Using Core Standards as a Homeschooler

Standard

As a teacher and citizen, I’m ambivalent about the Common Core and national standards in general. There’s often a lot of good work and thought that goes into these initiatives, and it can be very useful to have guidelines for both curriculum content and pedagogy. Many teachers can look at these core standards and confirm that it is indeed what is already happening in their classrooms—or reflect on why their approach diverges. On the other hand, as a matter of policy, the Common Core is impossible to extricate from its political and historical context, which makes it problematic as a piece of reform.

I found it difficult to find an articulate, succinct, balanced, and relatively impartial rebuttal to the Common Core in a single video, so here instead are two videos that touch on some of the major concerns:

If you want to wade into the world of the Common Core, you can do worse than start at Edutopia’s resource page on it, which has lots of links to pro’s, con’s, evaluations, lesson plans, and so on.

Once I started homeschooling, however, I realized that I could circumvent a lot of these issues, and think about these standards documents as useful pieces of research and curriculum development. Especially since I have un-schooling tendencies, the Common Core and its ilk gives me an extremely useful telescopic view outside of my insular little home-lab. I don’t doubt my children are usually learning something, but if the learning is somewhat whimsical, I begin to worry if it is as broad and deep as it needs to be. For me, it’s not a matter of whether my kid is keeping up, but rather if there are gaps in his knowledge that I’m overlooking.

The national standards programs have gone through the trouble of sitting down a swath of teachers and experts, taking a 50,000-foot look at disciplines from K through 12, ascertaining what is currently reasonable for kids in different communities in our country, and mapping out a coherent scope and sequence. And putting it online for free. We can take advantage of that.

This is what I did for Biggie, my 7-year-old. I took a look at several different sites:

I also have a good deal of familiarity with the standards developed by the National Council for the Social Studies, but they are broader and less useful for my purposes. I could have also checked out Virginia’s state standards, which I’ll probably do next year, but I wanted to keep the process somewhat more manageable for me right now.

For each set of standards, I used the web site to drill down to what was outlined for second grade. This I skimmed and summarized or cut-and-paste into a document:

Knowing my child, these are my takeaways:

  • Biggie is a pretty advanced reader, and he’s going to be doing a lot of reading, so I’m not too concerned about literacy skills like word recognition, fluency, or vocabulary
  • I’ll try to target specific issues of language mechanics as they seem relevant in his writing
  • In terms of critical reading, we want to be purposeful about identifying major ideas and topics (who, what, when, where, how, and why), connections between major points, and rudimentary notions of narrative structure (beginning, middle, and end)
  • Make sure he gets exposure to fables and folklore, especially different versions from around the world
  • He should be getting practice writing opinion pieces, short narratives, and explanations
  • I’ve also got to provide him opportunities to have discussions with other kids
  • As for math, I’m pretty comfortable with where he is, but make sure he gets continued reinforcement on topics of arithmetic, place-value, measurement, and shapes
  • I want to steer him to topics and experiments in changes in matter, changes in Earth, plants, and habitats
  • Give him projects in inventing to emphasize problem-solving, design-thinking, and hypothesis-testing
  • In the arts, I should give him lots of exposure to different forms, styles, and techniques of both visual and performing arts

Now I have a one-sheet reference that I can refer to when planning field trips, borrowing library books, setting routines, and picking classes. This approach is loose enough that there’s a lot of freedom to meander and follow rabbit trails. If Biggie gets a sudden interest in astronomy, I have no problem putting all the other science stuff on hold. More often than not, though, we have trouble figuring out what to do next, and having a simple reference like this gives us some direction and orients the year.

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