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As current (and future!) teachers, it seems as if we’ve been repeatedly hit over the head with the importance of standards. As a student teacher, I had to make sure to address them in my lesson plans (which by the way, were plans created by The College Board who created said lessons to align with the common state standards) but I have never truly read an extensive explanation of the national standards as stated by the NCTE.
To sum up the NYS standards, students will use language through reading, speaking and writing to understand information. As readers, speakers and writers, they will make connections from the various forms of texts to their own lives, thus understanding different points of view. They will analyze and critique ideas and information and be able to present opinions from different perspectives on a variety of subjects. Lastly, they will use these skills of reading, speaking and writing to communicate on a social level with other people and to not only explain their point of view, but understand that of others as well. These four standards are obviously very broad and a lot can fit within the parameters of just one of these standards. They can also easily work in tandem, piggy-backing off one another.
In the introduction to the national standards, NCTE states, “Because language and the language arts continue to evolve and grow, our standards must remain provisional enough to leave room for future developments in the field. And it is important to reemphasize that these standards are meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive.” They urge teachers to look at the 12 standards and see which ways they as an educator can connect them. Many of these 12 can be seen reflected in our NYS set of four. Students are reading different types of texts to understand different dimensions of human experience. They are making connections between their lives and the text as well as communicating various points of views with different audiences. In all of these standards, students are applying learned strategies to understand and communicate with people around them.
For these pieces, connection and communication seems to be the significant idea (because language arts is after all, a language) and it is prevalent in Lori Kixmiller’s piece, Standards without Sacrifice: The Case for Authentic Writing. She opens the piece with a story about a disengaged student who finally begins to participate in the class research assignment when she discovered both a topic that mattered to her and an audience that was sympathetic towards her. Kixmiller stresses the need for authentic writing or rather, writing that students believe in because their audience goes beyond just the teacher. They must think about their audience because they won’t be constantly writing these formulaic pieces all their lives. People write e-mails, letters, lists, etc. Each piece is addressing a different audience and Kixmiller states that authentic writing “helps students cultivate unique voices.” I’ve definitely seen instances when students get to choose their topic and they approach the task with a level of enthusiasm I had not previously seen. And that is not to say that these authentic writing assignments cannot be designed to address standards and include curriculum requirements- they just seem like a breath of fresh air amongst assignments centered on teaching to the test.
While Kixmiller approves of writing that encourages students to explore their own experiences, Brannon discusses the debate between conservatives not wanting to intrude on private experiences and the NCTE document that frames student experience as the “ground” for interpretation. On page 443, he states, “In both cases “experience” is unproblematically there as something one has either to be hidden or to be explored, but never critically engaged as a place to question our constructed positions in language.” Brannon uses the example of the student writing to the school board about motorcycles in school to showcase the fact that these standards do not perpetuate proper interaction between teacher and student. The teacher is “merely a supporter and an orchestrator, not a transformative intellectual” and the student is not challenged to explain his answer. He is merely told that it is important to be polite rather than to question or criticize. To Brannon, standards are not suggestive and helpful guidelines, but rather the end to a teacher’s academic freedom.

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8 Responses

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  1. johnjparente says

    I’m glad we are on the same page here: “not to say that these authentic writing assignments cannot be designed to address standards.” You seem to agree with me that it is totally possible to have real-world writing assignments that conform to standards.

    You also said that “To Brannon, standards are not suggestive and helpful guidelines, but rather the end to a teacher’s academic freedom.” With that in mind, Do you think that Lil Brannon’s comments mean that the end of a teacher’s freedom is near, apparent, impending, imminent? Explain.

  2. Kevin L. Ferguson says

    I like the emphasis on “connection and communication”–seems like you (and other bloggers this week) are trying to find what is behind these standards. Rather than just adopt the standards language, you’re trying to figure out the purpose of standards.

    • Christopher Grimm says

      I agree with you, Professor. I am glad we are questioning behind what is included in these so-called Standards. I especially like how Lil Brannon was questioning WHO creates these standards. Her article was very politically-tinged. I felt like I was reading a teacher’s union propaganda newsletter at points. Despite the tone of Brannon’s article, she does make very strong statements in her case for academic freedom.

  3. Victoria Fontana says

    I like John’s question regarding whether Brannon’s comments mean ” the end of a teacher’s freedom”. Today’s learning guidlenes and existing standardized exams do not provide hope for a positive future. They are backed by big industries with great power. But history suggests that all great empires fall (standardized essay prompt!). I wonder if the conversation started and bolstered by educators who care, like us, and media exposure of negative student feedback, as highlighted in the NY Times, “Pineapples Don’t have Sleeves,” foreshadows a more positive outcome. Conversations inspire movements that can rock major institutions. The protesters for “Occupy Wall Street” started the conversation that shifted the American public’s perspective about the financial industry. I’m hopeful educators will continue to inspire positive trends in education, especially if the media continues to pick up on real student opinions.

