

Common Core standards are very general, as in, "Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style."  This is an 8th grade literature standard.  A teacher can have kids read pretty much anything to meet this standard.  The point is that they are learning to compare and contrast using different types of texts. Fifteen years ago, when I was in the classroom full-time we had similar standards.  They weren't call Common Core, but they basically outlined what kids should learn at different grade-levels.  

Some schools are trying different approaches to math, which has nothing to do with Common Core.  This is curriculum to teach kids math, and there are all kinds of curricula out there that schools may adopt.  It may be different from how I learned math as a kid, but considering how much I didn't understand math as a kid, I think different approaches to teach math to kids is a good idea.  It may be different from how I learned it, but that doesn't make it stupid or bad. 

My son is in 2nd grade and starting to begin problems that help students understand the process, the concept, of multiplication.  Yes, it involves drawing circles and grouping things.  I didn't learn it that way.  I just memorized my times tables, which he will also do.  But there is absolutely nothing wrong with learning what multiplication actually means.  Students will do all the rote memorization that I did as a student, but they will understand what the heck is happening when they are saying 5x5=25. 

Some kids may be fine with the way I learned stuff as a kid, but there are probably lots of kids who need to understand it in a different way.  I have personally gained a much better understanding of math by thinking in terms of 10s.  For example, if I want to add 43 and 52 in my head I add 40+50+5.  But if I am looking at it on paper or computer, as I am now, I add 4+5 and then 3+2.  

I learned to read music for piano 4 years ago by learning  Every Good Boy Does Fine/ FACE for the treble clef and Go Back Down For Apples/All Cows Eat Grass for the bass clef.  That is a perfectly fine way to learn the notes and the way gazillions of people have learned their piano notes.  

For the past 2 years, I have been taking a class with G and M in which stories are told to help kids learn the notes and play piano.  So E and G on the bass clef are "Bottom Button E" and "Top Button G," and they are the buttons that hold Mr. Bass Cleff's pants up.

I am 42 years old and learning about the buttons of Mr. Bass Cleff's pants has been FAR MORE effective to help me remember these notes than learning All Cows Eat Grass.  I would have to repeat All Cows Eat Grass over and over, but the story of the buttons has stuck in my head. 

With that being said, I have myself seen some terribly written questions which, again, has nothing to do with Common Core.  I have helped a group of boys in 2nd grade with their math assignment when I volunteer in G's class and had to read the question myself a few times to finally understand what the question was asking the kids to do.  There have always been poorly worded questions, and there always will be, whether there is Common Core or not.  

II.  Modifying Homework -

G has to write spelling sentences every week and complained about them until I suggested that instead of writing 10 sentences, he write a sentence using more than one vocabulary word in each sentence.  I modified what he has to do to make it more bearable for him (and me), but he is still doing the work and actually doing it on a higher level.  It is more challenging to figure out how to use 3 vocabulary words in a sentence and have it make sense than to use just one word.

Below are some examples of his sentences that he wrote the other night:

1.  Vocabulary words:  thumb, plump, grew
Today a boy's thumb grew very plump.
2. Vocabulary words:  blew, clue
One day I blew some dust off and found a clue.  

Are these the world's best sentences?  Of course not.  He could have improved that first one by saying the thumb grew plump because the boy was stung by a bee.  

Did he get the work done, compose original sentences, use the words correctly and practice spelling them?  Yes.  

If his teacher said she didn't want him to do it this way, I would explain to G that life is unfair and one day he will likely have a boss or a spouse who is very particular about certain things, and he will just have to deal with it.  Lots of things don't make sense, but you suck it up and do what you have to do.  

As a result of teaching at the cottage school, one of the things I've learned to look at is how assignments are structured.  Many times advanced students are given MORE work instead of being given the same volume of work as other kids but differently challenging.  Advanced students should not be given more homework, but what they are asked to do with the homework should challenge them more robustly.  

III.  Cursive---

G's 2nd grade teacher, who was also N's 2nd grade teacher, teaches cursive.  When I tell other parents this, they are astounded because most (or many) teachers don't.  My response is:  It doesn't matter whether their teacher teaches them cursive because I TEACH THEM CURSIVE.  

Last summer, before G began 2nd grade, and eons ago, before N began 2nd grade, I started teaching them cursive.  This summer, G will continue to work on practicing cursive.  

I think kids should learn to write cursive for one reason only:  they have to be able to sign their names to documents.  

Some parents make the argument, "How will kids read historical documents if they don't know cursive?"  I never read historical documents as a kid, and I learned cursive, AND I'm a pretty well-educated person.  The vast majority of children will not become historical scholars.  

G reads Geronimo Stilton books, which have cursive script in them periodically, and he can read them even though he doesn't know cursive all that well at this point.  I think it is because an "f" in cursive looks an awful lot like a printed "f."  Same with "t" and "m" and "p" and "b" and "d" and almost every other letter.  

The bottom line is if you value that your child learns cursive, then teach your child cursive.  Use this book.  The schools can't stop you from teaching cursive.  But a parent can't realistically expect their child's teacher to teach everything.  

And if you think it is important for all kids to learn cursive, then volunteer in your child's classroom to teach cursive after testing in May when teachers are looking for things to do with their students.  

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