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jessica cuthbertsonJessica Cuthbertson is a 7th grade ELA Teacher at Vista PEAK Exploratory P-8 in Aurora Public Schools and a Teacherpreneur through the Center for Teaching Quality. She presented this public comment at the State Board of Education Meeting on February 12, 2014. 

I have been teaching adolescents for over ten years. Recently, I think about my career in two segments – teaching and learning BEFORE and AFTER the Colorado Academic Standards (CAS) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

I’d like to share a few before and after examples with you. As I share these examples I’d like you to ask yourself a few questions:

  • In which era (before or after the CAS/CCSS) would I want to be a student? (Or would I want my own child to be a student?)
  • In which reality would I want to be a teacher?

ELA Teaching & Learning BEFORE the CAS/CCSS

ELA Teaching & Learning AFTER the CAS/CCSS

Lesson design:

  • I taught lessons that aimed to meet students’ needs without a clear understanding of what the grade level expectations or targets were.
Lesson design:

  • I still teach lessons based on individual students’ needs but I now have a clear understanding of what seventh graders are supposed to know and be able to do, and how seventh grade expectations differ from sixth and eighth grades.
Assessment design:

  • I assigned on-demand writing tasks that were decontextualized prompts to provide students “practice opportunities” for CSAP/TCAP. Those prompts sounded something like: “Describe the perfect friend.” Or “Explain a time that you worked hard to achieve a personal goal.”
  • These prompts rarely gave me new information about my writers. They simply told me whether my students liked (or loathed) the prompt itself.
Assessment design:

  • Now I assign contextualized prompts and projects that require reading, research and critical thinking beyond the prompt itself.
  • For example, to launch this quarter’s nonfiction reading/writing our pre-assessment task asked students to explain and analyze Americans’ first amendment rights and how this right differs from those of people elsewhere in the world. They wrote their essay after closely reading and thinking about the preamble and first amendment, an article about free speech in other parts of the world, an infographic about the threat to journalists worldwide, and an public news radio audio clip about free speech in our own country. After experience with these four sources they were given time to craft a response.
  • In contrast, this assessment task gave me information about my students’ ability to read to determine importance in a text, compare information and use evidence from multiple sources, and think critically about a meaningful topic.
Learning (Teachers & Students)

  • Before the CAS my literacy instruction occurred in a vacuum – with little collaboration or connection to other content areas or grade levels.
Learning (Teachers & Students)

  • The standards give me a common language and entry point with my colleagues in other disciplines. They allow me to collaborate across school, district, and state boundaries. Not only can I support students during ELA class with works of fiction, but I can also teach them to read like a scientist and write like an historian. Right now as I testify, my students are creating biographical photo essays on an influential historical or contemporary figure.

So, I leave it to you to decide – which classroom would prepare you or your child for life after high school? In which classroom will teachers flourish and create lessons and units that allow students to think critically? We need new standards to support authentic learning for all Colorado students.