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Task Discussion

  • Russ Goerend   Nov. 13, 2011, 9:16 p.m.

    At first, I was a bit ashamed as I thought to myself, I haven't been reading anything Common Core related lately. Then I thought about what I have been reading -- Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes -- and how it's changed my outlook almost completely on the food part of my life. 

    The basic premise of the book, as a follow up to Good Calories, Bad Calories, is that it's not just about how many calories we put into our bodies, but about which ones and how those calories interact physiologically with our bodies. My whole life -- and I'd imagine it's the same for many people -- I've just assumed that all calories were "equal." 150 calories of pizza = 150 calories of chicken. Right?

    According to Taubes, and the research he cites, wrong. Long story short -- and it is a long story, but worth reading -- carbohydrates are broken down in a different, slower, inefficient way than most other "calories" we put into our bodies. If you're interested in learning more without diving all the way into the book, I'd suggest starting with Mark's Daily Apple

    After 10 days living "primally," I feel healthier and energized, and I look leaner and happier (according to multiple people who brought it up to me without any prompting.)

    So what does this have to do with Common Core? Common Core gives us a chance to rethink our current "eating habits" in schools. Are all standards "equal"? As Mike Schmoker said in the article Deb shared, "No." Is having more standards necessarily better? Fewer? 

    One of my biggest "a-ha moments" of Why We Get Fat was when Taubes pointed out the absurdity of the "eat less, exercise more" advice we've probably all heard at one point or another. If we exercise, we build up an appetite. Expending calories (exercising) makes our bodies need more calories. Can you imagine someone telling me to "Drive farther, but use less gasoline" if I complained about the price of gas? The way we've figured out how to do just that -- "Drive farther, but use less gasoline" -- is by getting away from the conventional wisdom of a gasoline-only engine. This book has helped me realize that to get to a better place in my eating habits, I need to think differently.

    The Common Core State Standards give us a chance to do that. Will we -- teachers, curriculum facilitators, administrators -- take advantage of this opportunity? 

    This class has helped me realize that while I may not be excited about the standards themselves, I should be excited about the opportunities they present.

    What opportunities do you see the Common Core State Standards presenting?

  • KevinHodgson   Nov. 14, 2011, 5:17 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Russ Goerend   Nov. 13, 2011, 9:16 p.m.

    Opportunities ....

    • Forcing me to re-examine the projects and assignments I have done in the past through a new lens;
    • Helping me spark more conversations about literacy with my science, math and social studies colleagues;
    • Seeing informational text as an equal part of how kids read;
    • Pushing persuasive writing taps into the natural sense of "argument" that my students already have and now need to help them focus that argument into coherent writing;
    • Chatting with teachers like us here about the opportunities ...


  • Paul Oh   Nov. 13, 2011, 2:13 p.m.

    I thought I'd throw out these two resources being collected/curated as part of the NWP's Literacy and the Common Core initiative:

    - a public community, Literacy and the Common Core, at our social networking platform (open to membership to anyone, even if you're not formally affiliated with a writing project)

    - a related Diigo group

  • Karen LaBonte   Nov. 11, 2011, 12:47 p.m.

    Look what showed up on the English Companion Ning this morning: Shades of many of our conversations, eh?


    I'm in my second year of teaching and usually always do what I'm told, but I am not happy abput the latest job our administration is putting on us to address writing across the curriculum. Each and every teacher in the building is now responsible to teach a five-paragraph essay using a computer program called WV Writes to students - even math, physical education, chorus, and resource students (the lowest of the low who can not even form letters correctly). I think this is preposterous seeing as it takes the English teachers in the building a good week to week and  a half period to complete a five-paragraph essay with students (prewriting, outlining, rough draft, final copy, typing it into the program, editing, revising, and regrading). It takes even longer for the lower level students. I am concerned with burn-out. I am concerned with content teachers not being able to address and teach their CSOs. I am concerned with non-English teachers misteaching students in the writing process. Our administration is requiring each teacher to complete one per semester with students. Almost every teacher that I have talked to does not like this idea. But when it comes time to speak with the principal, I am told they all go mum. I am about to approach him with my thoughts on this. It will not change anything because even though they ask for our opinions, it never changes anything. The morale in our school is so low right now. This is not a mandated requirement. Writing across the curriculum is, and I am all for that, but there are better, more efficient ways of doing this. Have each content area complete a writing project that ties in his/her CSOs, that doesn't require the use of the WV Writes program and ties up our already small computer labs. I honestly just do not see the good side of this and I foresee many detrimental effects of going through with this - low benchmark scores, low WESTEST scores, not making AYP, frustrated teachers, burnout students, students becoming confused with the writing process because they are seeing it being taught differently in each classroom. What is your advice? Should I take action and speak with my principal about my concerns or stay quiet and just do my job?

