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Standards in Place

One of the major tenets of both articles from this week’s reading is that authentic writing experiences rather than academic exercise are the best way to enrich and inspire students to do their best work. I agree that we should not always be gearing up (prompting) to hit the mark, choose the right answer, or meet the standard. Like Booth, Kixmiller gives an account of a student who found her voice within the confines of (and almost despite) the curriculum. The effects of slight variations in assignment design can be massive, as John C. Bean tells us. An effective English teacher is one who is able to teach whatever standards are around, and give students the opportunity to truly improve literacy skills. When teachers develop authentic prompts rather than academic exercise, they give students a chance to take Booth’s rhetorical stance. We have been over this before in week 4 Writing Assignments.

I do not believe that the problem with meeting the standards lies here. Regular education classroom teachers, overwhelmingly, know what they are doing. To add to the facts that they are highly qualified and educated: they get a great deal of supervision; they have guidelines made clear to them, they receive a set number of hours of professional development every year, and they have pacing calendars and other schedules to follow depending on their school’s curriculum. I say all this to say that a teacher knows how to balance many ideals and (still considering whichever standards are current) create writing assignments that are authentic. The standards are just another thing to add on to the pile. Teachers still have to face bigger issues! It is evident when a State Exam asks students to respond to meaningless allegory about talking pineapples racing hares that not everybody is on the same page. Mixkiller says, “Students should never write for purposes not grounded in real-world experiences.” The article wants teachers to use real-world writing like: Email to a friend, Email to a co-worker, Email an instructor, Email to a loved one, Write a letter of complaint, Write a letter of compliment, Write a letter of concern, Compile research on a car, Compile research on a house, Scrapbook a birth, Scrapbook a wedding, and Scrapbook a vacation. (I agree and have already been working on ways to adjust this list to my classroom.)

The Brannon article could have been called; Standards Do Not Solve Literary Crisis – A Call to Arms. Brannon encourages questioning of leadership decisions (p. 445 end), resistance to standards, and calls it the “imposition of standards,” and “repressive dogma.” Says NCTE isn’t engaging the politics of reading and writing. I agree that the NCTE standards are as dogmatic as they are idealistic. One of Brannon’s biggest issues is that standards can dictate student and teacher action. She says, “…the teacher is out of the picture, merely a supporter and an orchestrator, not a transformative intellectual” (444). This is part of a bigger issue – something Stanley Fish is worried about in What Should Colleges Teach. Leave his penchant for grammar out of it for a second and you realize that he does not want any outside groups dictating what goes into our curriculum. He is pro-educator freedom. Brannon would say that no outside group should say what goes into our standards.

The NCTE Standards are very detailed but thorough and talk all about equity and access to education. They talk about, especially in Standard 4, students gaining knowledge of audience and the social nature of language. They talk about, in Standard 5, writing for a wide range of strategies and using their own experiences as resources for writing. I am having trouble poking holes in the NCTE Standards. Perhaps it is something so good that it is too good to be true.

The New York State ELA standards could be seen as a summary of the NCTE if you like your medicine short and sweet. Although closer examination might prove to find a few inconsistencies, structurally they are alike. I do not fully see the problem, for any teacher of English, with keeping these standards in mind. That the authors of this week’s articles did research and  compared various vignettes and scrutinized the NCTE’s politics and so on … only says to me that there are still people (scholars) out there who will still advocate for teachers and drum up the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” song.

But what if I was made in 2003? What if I got my license in 2011? My point is what if I’m a new teacher who has followed up on standards since my first day in teacher education courses? I have my standards in place.

If you want to challenge and question authority, after reading both sets of standards from this week’s reading ask yourselves:

Are standards “anti-teacher”?

Are standards just for failed schools?

Are standards progressive education?

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6 Responses

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  1. Kevin L. Ferguson says

    Interesting final questions about the “reason” for having standards–who are they for? One issue is that people have a harder time embracing standards that seem foreign to them. So, making up new/revising standards is one way to get people to “buy in” to the system.

  2. Guadalupe Bueno says

    The questions that you ask are eyeopeners in the sense that you open you eye more and see what you have always seen, almost like a “known secret” that everyone knows, but dares not to tell. I think Lil Brannon would answer the first question-Are standards anti-teacher ?-with a NO. With standards teacher must maneuver their way towards improving students’ skills. It’s sad to recognize that the very institution which probably means well does more harm than good. In the long run, teachers are the closest figure to students as opposed to standards, but with the current education reforms it is doubtful that standards will do away any time soon.

  3. Victoria Fontana says

    I agree that students “should never write for purposes not grounded in real-world experiences,” as Kixmiller highlights. Technology is weaved into the fabric of the contemporary classroom because students need to learn in a way that is suited to the reality of their environment. Therefore, authentic writing prompts should too be welcome in every school. It would be a great disservice to our young people to not engage them and foster their learning in this manner.

    It’s great to hear that you are working to adjust the list of authentic prompts to make writing more meaningful for your students. If done with good intention, all writing and reading tasks can teach life-long lessons that extend beyond a the confines of a limiting standard. Teachers might as well take advantage of this – what a great opportunity!

  4. mobrien says

    John writes: It is evident when a State Exam asks students to respond to meaningless allegory about talking pineapples racing hares that not everybody is on the same page” This is what I’m talking about when I say that there is a disconnect between the standards for our classroom practices and the tasks on our standardized exams. As an English teacher, I also look at the Common Core and find a way to incorporate the standard into activities that will help my students be successful in real-world experiences, as well as give them an opportunity to expercise creative freedom within the confines of the standards we are focused on. However, I inevitably find myself taking a break every few weeks to drill the critical lens into their minds because the Regents (read: standardized) exam says they have to write a cookie-cutter type essay that allows for very little choice or creative freedom. I don’t mind the standards, or even the idea of a “standardized” exam. I just feel frustrated that one does not seem to inform the other.

  5. Travis Lamprecht says

    Without standards, there is nothing to measure a student’s skills to either than a vague intuition or feeling about a student’s work. Standards are in place to keep academics structured and gradable. While standards may seem to be “anti teacher”, the teacher should not feel like he or she needs to be trapped in a standards straightjacket. Educators should expand on standards by incorporating creative assignments that are still based on writing fundamentals. Standards cannot be ignored because there always has been and will always be standards for every subject in life. Students must learn to abide by standards because when you boil down to it, it’s standard to have standards.

  6. Safaarah Williamson says

    In many respects, I believe that standards are a necessary component for education. It is vital to have a common means of measuring a student’s’ skill-set and his or her ability to grasp a certain topic. Teachers do not have to see standards as a limitation; however, they should be viewed as a mere framework of commonalities that must be learned. The standards do not give you a stagnant, concrete formula for making sure that these ideals are met. Each student is unique in regards to his or her learning style, interests, and educational background. The teacher must differentiate the instructional strategies, in order to make sure that the student is getting the most effective instruction. A standard does not mean that you must teach lessons that are devoid of creativity and enthusiasm. The standards are a framework, not to be confused with a jail-cell.