The topic for this month’s Provisions session was “Teaching [Toward] Common Core.”  Our two presenters were Aviva Bower, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology, and Joseph Eppink, Associate Professor of Music.

Dr. Bower began the session by focusing on who created the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and, consequently, the issues that have arisen as a direct result of this group of creators.  Dr. Bower pointed out that the list of those who created the CCSS includes for profit organizations and those who will benefit financially from the tests, textbooks, and the curricular materials and “coaching” associated with the CCSS.  She noted that those who would have had the most to contribute, such as educators and families, were left out of the equation.  Dr. Bower stated that good teachers who “consider students’ emotional needs, cognitive abilities, and social development will always find a way to transform an inappropriate curriculum, but when the curriculum is tied to high-stakes testing, teachers take that scripted curriculum and subject children to what [she is] calling “the literacy of obedience.”

One of the main issues with the CCSS that Dr. Bower delved into is that they are developmentally inappropriate, where students are lacking transactional reading and writing experiences and are not being asked to draw on their own experiences and knowledge.  Dr. Bower asserted that doing what a script tells you is never going to teach children, and the way in which instruction and assessment is being boiled down to “tell me what the text says within the four walls of the page,” and “show me two details,” is sucking writing and reading dry of curiosity and passion.  Dr. Bower focused specifically on CCSS and the elementary grades, and provided examples as to how teachers are being pressured to teach using developmentally inappropriate abstractions (in an effort to reach the standards), which then leaves young students with nothing concrete to hold on to.  Essentially, Dr. Bower argues that both children and teachers suffer when testing begins to dictate pedagogical and curricular decisions.

Dr. Bower believes that one way in which teachers can help turn it around is by making what they are given developmentally appropriate and enjoyable.  You can take a look at Dr. Bower’s PowerPoint presentation here: The Common Core.

Dr. Eppink began his presentation by explaining the daunting task of trying to “do it all.”  He stressed how music education used to be more hands on, but how now, music educators are being handed new material to be covered and new goals to be reached, such as producing reading, writing, and speaking grounded in text, which has never been part of their job before.

For Dr. Eppink, the struggle lies in figuring out a way to get all of the new material covered and hit all of the new required tasks without cutting any of their existing material and activities.  To show how such a thing is possible, Dr. Eppink demonstrated the ways in which music educators could incorporate things like vocabulary into a hands on game for an elementary music class using Gene Baer’s Thump, Thump, Rat-a-Tat-Tat.  The book was used in an activity involving movement and music-makers to give the “kids” (his participants) a concrete example of the vocabulary words “crescendo” and “decrescendo.”  The group separated into two, standing apart while facing each other, and while reading the book, “students” were asked to keep a steady beat using a shaker-instrument while walking towards the other group.  Dr. Eppink asked the students to estimate the half-way point (using the book as their guide), and the activity allowed them to be able to physically hear when the sound of their instruments were approaching their loudest, at their loudest, and growing fainter, a.k.a. a hands on experience with these two aforementioned vocabulary terms.

Ultimately, Dr. Eppink feels that when we work within the chaos, we may not have all the answers, but what we can do is begin to incorporate small parts of the new standards into our existing pedagogical practices.

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