Common Core in Action: An Update

photo-1As my first semester ended this past week, I thought it would be a fun idea to write a follow-up to my August post about the Common Core in Action. In that essay, I described my units for the first semester and how they connected with the Common Core standards. I was cautiously optimistic that my students would be able meet the standards I set out as I knew that they would struggle with some of the Common Core standards and the new structure to the curriculum. The Common Core focuses on in-depth analysis and use of evidence whereas No Child Left Behind did not. I also knew that many of my students, this year, were low skilled so I anticipated that many of my students would struggle with the curriculum. I hoped that by creating unique and “magical” learning experiences for my students, they would be able to succeed.

As expected my students did, and continue, to struggle with the Common Core curriculum. On the other hand, by exposing them to diverse texts, they have been able to see mirrors of themselves in the literature and that has helped a number of them become more interested in reading. In my first unit, I allowed students to choose from a list that I gave them, and many ended up choosing diverse texts because my list contained numerous diverse books. They did enjoy being able to choose books that were of interest to them instead of reading a book that was forced upon them. It was a great way to start the school year and allowed for some fun classroom discussions as students shared their novels. A number of students ended up reading their classmates books when they were done because of the conversations they had with each other. Watching & listening to their books talks was fun for me and I even ended up reading a few books at the request of my students.

My biggest success, to date, has been the student’s “hero’s journey” narratives. Unfortunately, because of their reading levels, many struggled with Prophecy, but there were a number of students who enjoyed the novel. They connected with Kira and her journey, and reveled in the fact that Kira was a kick-ass hero, which was a departure from what they were used to. This ability to see themselves, and other people of color in literature, was reflected in the writing as a number of students chose to make their characters people of color. In addition to my students using a geographical location from their 6th & 7th grade social studies, I required students to research different culture’s mythologies and incorporate the stories into their narratives. While not all achieved this, a good number of students did an excellent job with their research and tying different cultural mythology into their stories. One student, who is half Filipino and half Samoan, wanted to use the stories from his Samoan side and I can tell you he did a great job! The excitement on his face when I told him he could, and his realization that his story, his culture matters, will forever stick with me.

Due to schedule conflicts and other crazy stuff, we started reading All American Boys just before the holiday break. It threw off my momentum a bit as some students really got into the novel and read it within a week, while others only read what was required of them. So, as the semester ends I am in the middle of reading All American Boys, and have actually been having some fun with it. My principal is teaching one class, so we are teaching this unit together, and we’ve come up with some very creative ways to engage the students into the content. We decided on the social justice prezi assessment, and will focus on students crafting their persuasive arguments after the semester break. However, we have spent the past few weeks laying the groundwork for evaluating arguments and crafting arguments using All American Boys and articles about police brutality. A number of students have connected with the subject, so the topic has been relevant to their lives.

So, while there has been some hiccups and some frustration, I’m happy that my students were able to see themselves as the hero and become involved in the reading. I am looking forward to the novels I will be teaching in the next semester (there has been some changes) and continuing to creating unique learning experiences for my students. I will admit that I’m very apprehensive for state testing as it is just 2 months away and there is more I’d like to get done in that time but I know it’s just not logically possible. Instead, I will continue to prepare my students the best way I can and hope they remember the lessons I taught them when they are taking the test.  While having my students score well is a goal, the fact that many have become readers again is much more satisfying.