The first day of school is upon us here in New York, and with that, Student Learning Objectives, teacher rankings, Common Core Learning Standards, new Annual Professional Performance Review Systems, Dignity for All….. Not to mention the arrival of nearly 2.8 million public school children by bus, foot, car, bicycle, and skateboard. Like the Coney Island Cyclone ratcheting up the final feet to the first thrilling fall, things are about to pick up real fast with the start of school. And with that, the fun begins.
So, how best to start the new school year with all the winds of change upon schools? How about with one of the 12 math or ELA/literacy instructional shifts? If you’re teaching Common Core curricula, then what better way is there to get students thinking–which is what the shifts ultimately ask of students and teachers. One strategy is to put a provocative news article on each student’s desk and have them be prepared to defend their position using evidence from the text (ELA/Literacy Shift Four (Text-based Answers)-Students engage in rich and rigorous evidence based conversations about text.). Be sure to find something relevant and engaging for the students. Another strategy would be to have students use mathematics and/or a set of data to answer a question (Math Shift Four (Application)- Students are expected to use math and choose the appropriate concept for application even when they are not prompted to do so. Once again, rigor and relevance matters.
Whatever shift you choose, the point is to promote thoughtfulness and not just go through the rituals of student index cards, locker combinations, student surveys, and so on. Those are all important aspects to the first week of school, but we want to start the very first day of the school year off with something eye-catching and memorable to the student. Ultimately, we’re looking to energize students’ thoughtfulness–not always an easy task given content-laden textbooks and programs.
This morning I read Grant Wiggins’ blog, Granted, but… His topic/title today was, Thinking about a lack of thinking, and in it he writes, “A thoughtful teacher would realize that “coverage” is not a goal but an action unsupported by clear aims. (By definition, coverage means there are no priorities and no explicit performance goals). “Teaching all the content” is not an educational goal at all; “learning to draw upon and use content thoughtfully and effectively” is the educational goal. Your job is to design backward from that goal, not march though stuff without considering the consequences.” If we want students to think, then we must make the Common Core Instructional Shifts part of our daily practice. If we want to go beyond coverage, then we have to trust that time spent on thinking will lead to greater student retention than time spent on covering material.
Best wishes for a successful first day of school. May you and your students have a thrilling and thoroughly enjoyable 180 day ride!