Writing in the Classroom: A Common Core Must
For too long students in public schools in the U.S. have been shackled by the mandates of NCLB, which has recently been proven to be an absolute failure. Students have been taught to do well on a test because teacher evaluations are based on test scores, which is absolutely absurd. What job on earth other than teaching is being measured this way? None.
Common Core standards are an answer to the failure of NCLB and high stakes testing. The government is still riding teachers about test scores, but now they are requiring us to shift to Common Core which is what we should have been doing from the outset. As an AP teacher, I have been teaching Common Core for years. Common Core now requires all disciplines to write in the classroom, but the days of making sure the student can write five well organized paragraphs is no longer with us. They have to think as well.
I have been using this method with my at level students now for the better part of two months and I must say they are fighting it. Students have been taught to “find the right answer” and then regurgitate that answer on a test for so long that they have become mindless drones, afraid to think for themselves or take risks with original thought. I am having to do a great deal of encouraging and prodding, telling them to “think about what they think about” and challenging them to disagree with me, forcing a debate. It is difficult, to say the least.
Even my AP students fall into this trap. They seem to think “If I get the right answer, then I’ll be liked by the teacher”. Liking never enters into the equation for me. I teach according to the Confucian proverb: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
So what must we do as teachers? If we want our students to be free thinkers and to be more successful in college, we must train them to be free thinkers, and it must be something that is done in every discipline. Here are some suggestions for all teachers concerning writing assignments:
1. The Claim – Stop calling it a thesis statement, a main idea or other jargon and call it what it is…a claim. There are basically four types of claims: claim of definition (a claim by the writer that defines their view about a topic), a claim of value (a judgement the writer makes about that claim), a claim of cause (the writer shows the cause and effect of the idea) and a claim of policy (the action the writer is trying to get the audience to perform). All arguments must start with this kind of a statement, whether it encompasses all four or only one, it must be the core of the student’s argument.
2. Evidence – Students must be trained to value the importance of supporting their claims with hard data, with appeals to emotion or morals or the use of an anecdote. More importantly, if the student can learn to ground their claims in hard data without using numerous logical fallacies, they will go a long way toward having a voice in their arguments. Claims without support are simply opinions and not arguments.
3. Explanation – Students must spend at least 3-4 sentences explaining how the evidence they choose to use for support ties in with their original claim. They must go into detail giving reasons for their claims and go about connecting the evidence to their claims via as many threads as they can. Stronger explanations lead to more credible evidence which leads to a more persuasive claim.
However this is organized does not really matter. What matters is that the student learns how to do these three simple things in every subject, be it Mathematics, Science, History or Literature. These are the basic building blocks of Common Core and will prepare them for college more than anything else they could do in secondary school.