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Sorting Through the Common Core (more to the story than Facebook)

In the past few months, “Common Core” has become a hot button issue for parents, educators, news media, and celebrities alike. Facebook feeds have been flooded with absurd worksheets, kids homework, and disparaging remarks about how the “Common Core” will ruin us all. The problem is, the “Common Core” really refers to two things. One is the standards and the other is curriculum. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but are being used interchangeably as if they are one and the same. In recent months, I’ve had parents ask for clarification about what the Common Core is. They want to be reassured that their kids aren’t anywhere near the absurdity that they are seeing online, in the news, or in the new Common Core documentary. Because there has been so much confusion, I created the video above to help explain what the “Common Core” is. I tried to keep it short so that it was manageable to watch without getting lost in the details and losing interest. I recognize that there is a LOT more to this topic than what I laid out. My goal with the video above was to help others understand what the “Common Core” is and what it isn’t. Common Core Standards are different from Common Core Curriculum. As I said before, the two are not the same. The problem is that news media outlets, Facebook feeds, and celebrities use “Common Core” to describe both the standards and the curriculum. Sometimes they even mistakenly refer to the curriculum as Common Core Standards. The standards are the United States attempt at bringing more continuity to learning foundations for kindergarten through twelfth grade students throughout the states. They are intended to ensure that all students receive the same base skills to build on in English Language Arts and Math. Most of the United States has adopted these standards and is making adjustments to accommodate the new standards. In the past, individual states each had state created standards. This led to a lot of disparity between the states about what was learned and at what stage it was learned. The result was a chasm between what students in one state learned that a neighboring state had not. The standards were developed in partnership by a group made up of governors, chief state school officers, education groups, and corporations and foundations. The funding for the development of the standards came from the federal government (part of Race to the Top money) and the corporations/foundations involved. In the video, I show a Common Core Standards “family tree” that breaks this down a bit more. While I don’t love the idea of corporations funding the standards, I recognize that the money to make them happen had to come from somewhere. I wish that the “somewhere” wasn’t tied so closely with the publishing companies who make curriculum. I also noticed that the educational groups were labeled as “advisory.” It seems to me that the government agencies and the corporations/foundations should have been “advisory” and the educational group should have been the chief designers. Because I wasn’t right in the middle of the creation, I can only speculate how this went and hope that it was a true partnership where educators had a large hand in the outcome. Included in the creation were: Achieve (which includes Alcoa, Exxon Mobile, Microsoft), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the National Govenors Association, Council of Chief School Officers, David Coleman, Sue Pimentel, and Jason Zimba (who sold an educational startup to McGraw Hill), the National Education Foundation, America Federation of Teachers, National Council of English Teachers, and National Council of Math Teachers. Standards are not a bad thing. They give a baseline and frame of reference to work within. As an educator, I see the importance of having a baseline of foundational skills that we can count on. The standards are written very generally. They are just over 60 pages long (k-12) and when you read through them you will see, they are pretty underwhelming. I like the generality of the standards, they leave schools and teachers open to using a wide variety of methodologies and resources to ensure that students get those foundational skills. They aren’t prescriptive of HOW to teach, they are just a guideline of what should be taught. Do I agree on the every single standard being totally necessary for every single child? No. But I do recognize the value in a society having a common set of baseline skills, the standards are a good beginning for that. One of the biggest problems I do have with the standards is the language used. If these goals are intended for students, shouldn’t they be written in student-friendly language that is easy to understand? Instead they are full of eduspeak and jargon. That should change! I’m sure you’ve seen these floating around (and more like it):   This is Common Core Curriculum. The writers of the Common Core Standards do not endorse any curriculum. Anyone can label the curriculum “Common Core Aligned.” ANYONE. This curriculum is designed by publishers. The alignment to the Common Core Standards is a way for publishers to sell more. Publishers know that in the frenzy of states adopting Common Core Standards, there will be an urgency to get schools and students on the same page quickly (after all…testing). They also know that if they stamp “Common Core aligned” on their curricula, schools are more likely to purchase it so that their students are ready for the testing that is sure to follow. Here is the problem, publishers design curriculum to make money. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the money overshadows what is best for kids. The other problem: the same people who write the curriculum, write the tests. This forces a school’s hand to purchase the curriculum so that their kids can pass the tests (which is then incentivized by programs like RTTT). When they don’t pass the tests, the publishing companies conveniently come to the rescue with the latest and greatest new curriculum. The cycle repeats. This is not a new cycle within education, but it is one that is becoming more and more transparent. In 2012 Pearson, the largest publisher of curriculum, developed Common Core Standards tests. The adoption of Common Core Standards does not require districts and states to collect more data. Unfortunately, the Race to the Top initiative incentivized the collection of more data. You see where this all starts to get really messy. Race to the Top also paid out $350 million to create computerized testing to more efficiently collect data on students. The downfall is that there are many, many schools across the United States who aren’t even well enough equipped with technology to give these tests. Standards are not evil, but when coupled by unreasonable expectations of a one-size-fits-all system, they can be disastrous. We use standards at Anastasis Academy, they are a framework that we can build on to ensure that our students are getting foundational skills that will carry them on in their learning. Instead of using boxed-curriculum, we approach the standards through the lens of inquiry, and build our own learning experiences based on the individual needs of every single student. Is it the most efficient it could be? No. But we are dealing with humanity, not widgets. This approach uses the standards in a way that truly does make them the floor and not the ceiling. They are a starting point, but they don’t restrict us. We choose not to use any of the “Common Core aligned” boxed curriculum. The one-size-fits-all isn’t what we want for our students. It doesn’t take into account the individuals that we teach. We choose not to give our students piles of worksheets, but instead give them learning opportunities that engage them as learners and leaders. Our goal is to apprentice our students in the art of learning. This is a very different goal than simply trying to get them through the textbook each year! I encourage you to read through the Common Core Standards for yourself. You will quickly get an idea of how general they really are. When you see the popup of the Common Core, ask yourself if it is one of those standards that is the problem, or if it is the curriculum that is being used. If you are a parent, I encourage you to get involved with your school. Ask what curriculum is being used and why. Don’t feel bound by the tests (they are a poor measure of who your child is anyway). Encourage your school to look at ways that they can meet standards without being bound to curriculum. When those Facebook posts popup, speak out about the problem with better specifics “this curriculum is ridiculous, where is the real learning experience?!” If you are a teacher, I get it-sometimes you don’t get to make the choice. If you have wiggle room and aren’t using a completely scripted curriculum, take advantage of it! Connect with other educators who are doing things differently. Look for ways that you can build foundational skills that aren’t tied endless worksheets and practice drills for the next test. Help your kids fall in love with learning. Be transparent, show them why you are passionate about learning.