  • KevinHodgson   Nov. 9, 2011, 5:28 a.m.

    Two videos that I found this week, which will be helpful:

    Common Core and Literacy:


    Common Core Crosswalks Activity:

    The second will be helpful for me when I lead some sessions this summer around Common Core, as will be much of the world we are doing here.


  • Susan   Nov. 7, 2011, 5:27 a.m.

    I've been catching up on Angela Stockman's posts about the CC. I've only started, but I really respect her views on writing, so I am listening. Her recent post about adding our own standards resonates with me. As Karen said on her post, we are not hearing words like "care" "heart" and "trust" in any of this. I'm also reading Angela to learn about her Young Writers' Studio, something I'd like to do here in my town.

  • Deb   Nov. 11, 2011, 8:52 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Susan   Nov. 7, 2011, 5:27 a.m.

    I am busily using TWP guidelines to shape a district-wide writing initiative. I began to talk about the common core and writing last spring with the administrative team, and can see that this needs to be a three-year plan.

    The following essay by Mike Schmoker concerns me deeply.  He is a writer who cares about literacy and wants us to focus on the most important standards. And when he writes about the argument and college he sees great benefit in its use.

    I do think that debates can be vitalizing, but I have seen far more  written "arguments"  that are deadly, voiceless, and yet are considered by some  good "academic" writing. 

    I think this is the knottiest question that I am grappling with.  How can we help students write arguments, but avoid defining the argument by what seems to be a pervasive belief that voiceless, "objective," analysis is good writing or good argument.  In the olden days (my days in college), published academic writing aimed at scientific precision and analysis.  The word "I" was forbidden, and the narrative was considered a "lower form" of writing because it was so "subjective" and therefore unscientific.  All of your discussions clearly see the vitality of the narrative.  But what about the old-timers, the administrators and teachers, who forbid the use of I and dismiss "subjective" as lower level thinking (even though brain research says that all decisions include our emotions).

    Thankfully, published academic writing has dropped many of those beliefs, and published writing has voice, narrative, lively examples.

    But how can I refurbish this stuffy, old definition of a genre focused on by the  Common Core?

    A colleague at NCTE recommended They Say, I Say as a worthy read. But I wonder where to take it.


  • KevinHodgson   Nov. 11, 2011, 9:29 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Deb   Nov. 11, 2011, 8:52 a.m.

    So I was struck by Schmoker's condescending prose. (Or am I just too sensitive?)

    "Every K-12 teacher and administrator should know the powerful case for argument. (They currently do not)."

    What's up with that generalization?

    There is often this divide between university and k-12 systems, and that kind of finger-pointing rhetoric is part of the problem.

    That said, I appreciated this article, Deb.

    His last lines were right on:

    "Tied to a content-rich curriculum, these have unparalleled power to make school interesting—and to prepare students for college, careers, citizenship, or any achievement test that will ever come their way."


  • Deb   Nov. 11, 2011, 11:11 a.m.
    In Reply To:   KevinHodgson   Nov. 11, 2011, 9:29 a.m.


    What you say about condescension is right on, Kevin, and I'd like to add that colleges don't necessarily have the teaching of the argument right. 

    I ran a college writing center and taught freshman comp. for 7 years (and trained peer tutors and learned so much), and the arguments and the way that writing was taught was not necessarily, as Schmoker says: "Tied to a content-rich curriculum...." Though, sometimes it was. Much of college writing that cycled through my writing center was voiceless, stilted, and its highest form was a 5-paragraph theme with a strong thesis, an essay map, and a strong conclusion. Our major job was to help students gain enough confidence to take a stand and to have a voice. But that's another story.

    My major worry as I read over the CC and focus on literacy in a K-12 district,  is supporting the best thinking about writing (and reading and speaking and listening).

    We all have misconceptions even the best of us, and we all have so much to learn about the needs of this next generation of students. 

