Have you ever had one of those moments when you realize the way you've been thinking about something is completely backward? I experienced one of those humbling moments recently. While trying to establish a strong scaffold for the cognitive stamina needed to master the skills in the Common Core Literacy Standards, I realized I was going about it all wrong.
I made the mistake of starting with #1. Here's the CCSS Literacy Standards for History/Social Studies
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
An important standard right? Probably at the heart of a student being an informed citizen and certainly an important step toward college and career readiness. But, what happens when a standard like this becomes the goal, the destination, instead of a step toward a much more important goal?
That more important goal is the one I rarely considered, but a recent experience with some students and teachers helped me see that Standard 10 clearly articulates the purpose of the CCSS:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.10 By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6–8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Those final 3 words, "independently and proficiently" give standards 1-9 the scope and significance that each standard loses in isolation. How do we scaffold instruction that builds students towards independence? From a recent experience this point became clear to me that students demonstrating proficiency through independence.
Well that may seem like an obvious statement, careful and intentional instruction not only builds students to proficiency, but also must do so while building independence. In our students that struggle and need support, do we ever get them to independence? It seems to me that we often ask students to demonstrate independence before they've established proficiency.
Look at the following student work:
The rough T-Chart to the left is a quick partner list generated before reading a primary source from the diary of an early Jamestown colonists.
This scaffolded work allows for some level independence, but not at the cognitive level demanded of proficiency. What is exhibited here is what Susan Brookhart may call a "performance of understanding".
I was able to quickly discover the students' level of familiarity with these two contrasting worlds, before reading the primary source. As students read the text independently, they engaged in meaning-making by searching for evidence of the speaker's attitude about his experiences in the New World.
Now, students were ready to communicate their understanding of the text. Typically, we ask students to quickly jump to this important step without proper supports. What language would you like to see students use to communicate their understanding? What would independent and proficient communication look like in this case?
Since we had juxtaposed the attitudes of people in England and the New World, I wanted students to place the attitude of the speaker in the context of whether or not things were working out for our speaker. Was life better? Was he having regrets?
To get to this point, I asked students to use a specific set of compare/contrast transition words and verbs to articulate their understanding.
As you can see, the student "performance of understanding" demonstrates many of the objectives of the instruction. 1.) Does this student understand the difficulties of life in the colonies? The student does this to a degree but clearly has some misconceptions.
2.) Does the student understand contrasting perspectives? Again, there is evidence in this single sentence to the degree the student can demonstrate his/her understanding of contrasting perspectives.
3.) Is the student capable of explaining this contrast using appropriate and sophisticated language? Here is the strength of the student and the specific scaffold contributed to this student's performance.
What's powerful about this is the specific feedback that I can give this student to move his/her learning forward. I'm not left to wonder if process or content is the issue because I used the content to scaffold the process.
So, if our goal of any instruction is to use the Common Core State Standards as an inverted scaffold toward proficiency and independence, then it's never about working toward the standards and skills in isolation, but in intentional and thoughtful spiraling that provides students with the opportunities to get the feedback they need to be independent.