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Fluency Finder App: Updated with new features!

Posted by admin | Posted in Classroom Management, Interactive book, iPod, Knowledge (remember), Language Arts, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, Understand (describe, explain), Websites | Posted on 21-08-2013

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Normally I post all of my app posts at my other blog, iPad Curriculum.  Because iDevices are becoming SO common place as a technology in the classroom, I’m going to start posting them here as well.  If you just want apps, head over to iPad Curriculum and you can search apps only!  Just like iLearn Technology, you can search any app by Bloom’s Taxonomy level.  All of the websites I share on iLearn Technology are completely FREE, the apps I review tend to be a mix of free and paid apps.  At the bottom of each post, I share the cost of the app.


Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 2.29.31 PMFluency Finder

What it is: In the US it is back to school time!  I love these first days of school when you get to meet a new group of students and uncover their passions, strengths and weaknesses.  Fluency is one of those measures that is great to have from the beginning of the year because it means that we as teachers are armed with the background knowledge to help build reading confidence in students.   You can easily find and track fluency rates so that you have more time to help students strengthen reading skills and find books that are confidence-building and enjoyable for them.  I have written about Fluency Finder before (here), but I’m writing about it again because they have just come out with some great new features worth another mention!  Fluency Finder now has a data-sharing email function so that you can share fluency results with all stakeholders easily.  Comprehension questions have been built-in so now you have a one-step fluency and reading comprehension assessment.  Very handy!  Reading passages are being updated with a snapshot list so that you can quickly compare passages.  32 brand new passages are also being added from literary classics for 1st-8th grade reading levels.

 

I like Fluency Finder because of the way that it instantly calculates results and then stores them in your Student Record for instant access.  Really handy when you are in the library with students and want to quickly remind yourself of their current fluency levels to assist them in selecting the perfect, not-to-hard-book that will keep them reading with enjoyment.

How to integrate Fluency Finder app into the classroom:

Fluency Finder makes it simple to assess reading fluency in 1st-8th grade reading levels.  To get started:

  • Add students to the app
  • Select an appropriate grade level passage for the student to read
  • Print the passage from the www.fluencyfinder.com website (students could also read from their own iDevice or computer if you want to save paper)
  • Begin assessment, start the app timer as the student begins reading
  • Student will read from printed passage as you follow on your iDevice marking any mistakes
  • Tap the (+) button when student makes a reading mistake
  • Tap the (-) button if the student self-corrects a mistake
  • End the timer when the student finishes
  • Tap the “finish assessment” button to instantly see results

Now instead of focusing so much on keeping track of the fluency and score, you can focus on what actually matters: listening for fluency, comprehension and expression.

Being a paperless school, we are LOVING this option for helping students choose books that are at a level that is “just right.”  It gives us the opportunity to help students hunt down the perfect amount of challenge and really focus on a story they can love.  We are all about encouraging an absolute love of reading!

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 2.29.58 PM

Tips: Target Fluency Rates

First Grade: 60-70 wpm

Second Grade: 80-95 wpm

Third Grade: 100-120 wpm

Fourth Grade: 120-135 wpm

Fifth Grade: 130-145 wpm

Sixth Grade: 140-150 wpm

Seventh Grade: 150-160 wpm

Eighth Grade 160-175 wpm

Cost$6.99 (iTunes link)

Compatible with: iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.3 or later

Leave a comment and tell us how you are using  Fluency Finder in your classroom.

Comments (4)

[…] Finder is a great way to track reading fluency…start your school year with this great app! ilearntechnology.com/?p=5104 […]

[…] Fluency Finder App: Updated with new features! @ktenkely ilearntechnology.com/?p=5104 […]

Hi! My name is Kaley McDonald. I’m an Elementary Education major at the University of South Alabama. I took a class this past summer, which was a course to orient the study to the fundamentals in the teaching of reading, during which we were required to tutor a struggling reading student. For every session we always began and finished with a Running Record. It is an assessment that requires you to follow along as a student reads while marking mistakes, self-corrections, and assessing whether the student displays adequate reading rate and expression. The Fluency Finder App is absolutely genius! It can be challenging to locate reading material that is level appropriate. It is also difficult to do these types of assessments with pencil and paper while remembering all that you’re looking for and what symbols go where and mean what. The data-sharing email function, comprehension questions, reading passages, and student record storage would provide easy access for teachers, ultimately saving an enormous amount of time and paper. Another awesome attribute is that it is reasonably priced and so worth it! I would recommend this app to any teacher who is searching for an updated technological assessment for fluency.

Hello, Thank for this information about Ipad Curriculum. I will share with my coworkers about the Fluency Finder app. I currently teaching Math but I know the Reading teachers will love this app. Please continue to write about any new apps or new technology being used in your classroom.

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