Blast from the Past Re-issue June 28, 2017
Originally published February 27, 2014
I thought we were past all this, but I've been asked these kinds of questions twice this week. Educators are trying to make sure that they are doing exactly the right thing again--with standards that don't try to prescribe just the right thing. This one made a lot of folks angry the first time around (see the comments), so it seems like it is time to take another look.
I’ve been receiving queries about the CCSS from teachers, principals, and consultants trying to figure out the standards. They don’t always like my responses—in fact, some have argued back that I must be wrong. I’m not (he said, modestly).
But I’m getting ahead of myself, first the questions:
One of the differences between the writing standard 1a in grades 9-10 and 11-12 is that students “introduce precise claims” (9-10) while in 11-12 students “introduce precise, knowledgeable claims.” I’m working with a group of teachers in clarifying the difference. It seems as though a precise claim would be also be grounded in knowledge rather than intuition or guesses or… Can you clarify?
Our team is now debating the differences between recount and retell. We have found definitions of recount/retell, but we can’t seem to find credible resources that will clarify the differences. Since the Core uses retell in the K and 1st grade Core standards, and switches to recount in the 2nd grade standards, we feel it is critical that we are clear in explaining the differences. Can you help us to clarify the differences, or point us to a credible source to cite as we clarify the difference?
My response is that these well-meaning educators are not approaching these standards appropriately. They are looking for a narrow precision of meaning in a document not intended to provide that. I know that close reading is in right now, but a close reading of the standards—trying to make these fine distinctions by analyzing the words and structure closely—will undermine successful educational efforts rather than supporting them.
We aren’t lawyers and these aren’t legal documents.
Grant Wiggins has argued that the verbs in the standards need to be much more precise if they are going to provide a good roadmap for assessment. Grant Wiggins Blog Entry
But I’d argue back that it’s more important for the standards to support quality instruction rather than a spiffy test design.
These standards, because they are from the “fewer, bigger, better” school of standard writing, are intentionally not so precise. They leave a lot out, relegating many important choices and decisions to teachers and curriculum makers.
If the standards say students need to “summarize text,” then those who try to formulate a very precise conception of summarization are going to undermine, rather than facilitate, student learning.
Instead of that kind of hermeneutic verb analysis, it would be better to brainstorm in the other direction. That is, try to be inductive rather than deductive:
Think of all the kinds of texts and information sources that might be appropriate for students to summarize (consider different lengths of texts too, and any features that could make them difficult to summarize). Ponder, too, all the subskills entailed in summarization, such as recognizing and omitting unimportant information, identifying main ideas, creating generalization statements to replace lists of ideas, paraphrasing, and so on.
That is what the standards are asking us to teach, and those who try to serve such rich dishes of learning are likely to be successful. I’d want my kids to dine at their table—the dishes sound nutritious and delicious. But the cooks who are trying to split hairs among summarizing, recounting, and retelling –trying to make sure that kids are served one, but not the others—will be serving leftovers long past the expiration date. No, thanks.
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