Common Core and The Land of Oz

Oz FourThe Common Core is a noble cause. Who would argue that teaching kids to think and communicate their thinking is anything but a virtuous goal? It’s like the Emerald City in the Land of Oz, and standing between us and that bright shining city is a Wicked Witch and a bunch of Flying Monkeys. We know how the movie ends, though; we will melt that witch and make it down the Yellow Brick Road.

I made this comparison for a news reporter after my keynote address at the Idaho State Math Conference last fall. My analogy made NPG News at the same time that my math coaching colleagues and I back at Temecula Valley Unified were developing a four-year plan for professional development and student support in our district. So we wove the Wizard of Oz theme into our plan.

It turned out to be more than a catchy metaphor. The theme is actually quite symbolic to the trials and potentials of rolling out the common core.

4 Year PlanLet’s begin with the Emerald City. The Common Core claims to teach students 21st Century skills. In our district, we have summed up those skills as the ability to “Think and Communicate.” This, then, is our noble cause, our shining city.

Along the Yellow Brick Road is the infamous Wicked Witch and her Flying Monkeys. Our number one issue for teachers in Year 1 of the roll out was the lack of resources, and therefore, the demand upon them to find and create their own curricula. We did not anticipate this phenomenon, but it quickly consumed our role as math coaches. Our first year will end (hopefully), with Units, Pacing Guides & Model Lessons in place, and with an infrastructure to share them among the 130 secondary teachers in our district. Since this is by far the biggest obstacle facing us, and the ugliest work to overcome, establishing the content, scope and sequence gets the tag as the Wicked Witch. In Year 2 (the first of the Flying Monkeys) our primary purpose is to change our method of first instruction. The Common Core is calling for radical shifts in how we teach as well as what we teach, so that will be the focus of Year 2. Year 3 then focuses on what to do for those students who don’t get it (Tier 2 intervention). Finally, while we continue with the work that we laid out in the first three years, Year 4 will emphasize enrichment for students who easily learn the material and on implementing student use of technology.

Reflection FrameWhile many of the obstacles listed above deal with the work of us math coaches, the work of the teachers is personified by the four main characters of Oz: Dorothy, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow. Their training is structured around the four Essential Questions of a PLC (Professional Learning Community). Dorothy must go first, because she was all about direction (“There’s no place like home.”)  So she asks the question, “What do we want the students to know and be able to do?” The Common Core has defined this question very clearly for us, particularly when it comes to the Mathematical Practices. We summed up these practices on a Reflection Fame that we use to debrief with teachers after our elbow coaching sessions. Year 2 calls upon the Tin Man, because it takes a heart to care for those students who don’t get it, especially in secondary schools. We are now commissioned to deliver a “guaranteed and viable curriculum to ALL students.” Year 2 will focus then on Tier 1 interventions … reaching and teaching ‘those kids’ … within the classroom. In order to do this we must have formative assessment and data collection protocols in place to be able answer the question “How do we know if they know it?” The Lion personifies Year 3, because it will take Courage to deliver Tier 2 intervention in response to “What do we do when they don’t know it?” Then, to answer the question “What do we do when they do know it?,” the Scarecrow and his brain will be employed in Year 4, when all the mighty work of the first three years is in place, and we can focus on the needs of the advanced students and on teaching all students to Think with and Communicate through technology.

Finally, and most importantly, we turn our attention to the students results. These are personified by who else, but the Munchkins. We plan to establish Student Mile Markers. These will be Performance Task benchmarks that will be given each year with the Final Exams (but not necessarily counted in a grade) to be used as a gauge to our collective progress (that of students, teachers, coaches and administrators) down the Yellow Brick Road.

The Wizard of Oz gives us a nice frame to dialogue within, but it also offers an important lesson for all teachers. The Wizard gave Dorothy and her friends absolutely nothing, other than the realization that they already had inside each of them that which they had been seeking all along. As do we. Brains, Courage, a Heart, and a Direction Home.

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