A Word About Standards

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Standards-Based Learning

Educators tend to have strong feelings about academic content standards. Whether it’s state standards or national standards or the new Common Core State Standards, which could be considered a hybrid of the two (since they were created by collaboration among states for implementation nationally), most of us hold strong opinions about the effects of standards on quality teaching. HAPPY Reading believes standards can be one part of a curriculum that is learner-centered and that balances the practical with the powerful.

Standards are intended to help create a framework for instruction. They designate the minimal thresholds for student learning, not the entirety of what we want students to understand and do. We want learners to go beyond the standards, having mastered them easily, and to use the framework suggested by standards to connect, explore and create at higher and higher levels.

Science and art combine for the most effective teaching. Standards simply help us to set a course. Data and research help us determine how to navigate the course, show us what each learner needs to reach the destination and inform us about best practices to meet differentiated, student needs. It is the science of teaching that provides the map. But it is the art of teaching that fuels the journey.

The desire to know more, do more, create more is power. The love for learning, the appreciation of language, the satisfaction that comes from artful expression in all that we do… these things give us context and meaning and joy. Teaching content standards, point by point, without taking learners further is like memorizing a map without taking the journey, without recognizing that the journey is the point of all of it.

If standards were the point, it would be enough to know that Columbus sailed from Europe in 1492 to find a shorter trade route to India and he ended up somewhere other than his original destination. It would suffice to know that this led to the America as we know it today. This is factual and correct and adequate for testing.

But how did Columbus feel? What is it like to be considered crazy by the whole known world while knowing in your heart that you’re right? Have you ever been frustrated or misunderstood? What kind of character does it take to persist against great odds? Do you give up easily if you’re doubtful or proven wrong? Are you able to see possibilities from seeming mistakes? What must the native peoples of this new world have thought when they saw the ships? If either side had known then how things would turn out, would they have chosen differently at any stage? What would Columbus say if he came here today? Would you even exist if Columbus had not sailed?

Is there any place you’d like to explore? What will it take to get there? What are the new frontiers of today? Are they outside of us or inside of us? How important is an understanding of the history of science in creating new pathways for science today? Are there ways of honoring the good of the past while working for the best of what’s possible? Is there a play or a poem or a song or a mathematical equation that can add new facets to what we’re learning? Asking these kinds of questions, reflecting on possible answers, creating community around our thoughts, feelings, plans and possibilities, doing and becoming in real time with the future in mind— these are the hallmarks of true education. We can begin with core standards and we can use those to nurture children into thinkers, creators… whole, well-rounded, contributing, HAPPY individuals.

Balancing the science of teaching (e.g. research, data, facts, common objectives and evidence-based instruction) with the art of teaching (e.g. passion, perspective, creativity, context, expression and meaning) means that each side respects the other into an integrated whole. The Great Depression is just a set of facts to me unless I can relate those facts to genuine feelings of lack and fear… to experiences of pain and sacrifice that resonate with me. Likewise, I am isolated by my personal experiences of lack and sacrifice unless there is shared, background knowledge of the Great Depression or similar, historical occurrences… that enable me to construct meaning around my personal experiences, that enable me to see patterns and broaden my understanding… that make it more possible for me to help myself and others. We need both the science and the art.

One of the best ways to integrate science and art (or the factual and the feeling or the information and the imagination… or however you choose to characterize these) is through wide reading. Unfortunately, many educators believe the existence of standards and the pressure to teach to them eliminates time for things like reading. Research shows us, however, that time spent reading (and writing) is precisely what will give us the greatest gains in learning, including in mastering standards.

HAPPY is here, in part, because we want educators… including teachers, administrators, parents, librarians, community leaders, and counselors… to feel more comfortable spending more time with great stories. We want to show you concrete ways to immerse learners with great books while taking no time away from other, important teaching objectives (e.g. word study and standards-based, content instruction). All instruction becomes MORE potent when connected with authentic experiences… events in the learner’s life or in stories that stir the heart and mind. HAPPY helps educators to be more efficient and more effective by addressing multiple goals at once… in ways that are enjoyable and memorable for students.

So, instead of just teaching about the ocean blue in 1492, which is fine, you can add dimension by adding appropriate literacy activities. These might include a reader’s theater play like Round or Flat? or Columbus is Not Crazy or Whole New World that supports the standards, addresses multiple content areas comprehensively, and furthers literacy goals all at the same time. You might open more realms by reading aloud from the recommended, content-related book suggested on each Detail page, such as What Columbus Found: It Was Orange, It Was Round by Jane Kurtz or Encounter by Jane Yolen.

You provide personal connection and context by adding activities that prompt writing, further reading and higher order thinking… activities like those suggested on our Detail pages. And you foster stimulating, classroom dialogue by asking open-ended questions and starting conversations, as with our HOT (Higher Order Thinking) Cards. All of these pursuits are related to real reading and writing, to thinking critically and creatively, and to mastering content and doing more with it. All of these pursuits are supported by what we offer here at HAPPY Reading.

Our approach to standards is realistic and respectful. You will see we are precise in addressing each goal, standard by standard, state by state. But we do much more than that, because the standard alone is just a starting point. The standards are the notes on paper. What you do with them creates the symphony.

We believe that all things are possible for learners. We are here to help you prove that… in your school, in your home, in your library or in your community center. Literacy-rich activities can help us to serve the whole child, working on many levels simultaneously. Standards are talking points and starting points for a fully-developed, rich conversation about everything. HAPPY is about combining the practical and the powerful to address multiple levels at once and in so doing, put new dimensions within reach