On the whole, we liked Reading, Writing, and Rising Up by Linda Christensen a lot. We weren’t expecting the amount of narrative that was present in the book, and the peer dynamics and student-teacher connections that the author described.
We liked the specific examples of social justice oriented lesson plans and how to incorporate social justice into our classrooms. However, it left us with a lot of questions about how to incorporate social justice into a classroom where students aren’t from the areas or situations Christensen was teaching in. We also were left questioning how to grade writing and narratives, especially those that Christensen encouraged were for the purpose of expression and discussion. If we ran our own classrooms completely, without anyone else to answer to, we could use all of the lesson plans and lead extremely social justice conscious classrooms just the way Christensen described (and it would be absolutely lovely), but the reality is the book doesn’t offer a lot of alternative assignments that aren’t so intensive.
But on the whole, we loved the book. Particular lesson ideas that we liked were the Tea Party (making students interact as if they were characters from the books they read at a Tea Party), the re-examining of cartoons with a critical consciousness, and the Forgiveness Poems (which can even be adapted to write from characters’ perspectives). The connections Christensen made with her students are narratives that we hadn’t experienced in our limited realms of education thus far, and it was truly enlightening to see how transformative teaching can be. We also felt like Christensen’s book provides a good starting point of how one can look at social justice pedagogy, and we would recommend the book particularly for teachers or future teachers trying to get acclimated with social justice issues and how to incorporate them in the classroom.
This week for our PLC, we looked at the Common Core Standards (either on the website or on the iPhone app which we found to be very easily navigable… props to you Common Core), and compared them to the lesson plans and activities provided in Reading, Writing, and Rising Up. We couldn’t imagine a world in which those activities would have been taught in our own classrooms. What else is education defined by if not the linear pattern of The Outsiders to Romeo and Juliet to The Scarlet Letter to Oedipus Rex? We feel the pressure and the desire to want to teach from a social justice standpoint and apply all of the pedagogy methods we’re currently learning, but we wondered whether or not Common Core would allow this and also admitted that we don’t truly know exactly what the Common Core Standards are.
We found some issues. But much to our surprise considering all of the anti-Common-Core banter we have shoved in our faces on social media and the news and Jim’s mom’s cousin’s daughter’s uncle who has an opinion on what the standards of education ought to be despite his lack of children– we found some things we liked as well. As can be found on the following page, we found that the Common Core designers have flat out published what Common Core does not include: What is not covered by the Standards. We summed this up by saying that they set the bar for what students should know, but it’s up to teachers on how to teach it. Sure the app provides teachers with step-by-step examples of how to teach a certain Standard, but it is up to teachers to turn these guidelines into engaging lessons that we want to teach and students want to learn. There is no reason that the following standards couldn’t be applied to a Social Justice perspective:
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
One big issue we had was how the standards effect the development of IEPs, and all we found was this: For Students with Disabilities. If there are more resources available, they weren’t as easily accessible. We also were concerned about how the standards affect gifted programs. If Common Core is designed to set a “rigorous” standard, what do we do with students who need a more rigorous standard? The standards seem more or less reasonable to adopt for middle of the road students, but what about those who for one reason or another need more attention or IEPs? How do we regulate that all teachers are meeting the standards and that their methods of teaching are providing the proper knowledge for the scaffolding process that Common Core attempts to get schools to adopt?
The big problem we had with nationwide standards is that education is a top-down process. Standards may be set by the Common Core gurus who are the be-all and end-all of defining what every student should know, but curriculum can be regulated by the district or individual school and lesson plans are the responsibility of the teachers. A nationwide standard also brings up issues like the one brought up in this article: Another state redefines ‘proficiency’ on Common Core tests, inflating performance. There is no formula for the perfect education, but trying to compete with every other state, district, or school in the country leads to that many more issues. If we made a nationwide commitment that standards were set by the state, and there were that many more gurus trying to determine what statewide standards are by taking into account SES of students in schools, education budgeting, and teacher education, we would have a reasonable standard and there would be no incentive to inflate the performance on Common Core proficiency tests (I’m looking at you Arkansas).
However, as my group member Hannah said, “I feel like we could have an educated discussion about this all day and never come anywhere close to an answer on how we should versus how we do feel about Common Core.” The opinions of five School of Education students matter very little, but as we continue to look even more closely at Common Core and how it will affect us as teachers, our opinions will begin to count even more. So, does can Common Core fit with Social Justice Pedagogy? In short, yes. But how do we feel about Common Core? We’re not sold, but we’re not completely against it either.
Up for next week, we’re getting back into our selected text for the first time in a few weeks: Reading, Writing, and Rising Up pages 100-113.