    • Christopher Grimm says

      Victoria, right on! However, I disagree with you on one minor point; “Occupy Wall Street” didn’t start the conversation which shifted the American public’s perspective about the financial industry. Enron’s very public disgrace, bank mergers from the late 1980’s through today, the fluctuations of the Stock Market system, and even events as far back as the U.S. government’s actions involving antitrust legislation in the 1890’s all contributed to this conversation. I do, however, once again agree with you that OWS and its “sister” movements in cities worldwide have done much to capture the American public’s attention, no matter how reality television saturated it is!

      While we’re talking about Brannon’s article, I want to address her comment on page 441, where she writes that the literary crisis is “a crisis arising from the tension between America’s promise to the individual that he or she will have full access to intellectual resources and the needs of capitalism to have a differentiated, stratified workforce.” Perhaps there are forces at work in our government who do not want Americans to have equal access to educational opportunity! Truly, if every person in America were college-educated then who would work in our factories, who would plow our fields and who would staff our increasingly prevalent fast food eateries and retail establishments?

      I’m not implying in the previous paragraph that I believe in educational inequality; I certainly don’t. As a working-class student who takes pride in my economic background, also one who has an ever-increasing pile of student loan debts, I respect the upward mobility which America’s sociological strata (sometimes) allows. However, this opportunity is not always realized by students; this is why we, as teachers and concerned citizens, need to be advocates for change!

      (Also, before I get off my soapbox, I just want to explicitly state: anyone who believes “I’m not into politics” or “politics doesn’t affect my life” needs to wake up and realize that we’re in an important election year in this country. Lil Brannon’s article serves to highlight some of these ideological differences. Wake up! Get involved. Get educated on the issues. VOTE! Okay, rant over.) Postscript: This is why “authentic” writing( and teaching this practice) is so very important in this country; thank you Lori Kixmiller!

  4. Dana Choit says

    I agree with you that authentic writing assignments can be designed to address standards, and I’m not completely against standards to start with. I think they have a good initial purpose, to create a base that students and teachers should meet- and I do think that many of the NYS standards (as you mentioned) are very general and many if not all components are ones that we would probably all want to incorporate into our lesson planing/ teaching.

    It’s interesting that you write of the authentic assignments “they just seem like a breath of fresh air amongst assignments centered on teaching to the test”. It seems like the assignments are fresh among the standards, yet you write of teaching specific to the test standards. The state standards are not technically the same as testing standards, and as others have pointed out, they are actually quite different. Teaching for the standardized test may require for example specific skills like being able to identify literary techniques/terms (for the regents) but for the state standards one has a bit more leeway for interpretation. I thought it was interesting that you somewhat switched which standard you were referring to (whether intentional or not) as it seems like teachers have a variety of standards to adhere to, yet the test standards perhaps come forth as the material that is dry yet perhaps more important (or needed) for the students and for the teacher (especially now as it has been noted of the new evaluations).

    • Safaarah Williamson says

      Dana, I like the fact that you mention that there is a major difference between the state standards and the testing standards. Yes, teaching for the standardized tests is generally seen as monotonous and tedious; however, I really think that it also warrants a beneficial skillset as well. An English student should be able to identify and analyze certain literary elements that are presented within the Regents exam because that is an intricate part of studying literature. When we read literature, the analysis of a particular theme can be the core of understanding the central ideologies that are being presented within the text. If we are giving our students a well-rounded education, interpretation is a skill that they will be able to use throughout the entirety of their academic education. It is not merely fixed to the confines of standardized testing.

      The English Regents in particular, may have a specific structure, in regards to the Critical Lens essay that has to be written. However, the students’ thoughts are not limited to that particular structure. There are certain things that must be included within the essay, but there is never any provision that suggests that a more advanced student will be penalized, if they go beyond the predictable format. Teachers must use the standards, whether state standards or testing standards, as a blueprint for what the students should be learning. However, the authenticity of the assignments that are given is dependent upon the educator, not the letters and numbers that correlate to a standard.

  5. Travis Lamprecht says

    Real-world writing assignments are imperative to a student’s progression in their writing skills and understanding of communication in the real world. Standards accompany any form of writing, especially professional emails, memos, press releases, etc. This practice will give students the confidence that they can apply the standards they have learned to their every day life after school. A world without standards is a fantasy, everyone and everything is held to some form of standard. Teachers and students cannot ignore standards because they are situated so that their work can be judged. While this can be superficial it is the reality of academics. Therefore, students and teachers must learn to live with them.