Standards, Not Standardized
If you're like me, you welcome the Common Core standards as a pathway to "less talk (about what we believe students should learn) and more action (directed at actually getting students to meet those standards.)" Used thoughtfully, they should be the building blocks that enable many approaches and models to thrive—without the constant drag of redefining the words we use to accomplish what we (almost) all agree we should be able to accomplish. My vision of the highest and best use of the standards is a team of teachers who develop and implement interesting, integrated, and adaptable learning experiences that are ANCHORED. Instead, though, we're already seeing districts or schools adopt overly lock-stepped curricula where "everyone's on the same page," so that standardized test scores, rather than assessment of real standards, become the defining data.
One of the reasons I'm so excited about working with JumpRope is that our planning tool both empowers and compels teachers to avoid that trap. Inspired by the work of Marzano, Wiggins and McTighe, and others, we ask our teachers to plan backwards from the Common Core. But we also ask them to plan FORWARDS into the kind of case studies, integrated modules, and long-term projects that are relevant and meaningful to students. Once we have the big Common Core concepts framed and a meaningful context in which students can practice and master those targets, our teachers begin the difficult but rewarding work of planning, scaffolding, and designing learning experiences (lessons) and formative and summative assessments. If we do this work well, we have not grades, but assessment data that can become feedback to students and parents. To some extent, we’ve known all this—and been able to jargon-ize it as I have above—for quite a long time. What’s new about JumpRope is the potential to harness technology to turn jargon into actual results for kids.
Imagine an 8th grade student in a Humanities classroom where the two teachers are responsible for meeting Common Core Language Arts standards (and the state Social Studies standards, which in this state put "systems of government" in the 8th grade scope and sequence.) In a JumpRope school, what the student sees and strives to accomplish/avoid is NOT a number on a scale of 60-100, nor is it the disembodied language of the Common Core, but a teacher-written, student-friendly "big" learning target (one of 5-8 per unit of learning). Rather than “RL8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text," an 8th grader would see, on the board in the front of the classroom something like this:
"I can explain the big ideas of Animal Farm and connect those ideas to specific events in 20th century history." "I can make an argument that the US is becoming more or less like Animal Farm."
The teacher has linked (with JumpRope's one-click Common Core alignment feature) his student-friendly target to the Common Core equivalent, but every day for six weeks, the student sees not the Common Core, but these two "teacher-written, student friendly" targets as among the 5-8 that she must master.
Eventually, these Common Core linked targets are the ones that "count." But since every meaningful larger skill or concept is made up of many smaller or component concepts, the student should also see—and the teacher will track in JumpRope—supporting learning targets that change daily or every few days. At the beginning of this unit—BEFORE students dive into Orwell's language, such targets might be,
"I have a working knowledge of the most important concepts Orwell's attempting to address." "I can create a simple story where animals represent ideas and people."
Because it is unlikely students would have much hope of making sense of Orwell without this prior knowledge—and because the teacher is interested in making sure that as many students as possible have a fighting chance of getting something valuable from this unit—he's planned a workshop for day 1 and day 2 of this unit on each of the above supporting targets; he's assigned and assessed student work that tells him which students have accomplished those supporting targets...and he's planned on a "reteach" period for day 3 that teams up students who've mastered those targets with those who have not. Those students will have another chance to show what they know at the end of that period...and if one or more student still has a partial understanding, the teacher SHOULD have at his disposal structures and strategies that can help that student accomplish that target before (or parallel to) engaging in a reading experience that depends on those supporting targets having been accomplished.
Now the situation above may NOT be how most schools and classrooms work now. Many schools that have high levels of student engagement and teacher autonomy struggle to produce the measurable academic progress that students deserve. Many schools that boost test scores significantly struggle to produce the meaningful context for learning that students deserve. At JumpRope, though, we have the pleasure of seeing more and more schools move to and benefit from this approach. Like most either/or questions, we end up coming down on the side of both/and: high levels of teacher ownership and creativity linked to carefully scaffolded, measurable, Common Core standards.