    Perhaps the only solution is staring me right in the face:  I need to get everyone writing and talking about writing. 

    In the meeting that I had with with the assistant principals and curriculum directors this week, we looked at the highest scoring, the lowest scoring, and a few average scores from our 10th grade MCAS so that we could begin to look at what our students' strengths and needs were to collaborate on what might be next in PD at the high, middle and elementary schools as well as for ourselves. We have some former literacy coaches and former English teachers in this very able and energetic group.  Everyone had also brought some non-MCAS writing to discuss also.  One of the essays that became the group's "model" for good writing was a delightful, humorous, and creative college application.  It could have been classified as an argument, but it broke all of the rules of the critical analyses that we had read earlier from the MCAS.

    One of the major understandings from that session was that this essay was fun to read unlike so many of the arguments written for the MCAS.

    And we ended with the question about how we can give teachers permission to encourage creativity and wit even when they call it teaching to the test or teaching the argument.

    And that's where I am.   Stuck. 

    Should I bring in the NWP for a writing retreat? Administrators first? Lovers of writing and the teaching of writing first? Volunteers first? In your school, what would provide support across the disciplines for writing?


  • Bud Hunt   Nov. 11, 2011, 5:08 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Deb   Nov. 11, 2011, 8:52 a.m.

    Your question about objective argument is one that's an open one for journalists right now.  "Objectivity" in journalistic writing isn't that old - used to be that newspapers were pretty darn biased.  On purpose.  And as we move back away from the few networks model, questions about the place of voice in argument are open to both professional journalists as well as academics. I saw a dissertation from an old friend a couple of weeks ago that offers another view on "argument."  It was a compelling collection of research about teens and body image - written as a teen magazine.  Very well done.  Certainly scholarly.  But alive.  

    Academics get let off the hook plenty for not having voice in their work.  That's not necessarily a good thing.  

    There's room here to make interesting things that will prepare students for the world.  Tom Romano, and others like him, might be good resources, too.  I think his ideas about multigenre research are important to think about.  Especially now.  

  • Bud Hunt   Nov. 11, 2011, 5:13 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Deb   Nov. 11, 2011, 11:11 a.m.

    I think, yes, it IS staring you right in the face.  Start with the administrators.  Write with them.  Talk about writing.  What is is, what is should be, and what it looks like in your schools.  I think the NWP or a local site would be a good group to talk to.  Here's a link to their site map, in case you need a place to start with a local contact.

    I have been working to make sure that we write together every time I'm with teachers for more than an hour or two.  And sometimes even then.  Worth doing.  

    Excellent questions to be wondering about.  


    (As a general rule, I always like to work with willing volunteers for any iniative like that.  Then build success from there.) 

  • Deb   Nov. 13, 2011, 3:26 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Bud Hunt   Nov. 11, 2011, 5:13 p.m.

    Thank you, Bud.

    I've emailed my local NWP site, and I've found so much at the NWP web site that I'll be reading through the holiday vacation at least. 

    It's so reassuring that others have already had successes with working on writing on a whole school or district level. I've just sent "On the Verge of Understanding,"  to the CC Task Force in the district  because it looks at a very positive way to look at student work.  Instead of focusing on needs and inadequacies, it looks at samples of student work and describes what students are ready to (on the verge of) learn(ing).

    And I can see that bringing in writers and writing teachers tfrom NWP to this administrative group is an important first step.

    I want to get us all writing, too, as you suggested.  That's critically important.

    There is so much to do, but I don't want to get caught up in the minutia and I don't want to do the kind of well-intentioned harm (perhaps I'm being unduly kind to admins here) of mandating something as in the passage Marcia quoted from English Companion.  One of my favorite passages  about the responsibility of leadership comes from Elmore:

     Accountability must be a reciprocal process. For every increment of performance I demand from you, I have an equal responsibility to provide you with the capacity to meet that expectation. Likewise, for every investment you make in my skill and knowledge, I have a reciprocal responsibility to demonstrate some new increment in performance. This is the principle of "reciprocity of accountability for capacity." It is the glue that, in the final analysis, will hold accountability systems together. At the moment, schools and school systems are not designed to provide support or capacity in response to demands for accountability (Elmore, NSDC 2000).

    Back to Week 5's work. Thanks for the help.