For a lot of teachers, the Common Core Standards are going to force you to change the way you teach – myself included. It’s not to say that those of us who don’t currently teach the way Common Core wants us to are doing anything wrong – it’s just an entirely different approach.
What is the first thing you do when a student raises their hand with a wrong answer? If you’re like me, you say “Nope! Anyone else?” When a student calls you over to ask if they are doing something correctly – and are wrong – what do you say? If you’re like me, you say “No that’s not right, let me show you how…”
If you’re like me, you are going to have to make some changes in the way you teach in order to have the Common Core Standards work the way they are supposed to in your classroom. Common core is 100% student centered – not teacher centered. Students are supposed to try, make mistakes, and try again with minimal teacher intervention. For me, that’s going to be tough!
When introducing a brand new topic in your math classroom you are supposed to provide the students with an exploratory activity. One where they can gently explore the concept and see if they can arrive at their own conclusions / solutions without having any details about the topic itself. They are supposed to rely on prior knowledge to help them determine a solution to the problem.
So why can’t we help them out if they ask for it? Students are entirely too dependent upon us to just give them the answer when they get frustrated. Many students just want either the answer, procedure or “rule” so they can solve the problem and move on to the next. What this has created is a generation of students who don’t truly KNOW the math. They don’t know why things work the way they do and why certain mathematical rules are what they are. They simply know how to correctly solve problems and that has been good enough.
The idea with the Common Core standards is to have students think for themselves. They are supposed to develop meaningful understandings of the standards – not just memorization. They need to try again when they are incorrect and not just be told an answer. The standards are designed to build upon knowledge from the previous year. With the exception of the primary grades where students truly are learning something for the very first time, older math students will have some prior knowledge to draw upon for most new skills that are going to be introduced. Very rarely should a student in a higher grade be given an exploratory activity and have “no idea” how to solve it.
When the school year starts and you are getting ready to address your first standard, you may find yourself needing to change things around with your teaching style. And you know what, that’s OK! New isn’t always better – but I can’t seem to find anything wrong with students exploring a topic on their own before we just tell them what’s going on. Encourage them to explore, think and ask questions. Break them of their dependency on us to just give out right answers. They’re going to get frustrated from time to time and so will you – but they will become better students and better thinkers because of it!