Teacher to Teacher: What Can We Do to Support Tomorrow’s Students?
By Lynne R. Dorfman
How will we adapt to the needs of our students in the age of Common Core State Standards? What should we be doing differently? What about all the things that are not specifically mentioned in the Common Core but are necessary to achieve global economic competition and to prepare our young people to be the future guardians of our planet? Big ideas such as creativity, curiosity, responsibility, social justice, altruism, and the courage to stand alone, if need be, to defend something you believe in with all your heart. Will we make time to investigate these ideas and learn more about ourselves, our peers, our community, and our world? What can we do to support tomorrow’s students?
What should we emphasize in each grade or content area? There are still some problems to solve. Time is always an issue – and often, time is stolen from writing to give additional time for reading and math. Then there is the issue that Kelly Gallagher speaks about – volume. In a twitter chat on April 8th Kelly said, “Non-negotiables. Volume. Choice. I will read and write alongside my students. Book flood. They read/write every single day.” Kelly addresses the importance of providing opportunities to write. Teachers think they need to grade everything. Kelly commented, “I hope my students write 4 times what I can handle. Grading doesn’t make them better writers.” I believe what Kelly is saying here is that students need lots of practice – rehearsal before the Broadway show production. Students need to put the time in, just the way they need to get behind the wheel of a car with a trusted mentor and drive when they are trying to acquire a driver’s license. That means they will practice in empty parking lots, then quiet neighborhoods, and finally try their skills on a busy highway. They will try out parallel parking, and some will practice on a stick shift as well as an automatic. It is the precious time we spend with our students in one-on-one and small group conference, the time when we clipboard cruise to discover valuable information about the way our readers/writers process information and problem solve that we should value. The more immediate the feedback, the more powerful it will be. The feedback given before a final grade is so important. It helps our students take ownership, rise to the challenge, and be involved in the assessment process. Students can choose to do multiple revisions and consider the possibilities in most cases. Okay, the PSSA tests aren’t like that. But the PSSA tests aren’t like real life either. In the real world, every writer has an editor!
In today’s classrooms, we often feel the pressure of “covering the curriculum” and “meeting the standards.” Sometimes, we try to accomplish these acts at the cost of something more precious. I think we need to give our students the opportunity to become deeply acquainted. The possible friendships that develop will create supportive classroom behaviors. Developing the student voice in our classroom comes from allowing for choice in writing topics, choosing to design lessons that are challenging and use an inquiry approach, and creating opportunities to engage students in discussions about compelling topics. The best way to get reading and writing conversations going is to first start with pairs, and make sure that pairs change so students discover many peers they can rely on for solid thinking and feedback. Giving our students myriad opportunities to develop their unique voices in our classroom will provide them with a purpose to use academic skills, tools to address social inequities, and a way to gain a sense of efficacy. A writing community is never just about individual success. It is about the harmony of many voices blending together to problem solve, imagine, and dream.
A suggestion: Be sure to read Kelly Gallagher’s latest book, In the Best Interest of Students. It’s definitely worth the time!
Lynne Dorfman is a co-director of PAWLP and co-author of Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips, & Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6. She loves reading and writing poetry, taking her Welsh Corgis for walks, and spending time with her goddaughters, family, and friends.