8.06.2014

The Original Common Core: Old School


 A couple of weeks ago we sat in the beautiful gardens at the home of Joy P. The group included my mom, a retired school teacher, myself and Joy with lots of years of teaching experience between the two of us, and my sister that works with students in the Gear UP program.

We were talking about the changes happening in schools and education in general. The instruction of math came up because is seems like the Common Core standards are moving teachers and students to a different way of teaching and learning math. The conversation moved to the arts and  how elementary art and opportunities for students to be creative is moving to the back burner. Joy then commented that the way we learned and the way Mom taught was good teaching. She inquired, "What was wrong with that kind of teaching?"

Today people call it "old school". Is it so old school?As I reflected on our summer school session with students from grades two through nine, I thought about "old school " teaching vs. Common Core.
We taught our program using a one-room schoolhouse model from the 1900s. It was exciting seeing older students teaching younger students or assisting and reading to them. I think the younger students taught the older students a thing or two also.

Students were allowed freedom to read what they wanted. They found books they were excited about reading that "weren't allowed" sometimes because they were too hard or too easy. They discovered books on tape. They loved being read to. They were reminded how much they loved poetry. Teachers don't have time to fit some of these parts of reading in to instruction anymore. Old school? Perhaps, but it worked for us.

Students were motivated and without much reminding they ate their breakfast each day in the cafeteria and hustled to the library to enjoy reading. They were thrilled when the Book Mobile came and they could pick books. They sat intently listening to Sarah, the library lady read Grimms Fairy Tales to them. She connected them to the current animated movies they watch, but I still think they would have loved them.

Yes, we answered questions about reading and practiced math with time tests and games. We were aware of the Common Core standards and worked at weaving them into our teaching. Students excelled by reading, thinking, writing, and performing math tasks.

The days were even more enriching because we allowed them to be creative in art. They drew sketches, painted, created designs, painted, used yarn, colored with Sharpies, and found their muses. Our students just don't get enough opportunities to do this anymore.

When more than thirty students showed up each day during the hot summer, this illustrated to me that old school learning can work. I think of my mom and what made her such a successful teacher. She knew each student personally and cared about them inside and outside of the classroom. She pushed her students to excel and believed they could do it. She was patient and tried new ways of teaching when students didn't " get it".  She found things that students were interested in and brought those things into the classroom. She had art projects, a Valentine post office, guppies, and tadpoles. She read books and encourages them to read books. Old school? Perhaps.

Thanks Joy for reminding me that Old School can work. As I start another school year in a few weeks, I plan to revisit those things that make teaching successful. I think those important strategies will be in place before Common Core.



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