September Newsletter: LPTM Answers Common Core
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Setting the Standard for Educational Excellence
Recommendations for Honoring Individual Brilliance during the Implementation of Common Core
Across the United States, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted and begun to implement the Common Core State Standards, a system created by state leaders to set benchmarks defining the skills all students should master at each grade level. The Standards were informed by best practices currently in place nationally and internationally, and they work to ensure that students from all backgrounds are prepared with the skills to thrive in college and career.
As students across the nation return to schools that remain unequal, we need to get this right. So we have compiled a list of recommendations based on our 18 years of educational excellence to ensure that the implementation of Common Core not only reaches its goals, but does so in a way that calls forth the unique brilliance of each individual student.
Standard English and the Celebration of Language
Throughout the ELA Common Core Standards, the need to develop "command of standard English" is emphasized. Language is a primary value at Life Pieces - one of the eight values, in fact, that make up what we call our Shield of Faith, the decision-making tool we use to guide our actions. We believe that such an emphasis on "standard English" should not come at the expense of celebrating the many languages and geographical dialects children learn and speak outside of school.
We value all forms of positive communication, and we teach our young men that the way they speak at home and with their friends is beautiful, valuable, and worth celebration. For most of our young men, this includes a dialect unique to Washington, DC. The ability to tailor language based on the audience being addressed is highly valued in the Common Core, and our Apprentices master this skill by learning when and how to use all of the many languages they command.
When our young men understand that by learning to use standard English they are building an additional skill - not correcting a defect or deficit - they are far more likely to engage the process enthusiastically. It is exciting to find yourself capable of communicating with any group and switching between styles and modes of expression at will. But it is equally easy for children to shut themselves down to the process of learning language arts when they feel that their own language is seen as a flaw to be corrected. We find this approach to be far more effective than simply elevating and mandating standard English without explanation and without recognition of the value of other ways of communicating.
Social/Emotional Learning and Engaging the Whole Student
The creators of the Common Core State Standards sought to be clear that the Standards are not an all-encompassing list of what students should learn in school, but an outline of the skills they judged most crucial to college and career success. They recognize that students must develop additional skills, and that the Standards in particular do not measure "attention to matters of social, emotional, and physical development and approaches to learning." At Life Pieces To Masterpieces, we believe that building these social and emotional skills is every bit as vital to youth development as the literacy and math skills outlined in the Standards. Such skills form the foundation of the resilience, self-knowledge, and sense of purpose that allow individuals - particularly those facing the challenges of poverty, violence, and loss - to use difficult experiences as opportunities for growth and motivation. They ensure that children can build, sustain, and utilize effective support networks, and they help youth understand that the challenges presented by life transitions do not define or limit them.
All students carry their experiences, struggles, joys, and doubts with them to every class. As schools adopt the Common Core, we urge them to give equal consideration to making space for this reality to be honored and embraced. Over our 18 years, we have learned that children are much more willing, able, and excited to engage in school work when they are able to understand how it connects to their lives, to their experiences, and to their relationships.
Creativity and Multiple Intelligences
A systemic challenge in US public school education has been the ranking of one or two types of intelligence - linguistic/analytic and mathematical/logical - over others, when the theory of multiple intelligences and experience working with young people reveals a wide range of aptitudes, learning styles, and gifts. Too frequently, those who learn and think in different ways are left behind; the failure of our schools to make space for their unique intelligences is interpreted as their own failure to learn. The Common Core allows teachers to decide how to teach, so individual schools and classrooms can incorporate strategies that engage kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and other intelligences to help all students reach the Standards. Life Pieces To Masterpieces has always been a place that meets our youth at their individual brilliance; we always incorporate music, movement learning, and personal projects into our lesson plans and activities.
However, we believe it is important to value these intelligences as more than a means to a linguistic/mathematical end. The Standards themselves outline results that speak again only to those same two types of intelligence. We are selling our students short if we only recognize and reward one or two facets of their brilliance. We should teach through music because music helps some students build their literacy skills; we should also teach it because musical intelligence is valuable to all students. It is valuable for a student who most naturally learns kinesthetically to build logical/mathematical skills. It is equally valuable for the natural mathematician or writer to build kinesthetic, spatial, and creative skills.
We understand that the Standards are derived from the skills expected from colleges and employers; as such, we hope for a broad shift in how our society and our institutions see, engage, and value young people. We need standards of excellence in education. But we need those standards to honor and make space for the many ways our children can excel.
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