Come and Observe

I don’t know what else to do except to suggest to an anti-Common Core parent to come and visit my classroom. Visit for a period or stay for the day. Come back again the next day. Stay for a week. Come back again next month. Become a parent volunteer in my room. Help me help a child because God knows we all have children in our room who could use some one-on-one support.

Parents should be our allies. A few are crazy. But there are a few teachers, doctors, plumbers, postal workers who are crazy too. Parents love their kids and want what’s best for them. They are concerned that their kids won’t be developmentally ready for Common Core (CC). They fear that it’s one-size-fits-all, that CC controls kids’ minds and stifle their creativity, that national testing and national curriculum will soon follow. The list of concerns just keeps piling up.

Both sides are quite passionate and create a lot of noise. I engage very little in this noise because I feel my energy in doing so does not get converted into anything useful. It dissipates too quickly, leaving me hollow and out of breath. But I’m talking now by writing. It’s midnight and really quiet here.

I want parents to observe their children do Taco Cart and Always, Sometimes, and Never. I want them to listen in on the kids’ math talks. I want them to walk in on a day when I’m doing direct instruction — and observe how much the kids direct their own learning, how much they try to make sense of something new.

I want parents to observe you — my local and online colleagues whose lessons I steal from and whose support only makes me work harder.

So, that’s my plan. I will invite my parents to visit my classroom whenever they want (I actually prefer unannounced) and see how a CC lesson plays out. The worst that can happen is I fail miserably. But I guarantee their kid will not.


Speaking of curriculum. (Wasn’t I?) I found some very old arithmetic textbooks, dating back to the 1800’s at Open Library.

page 13

Bonnycastle, John. Arithmetic… 17th ed. London: Longman, 1843. Print.

These prefaces are quite remarkable. I’ll just share from two textbooks.

Adams, D. (1848). Arithmetic: in which the principles of operating by numbers are analytically explained and synthetically applied : illustrated by copious examples : designed for the use of schools and academies (Rev. ed.). Keene, N.H.: J.H. Spalter & Co..

Exertion, then, to bring teachers to a higher standard, will be more effective in improving school education, than any efforts at improving school books can possibly be. It is here where the great improvement in must be sought. Without the cooperation of competent teachers, the greatest excellences in any book will remain unnoticed, and unimproved. Pupils will frequently complain that they have never found one that could explain some particular thing, of which a full explanation is given in the book which they have ever used, and their attention only needed to have been called to the explanation.

Colburn, D. P. (1862). Arithmetic and its applications: designed as a text book for common schools, high schools, and academies. Phililadelphia: H. Cowperthwait & Co..

In the first place, such tests are unpractical, for they can never be resorted to in the problems of real life. What merchant ever thinks of looking in a text book or a key, or of relying on his neighbor, …?

When a pupil, having left the school room, performs a problem of real life, how anxious is he to know whether his result is correct! Neither text book nor key can aid him now, and he is forced to rely on himself and his own investigations to determine the truth or the falsity of his work. If he must always do this in real life, and if his school course is to be a preparation for the duties of real life, ought he not to do it as a learner in school? Is it right to lead him to rely on such false tests?

Besides, the labor of proving an operation is usually as valuable arithmetical work as was the labor of performing it, and it will oftentimes make a process or solution appear perfectly simple and clear, when it would otherwise have seemed obscure and complicated.

But some of the exercise problems are just insane. I intentionally looked only for exercises in division of whole numbers. And all these textbooks were for school-aged children, grades 4 through 8.

1909, Walton & Holmes:

  • 408903 ÷ 3508
  • 147500 ÷ 6190

1921, Thorndike:

  • 748275 ÷ 825
  • 42974 ÷ 8523

1862, Colburn:

  • 55673 ÷ 6349
  • 2700684 ÷ 19743

1848, Adams:

  • 46720367 ÷ 4200000
  • reduce to lowest terms: 468/1184

1843, Bonnycastle:

  • 4637064283 ÷ 57606

Common Core looks better than this.

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8 Comments

  1. Posted July 23, 2014 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    I like your idea to have parents come and observe and help. A lot of the anti-common core talk I’ve seen is simply not true so maybe allowing them to see it in action is the best way for them to know what it is! I have been telling myself to listen more to the beliefs people have about why common core is bad but I just don’t understand most of it and think the fears are more true of direct instruction teaching. Do you send parents your blog? I’ve sent a mom friend with a 1st grade daughter your blog because I think you show very well there what this type of teaching looks like and why it works! Thanks as always for your post!

  2. Posted July 23, 2014 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    In addition to the examples you provided, I’ve also seen the Professor and others provide examples from these old texts that have a lot in common with the CCSSM, such as using dots and number lines to help develop conceptual understanding. So I think it shows that there has always been good standards and pedagogy in the wild; we’re just trying to make sure every student has equal access to these.

  3. Posted July 23, 2014 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Where’s my invitation?
    Wait, never mind.

    Great idea to invite them in!

    Do you have any more books from when you were a child?

  4. Posted August 1, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    It’s taken me a while to formulate my thoughts on this, and after spending four days in PD with Eric Milou I know what I want to say.
    I’m not as optimistic. I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a “common core lesson”, and I’m not sure that its architects had any particular type of pedagogy in mind. My fear is that teachers will just copy sample PARCC and Smarter Balanced test items and give them out for kids to work on. Many of them are mind-numbing. Just a different tail wagging the same dog, and the same kids will still hate math. It takes a very brave teacher to make the commitment to spend their class time working through rich, engaging activities and problem-solving experiences like Hotel Snap, or the file cabinet 3-act, and then trust that the experiences will translate into great scores on the PARCC. Until there is actual proof that it will happen, we will continue to be stuck.
    In any case, I don’t think that standards were ever the problem. It’s instruction.

    • Fawn
      Posted August 16, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      I’m glad you read my now vanished reply to your comment, Joe. Someone alerted me on Twitter that I lost some other comments, so the only think I could think of was this spam plugin that I’d installed. It was called “zero spam” or something like that. Well, apparently it was more like “zero comment” because it wiped out legit comments including mine! I deactivated it, and hopefully that was the root cause.

  5. Posted September 9, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    “Neither text book nor key can aid him now, and he is forced to rely on himself and his own investigations to determine the truth or the falsity of his work.”

    I love this extract. I used to teach undergraduate engineering students. When the asked for the answers I would say “No, figure it out yourselves” and point out that if they ever got a job as an engineer it was going to be solving problems without answers. That used to shut them up and make them ponder.

    Re the CCSS, I have read the document so many times! It is very good indeed, but there are a few horrors which I have written about in my blog.
    More power to your elbow!

    • Fawn
      Posted September 12, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      I want to know about these “horrors” then. Will check out your posts on these. Thank you, Howard.

  6. Posted September 14, 2014 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Just found another. See my latest post.
    It’s not just a problem with the CC. Elementary math is and has always been full of sloppy thinking, poor definitions, and sometimes a wrong headed approach. My comments about the CC are in reply to their claim to have “got it right at last”.
    ps This my second attempt to reply. The system timed me out and I lost my original input.

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