Participating with Curriculum Materials and “Letting Go”

Evidence is growing that curriculum packages and textbooks, claiming to be “Common Core State Standards (CCSS)-aligned,” are really not. The reasons for this are complex, but they can be boiled-down to two takeaways: first, many publishers of such materials are not mathematicians nor education researchers, and they have rushed to complete “CCSS-aligned” versions that also try to accommodate the patchwork system of state standards; second, the CCSS does not intend to standardize how teachers and students tackle content, but rather to trim-down the goals and to inspire greater rigor in math classrooms. And so, the authors of the CCSS necessarily want teachers, schools, and districts to make on-the-ground decisions to suit local needs.

Since there is no such thing as a “Common Core-aligned” set of materials, I argue (among many others, who have made similar arguments) that teachers and schools will need to make adaptations to their curriculum packages and textbooks. The question, then, is how to do so in ways that are effective and preserve the cohesion and structure that curriculum materials afford (via research-based progressions, organized coverage of content, the pilot-testing and ongoing research, etc.).

In addition to being mindful of the level of rigor that appears within your curriculum materials or textbook–and being unafraid to make adjustments–another part of the adaptation process, I think, is “letting go.” I can’t do her post justice, so I’ll just link to Allison Rodman’s heartfelt piece about her daughter and soccer, here. (I think you may need to sign-in to LinkedIn, first.) In sum, Rodman argues that children can do much more than we think they can; they don’t need us to be so quick to “show them how.” Providing opportunities for productive struggle is a real pathway to authentic learning, and decades of research on children’s cognitive development in mathematics supports this idea. By making this comment, I do not intend to downplay the deep-rooted and worthy desire that we, as teachers, have to want to help students. Especially those who are struggling. I do think that understanding this desire, it’s roots and it’s benefits and limitations, can be a real growth-edge for all of us.

In PAMTC workshops, we also discuss tools for facilitating classroom conversations that allow students to grapple more deeply. In deploying such tools, teachers become “guides on the side,” rather than “sages on the stage.” And restructuring our usual approach is important to consider: Elizabeth Green writes about the deep, life-long learning that can occur, when we resist the pull of “I-do-we-do-you-do” lessons. Developing these tools for facilitation, like anything else, takes time and practice–and a version of “letting go” for ourselves, to liberate us from our fears and inhibitions about losing control–but we hope that you will muster your patience and join us for this journey.

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