Embrace the Grind

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. -

Embrace the grind. -Marshall Yanda, Baltimore Ravens guard

We wanted to take a few minutes to think about how much the work laid out before us
requires constant, conscientious, hard work.

Especially with Common Core and the instructional shifts, a real gauntlet has been
thrown down. Not only are teachers expected to change the content of what is taught,
but the shifts are requiring a change in how we teach as well. This is something that has
never been attempted before. Content has changed on occasion. Assessments have
changed on occasion. And different classroom methods have been proposed and even
strongly advised- think differentiated learning and multiple intelligences for example-
but never has an instruction shift been absolutely required for the academic success of
students. This is hard for teachers.

What we know and what we continue to learn is that these changes have to be
addressed consistently and systematically. One of the math shifts is an embrace of
fluency. The folks writing the math modules build in fluency exercises every day. On
the ELA side of things, there are shifts to supply text-based answers. These folks have
a very "protocol-based" system to give teachers and students the practices needed to
make this shift a habit. And they use the protocols constantly.

When teaching the priorities of the Danielson Framework- cognitive engagement,
constructivist learning, and 21st Century Learning- we show a video of a teacher and
students in the middle of a great lesson demonstrating how climate works in a soda
bottle. We often get push back that the classroom in the video is not real life, that our
students are not like those students. Those are charter school students. First, charter
schools are often in the toughest neighborhoods with the toughest kids. Second, we
should recognize that that highly effective classroom didn't just appear. There was a lot
of hard work on the parts of both teacher and students, learning the protocols, learning
the habits, practicing to eventually look that good.

North Star Schools in Newark, New Jersey consistently scores tops in the state on NJ
assessments. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo makes no secret of how they do it. Lots of hard
work, lots of practice, all with the use of protocols that force the development of good

Making these shifts, bringing our students up to the level expected is hard. And it
requires constant hard work. Without working on changing our habits, our practices, we
may get what we always got.

Embrace the grind.

A Simple Analogy

Back in the day, in those simple days of yore, I used to teach Shakespeare. One exercise I used a few times is having students try to write a sonnet. It was really just an exercise in appreciation of how difficult a task it really is to write sonnets.

I would start the process simply. Write a love poem in four parts.Then I would add criteria one by one. So after they had a rudimentary poem established in four parts, I changed the game. Now those four parts had to be lines of four, four, four, and two. Ok, now things get tougher. Each of those four sections had to conform to a specific rhyme scheme.

And then they were told each line could only contain ten syllables.

And then they were told each line had to come darn close to the dreaded iambic pentameter (ba-bump ba-bump ba-bump ba-bump ba-bump).

You can imagine, many students ran into road blocks long before they had 14 lines of iambic pentameter with a specific rhyme scheme, that told a story in four parts, the fourth part being a clever two-line wrap up.

It's a heck of a challenge.

Shifting gears, the more I study and learn about the curriculum modules that are coming out, the more I appreciate all the layers of work that have gone into them. Now, NYSED is advising that the filed can really do one of three things: adopt them, adapt them, or ignore them (at your own peril of course).

If ignored, it's a task akin to trying to write a sonnet one criteria at a time. First, you must ensure that you choose grade appropriate texts using both qualitative and quantitative measures. Then after choosing texts, you must find the proper balance between fiction and non-fiction texts. You must also balance your reading with complimentary amounts of writing, narrative, argumentative, and informational.

Once you have your reading and writing balance, please ensure that you have also incorporated both science and social studies.

Don't forget to build in high quality formative and summative assessments.

And keep your eye on how your work will bootstrap next year's work.

And don't forget strategic vocabulary instruction.

Once again, it's a heck of a challenge. Think about the challenges of surviving in the teaching trenches. Now think about taking on any one of the above challenges. Hopefully, you can see the challenge the vendors for NYSED have taken. It looks more and more like they are truly incorporating all of it.

...maybe it's a bit more challenging than writing a sonnet.
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