Student readiness and Common Core

We hear much these days about Common Core educational standards. However, what begins with national standards must breed the pressure to standardize curricular models and induce national conformity in instructional materials.

But first, we all realize that education is a reserved power of the states. And secondly, we know that education is administered as a local school district function. And thirdly, research in child development clearly points to the fact that students process information in their own distinct and individual manner and is a matter of individual readiness. However today, it appears that Common Core is receiving the preponderance of attention. How can this be in light of what we know about teaching and learning?

The joys, satisfactions, and challenges in teaching are in the recognition of the fact that students are distinct individuals. Students have individual needs and each possesses individual methods of processing information. A well-prepared teacher discovers the various ways in which to convey information that will be best understood by each student. To be sure, it takes more time and creativeness on the part of the teacher to nurture and cultivate individualism and personalize the content of the material to be taught. But it can and is being done.

One of the most important roles of a teacher is to know their learners and to become aware of each student’s individual readiness to learn a specific skill or readiness to master a particular concept. Learning is inherent to everyone and we know the students tend to learn at different times and in different degrees of mastery. Background and motivation provide the catalyst for a person’s readiness to learn. Each person’s maturity level depends upon his or her individual uniqueness and style of learning. Good teaching requires the teacher to discover and unlock the relationship of these factors as applied to each individual.

Excellence in teaching demonstrates that there is a dynamic between , the teacher and the individual learner. That, right there, is the heart of instruction. There is no “common standards” bureaucratic model that can measure this dynamic. Such measurements may work with nuclear power reactors, quantum physics modules or sophisticated business models. So, one might ask, why can’t it work with students? As one high school senior put it, “students just are NOT robots.” In short, in education, one size does NOT fit all.

For example: we are told that the average sixth grader in the typical American public school is 11 years of age. The average sixth-grade male student is 80 pounds and is 56.5 inches in height. The average sixth-grade female student is 11 years of age, weights 81 pounds and is 56.8 inches tall. The average female sixth-grader wears a shoe kid size of 5 and the male student wears a 7.5 kid size. The average arm sleeve length for both female and male 11 year olds is 23.5 inches. So, suit up a group of sixth-graders with clothes fitting these dimensions and then have them participate in a test run. There will be some students with a perfect fit. And then there will be others where the pants are too loose or too tight; too short or too long. There will be some with shoes just too tight or too loose and the shoes fall off. And then, there will be mittens too tight or sleeves too long.

“What do you mean they don’t fit? This is the size that 11 year olds should wear!” And so, you get the picture. The result is similar to what happens in academic standards testing … and we are concerned with poor testing results? Another example may be … we are told that the “common” 75-year-old male has, on average, three chronic health conditions and is on five prescriptions. If one were to follow the common standards approach, the gentleman, upon visiting his physician, would be told … “well, you are 75 years old, we need to find three chronic conditions you have, and we need to get you on five prescriptions.” Thank goodness, physicians do not follow the common standards approach in medicine.

It is true, standards are absolutely necessary in our schools today. These standards must be comprehensively defined in light of what is known about how students learn. Therein, is the science and art of teaching.

And, therein is the challenge of establishing educational standards. Hopefully, these standards are not so simplistic, that the genuine powerfulness of the art of teaching is grossly minimized and the factual data of child growth and development are degradedly dismissed. This would truly set education back to the dark ages.

For you see, the art and science of teaching truly trumps any “conformity and standards” that stand in the way of a child’s right to learn. For each learner is unique, and the learning and teaching style needs to be artfully tailored to that uniqueness. Standards that weaken the fabric of employing strategic teaching strategies cannot help but, in light of the readiness of each learner, be a disservice to a population of students waiting to learn. Unfortunately, the Common Core fails to take into account the individuality of student readiness for learning.

Recognition of students as individuals … therein and within the science of learning … lies the true art of mastery teaching.

Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia and distinguished professor at Capella University. He is an award winning author. All of the past columns can be viewed on www.fromourperspective.net/ Send comments to: Rheich@aol.com