By Nicole J. Di Donato
Little heads bent over white-lined paper, pencils scratching out a story barely keeping up with the imaginative ideas swirling. I survey my third graders while they write -- their passion for what they have to say, and the diligence with which they tackle saying it is heart-warming. A few years ago, I wouldn't have asked my students to write a fictional story, narrative writing being difficult for young learners to handle with all of its many attributes. But along came the Common Core, and when it did, I was forced to rethink my stance, and find ways to begin teaching this style of writing. That was just the beginning of my journey with the new standards.
I am a teacher, and I support the Common Core State Standards. These days it feels like I need to keep this to myself. The Common Core seems like everyone's favorite initiative to hate, but exactly who are the critics? Politicians running in mid-term elections? Celebrities like Louis C.K.?
In the last few years, my colleagues and I have been stepping up the rigor and content of our instruction in response to the standards' implementation. Dare I say we have actually enjoyed this work? I must admit that Massachusetts' educators were lucky. Our former learning standards were comprehensive to begin with. For us, adopting the Common Core has been more of a shift than a radical change, but a shift I am more than happy to make if it leads to equal educational opportunities for students in all parts of the United States.
The Common Core is a list of vertically-aligned learning standards from grades K through 12. The skills build year to year, allowing students the opportunity to go deeper in their understanding of each standard as they mature as learners. This type of intentional, developmentally-appropriate plan for instruction is not easy to create, but yet, here it is, arguably one of the most sweeping education reforms in our country's history.
Where there are learning standards, there needs to be an assessment for measuring how schools are doing in their teaching. Of course an assessment tool needed to be developed to go with the Common Core. Massachusetts has chosen PARCC. It is computerized, although a paper/pencil version exists, and has been designed to match the rigor of the Common Core. Having seen samples of PARCC questions, it is definitely not a typical fill-in-the-bubble test, but one that will ask students to think critically about the information they are given.
If the Common Core is designed to assist our students in becoming 21st-century learners and workers, then I'm all for it. Being held accountable for my teaching of these standards is appropriate, and I will be there to assist my students in navigating PARCC. My guilty secret? I'd rather be discussing story ideas with my third graders.
Nicole J. Di Donato is in her ninth year of teaching in the North Reading Public School District, North Reading, MA. In addition to teaching third grade at the L.D. Batchelder School, she is a Core Collaborative facilitator with Teach Plus.