Developing the Learners We Need

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Developing the Learners We Need

He perseveres; he understands what it takes to produce quality work and has the where with all to generate such work; he recognizes the importance of asking the right questions and has an arsenal of tools to generate them. He knows how to determine if he is on the right track in pursuit of a solution and can access a range of strategies to solve the problems he has determined to find. He is mindful of the interdependence of all systems and knows that the smallest of actions can have astronomical effects.

She understands the concepts of change, diversity, time, space, justice, and conflict in a variety of contexts and uses such understandings to make sense of local, state, national, international, and global issues and affairs. But she also knows what she does not know and knows how to engage in the kind of inquiry that can deepen and broaden her understanding.

They know how to take turns, how to listen to understand, how to use their differences in their favor, how to negotiate their assumptions, and how to tolerate and move past differences in positions. They know how to work together and how and when to ask for help or look beyond themselves to make decisions or complete a task.

They know that today’s opportunities are different from tomorrow’s; that not all the resources we value, including the many beings which comprise our ecological diversity, will be available without significant stewardship and self‐restraint. They know how to advocate for causes of significance; how to leverage the power of one and muster both the drive and the tough skin required to confront closed doors. They have what it takes to persevere.

Their teachers cultivate and share those qualities in themselves and in their students. They see themselves as learners, thinkers, designers, and facilitators. Their lessons and activities answer the question: “Why are we doing this?” without students ever asking it, by contextualizing new content and helping students access and link what they already know. Their units are organized around themes, issues and questions of significance, such as "Who Am I?” "What effect do I have on the world around me?” and "What is the impact of change (and interdependence and diversity) on me?”

Facts and events are positioned within larger unifying ideas and concepts such as leadership, revolution, energy, communication, change, systems, environment, diversity, choices, time, and space. These concepts are taught across subjects and disciplines, helping students to apply them in all kinds of settings and situations. Teachers teach skills incrementally and in ways that promote students’ ability to read and write for real purposes and to audiences who can learn and benefit from their ideas. They provide spaces for students to develop and practice them by building on past successes and reaping the benefits of failed attempts.

Their teachers create and use learning communities in their classrooms, recognizing that their success is very much determined by the hidden and tacit curriculum. Such curriculum establishes how and when discourse

happens, who can ask and answer questions, what learning actually entails and how grades are determined. Their teachers are learners, thinkers, designers and facilitators.

What role do the Common Core Learning Standards play?

Frameworks and blueprints organize our thinking by defining the parameters of what we should attend to. The Common Core Standards is a framework that serves as an operational blueprint of significant literacies. As articulated in the Introduction to the Standards document,

“…grade‐specific K–12 standards in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language translate the broad… aims of the College and Career Readiness Standards into age‐ and attainment‐appropriate terms. The Standards set requirements not only for English language arts (ELA) but also for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects.” (pg. 3)

“The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach. Furthermore, while the Standards make references to some particular forms of content, they do not—indeed, cannot—enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn. The Standards must therefore be complemented by a well‐developed, content‐rich curriculum…” (pg. 4)

“While the Standards focus on what is most essential, they do not describe all that can or should be taught. A great deal is left to the discretion of teachers and curriculum developers. The aim of the Standards is to articulate the fundamentals, not to set out an exhaustive list or a set of restrictions that limits what can be taught beyond what is specified herein.” (pg. 6)

Frameworks are extraordinarily useful because they provide common starting points for discourse and for defining priorities. They are grounded in long histories of distilling the essential from the perfunctory and they help us organize our thinking and our priorities. However, as evident in the preceding quotes, they do not comprise everything that matters nor do they establish all that we should care about. To honor them is to understand them deeply but also to see beneath and beyond them. This requires that we ask questions that will help us ponder the kind of human beings we want to cultivate, the social interactions that could honor and appreciate our differences as assets, the societies we believe will make our world a better place, and the learners we want to trust our future to. Such questions include:

What do we want our students to know, be able to do, and value? What do we want our teachers to know, be able to do, and value? What knowledge matters most? When?
How do we best craft learning experiences that promote the learning outcomes we value? How can the Standards inform and support the teachers and learners we need?

Situating the use of the Common Core Standards within the larger universe of outcomes we value is essential if we want to honor the Standards and the purpose for which they were designed. A next step will be to invest the will and the resources required to invent the schools of the future we aspire to have. The responsibility is enormous but the costs of avoiding it are untenable. What are we waiting for?