Learning First Alliance

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Common Core, Great Teaching, and What Really Matters

Cheryl S. Williams's picture

As the year draws to a close and the fate of the carefully crafted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) seems tenuous while ill-informed policymakers at both ends of the political spectrum air their complaints, I’m reminded of what really matters to ensure student success in our public schools: great teaching and committed professionals.

This was confirmed for me recently when I had the opportunity to be a “student” in DC Public Schools social studies teacher Tanesha Dixon’s demonstration classroom on Capitol Hill, where she and other master educators were staging digital classroom simulations in a meeting sponsored by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training (NCTET) to show how new technology tools can be used effectively in the classroom. Certainly the iPads Ms Dixon was using in her classroom provided important support for her lesson, but the real artistry on display was Ms. Dixon’s passion for her subject and creativity in engaging students to incorporate a spirit of inquiry put to use in a wealth of web based resources.

For her demonstration, Ms. Dixon used Discovery Education digital resources, but she acknowledged that the web contains an almost endless supply of rich information, much of it in the public domain and provided by such institutions as the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the U.S. Park Service. For our lesson, which was going to ultimately end with a discussion of 15th and 16th century European explorers who discovered the “new world” of North and South America,  Ms. Dixon began with a video on space exploration and astronauts in the 20th century. Why, she asked us, would anyone want to get into a space capsule and explore the unknown in outer space. We contributed our answers with the provided hashtag using the iPad or our personal cell phone, and our comments were displayed on a white board at the front of the class. Dixon allows cell phone use for response purposes because many students are more comfortable responding with their familiar equipment. As an aside, she says she has very few problems with inappropriate use of cell phones in class or with inappropriate responses during her exercises. The digital exchange, publicly shared, kicked off a conversation around human motivation to venture into uncharted territory and how that human characteristic has existed through the ages. She then seamlessly transitioned to explorers in earlier centuries and potential motivations for moving out of their day to day lives.

Though this was a short demonstration experience, it reminded me of what we know about good teaching, irrespective of the standard being taught to or the equipment used to support it. A great teacher is:

  • Passionate about her subject
  • Enthusiastic about working with young people
  • Creative in approach
  • Knowledgeable about student engagement strategies
  • Energetic in her exchanges
  • Committed to continued learning for herself and all her students

As someone who talks and writes about effective teaching and learning in an office in the Washington, DC, area and whose classroom teaching experience is a distant memory, the short time in Tanesha Dixon’s social studies class was a welcome journey into what really matters.

Image by NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons