At Anastasis Academy we use the Common Core Standards as a basic framework to start from. We don’t purchase ANY boxed curriculum. At all. At least not in the typical fashion. We tailor learning to meet the needs of our students. All of the resources we purchase are purchased with specific students in mind. So, if a piece of curriculum meets the needs of a student, we purchase that. If a lesson plan, or a video, or a book, or an app helps that child to be successful in learning, we purchase that. The Common Core Standards act as our guide not our goal. I know, scandalous.
We don’t see the Common Core Standards as needing to be prescriptive of when and how a child should learn. Instead, we recognize that there are some foundational, basic skills in learning that help students in other learning, discovery and creativity. Quite frankly, the Common Core Standards are underwhelming. They leave SO much to be desired if they are viewed as the learning objective. If viewed as a baseline, a door to other learning opportunities, everything changes. There is freedom in that.
At Anastasis, we don’t have grade levels. Instead we group students based on developmental level taking into account academic abilities, the social/emotional and maturation. In any given class, we could have up to a 3-4 year spread. We recognize that children don’t develop at exactly the same rate. They must be given flexibility in their learning and not forced through a curriculum based on an artificial pacing guide. We believe the same is true for the standards. While the standards give a nice framework, there is no reason why a 6 year old should be expected to master all of the standards in first grade. There is no reason why a 6 year old should be limited by the standards in first grade. I’m sure that we don’t use the Common Core Standards quite like anyone else. We pay little attention to the grade level of the standard. Instead, when a child has mastered a standard, we move them to the next level of challenge regardless of the grade level the standard falls in. Because every child in a class could be working on a different combination of standards, we have a very low teacher/student ratio. We have 12 students to every teacher. This allows us to truly work with students where they are at. We use Mastery Connect to help us keep track of student progress.
Our students are involved in the process of coming up with learning goals. I know in most cases this responsibility rests solely on the shoulders of the teacher or the curriculum company. Students should have a say in their learning. If they don’t, we are doing a disservice to them. The problem we quickly ran into: students couldn’t easily read and understand the standards so that they could weigh in. Have you read the Common Core Standards? They are ridiculously full of eduspeak BS. I mean honestly, do they have to make everything sound so convoluted? I ended up rewriting the standards in student friendly language so that our students could work with teachers to create learning goals for each block (five week period). Below, you can see my re-written versions for first-sixth grade standards. I’m going back through the seventh and eighth grade standards for some additional tweaking.
Our students are so brilliant in the way they plan their goals for each block. One of our intermediate students showed me a video yesterday that he put together to show which standards and goals he had set for himself and his action steps to get there. It is seriously creative. As soon as he has it uploaded to YouTube I’ll share. Whoever decided that standards should be printed out and posted during the lesson that addresses them should be ashamed. Who is that for, honestly? The standard cards that get posted are full of the eduspeak. They aren’t for students.
Standards have gotten a bad reputation in the education community. The way they are being used is distasteful to say the least. Standards are being used to make every learning experience look exactly the same regardless of the child. They are being used to sell curriculum. They are being used to help students pass a test. They are being used to judge teacher abilities. They are being used to determine funding. They are being used to churn out a generation of kids that have the exact same skill set.
I like standards. I like that there are food standards that ensure that the food I eat is safe. I like that those standards don’t dictate which dishes end up on my table. I like that they don’t hinder chefs from being creative with food. I like that there are standards for the safety of children’s toys. I like that those standards don’t dictate how creative a toy maker can be. I like that they don’t dictate how a child can play. I like that there are standards in the construction of my house. I like that those standards don’t keep me from personalizing my house. I like that those standards leave plenty of room for creative architecture and design. Standards that are used as a framework and baseline allow for freedom. They give us a starting place and let us create and work all the way around them. When you view the Common Core Standards this way, they aren’t mind numbing, they are freeing. They help us empower students with the building blocks of learning so that they have freedom in learning. They give students enough of the skills and foundational understandings to build on in any direction they would like.
I realize that this view of the Common Core Standards isn’t where most of you are. For most of you the standards are very prescriptive. Very limiting. A very narrow view of what it means to be educated. My hope is that by sharing the way we scandalously use the standards, other classrooms and schools will be able to make changes toward freedom in learning. My hope is that more schools would break free from the boxed curricula and testing. Students should experience freedom in their learning. All teachers should experience the freedom that comes with really being a teacher (as opposed to script reader and test giver).
If I could change one thing about the Common Core Standards it would be this: get rid of the grade level separation of standards. Let it just be a continuum of learning. It is so silly to think that children should be able to master learning because according to the standard, they are the age for it. It is so silly to think that a student couldn’t possibly master standards well above their age. I call BS on both. We have students who exist in both camps.
Our goal is to empower students as learners. Our goal is to do what is right for every child. Our goal is freedom in learning.