The Main Thing: Are You Falling Short?

(Or Teaching Reading Without Text)

Fact and opinion.

That was the focus of a 6th grade teacher’s lesson. A central office literacy leader described the lesson to me in our recent coaching session.

The teacher explained the difference between fact and opinion…she said her mother loved Wheel of Fortune, but she didn’t because it put her to sleep…she told them that was her mother’s opinion…the kids were quiet, but most of them were checked out…she told the class she would make some statements and they had to write F or O on their personal whiteboards, and then she said, ‘I don’t like monkeys. Is that a fact or an opinion?’

(There was more, but this excerpt suits the point of this post.)

Charged with the task of having to provide the teacher with feedback, the literacy leader asked, “How would you help her revise her lesson?”

My answer was, “I wouldn’t.”

I explained,

When you comb the Common Core 6th grade ELA/Literacy Standards, you won’t find “fact and opinion.” What you will find are  RL.6.2 and RI.6.2. of which neither focus on “fact and opinion.” Instead they ask students to provide a summary that is free from their personal opinion and based on the text. Given that, I am wondering; why did she choose to spend a class period on a concept that was taught in fourth grade based on the previous standards and not required in sixth grade based on the Common Core? I’m also wondering why did she spend an entire class period  teaching reading without any text when she has been charged with preparing students for college and/or careers using a range of complex texts?

Revising a lesson that was not based on the correct standard would demand too much unnecessary processing and send a message that the lesson only required revisions. So I wouldn’t revise the lesson. I would start over…from the beginning…with the correct standard.

As we continued the coaching session, we developed a few questions that she could ask during her reflective meeting with the teacher. They included:

  1. How do you typically decide what you are going to teach?
  2. Review the Common Core literacy standards. Which one(s) did you intend to address?
  3. How do you determine your entry point into a standard?
  4. Given that this was a literacy lesson, why did you choose to exclude the use of text?

There exists a collective voice that reiterates the demand for transformed practices by the Common Core, yet at times we fall short because change is difficult when we do not constantly challenge our own thinking. (Case in point: the literacy leader wanting to revise a lesson based on an outdated standard.) If we aren’t always asking ourselves why am I making this choice, is this the most appropriate choice, and/or how does this choice differ from what I’ve done in the past, then we can easily–and subconsciously–slip back into old behaviors without recognizing, while believing we have transformed.

If you are a leader of this change, my challenge to you is this:

  1. Consider self-questioning your choices regularly to see what “different” is required and determine if you are really living the “different;” and
  2. Require instructional personnel to reflect on their own choices regularly using the standards as their gauge
~Steven Covey

~Steven Covey

Make the main thing, the main thing. Standards are the benchmark on which progress is measured. Therefore, make them the starting point of lesson design. Make the standards the main thing.