Let’s clarify: Standards or curriculum?

Whether you love the Common Core or hate the Common Core, recent debates about an unclear, frustrating math problem have led to confusion in more than just math. The terminology used in these debates often interchanges the terms standards and curriculum, which are two distinct aspects of the discussion.

Standards, grade-level expectations, are “the end” while curriculum is “the means.” States decide on standards, while curriculum is chosen or created by local districts. See how the Common Core addresses this myth about implementation:


In Confusing Math Homework? Don’t Blame the Common Core, Jessica Lahey dives deeper into the difference between the standards and curriculum in the context of math. Lahey points out that while the Common Core has been implemented in all but five states, the decisions on how to teach the standards (a curriculum) remain local.

Is the distinction between standards and curriculum clearly stated in the debates you’re hearing and reading about? 

An ode to New Jersey poets

The title seems like an oxymoron. But my home state has more than its share of poets.

For starters, there's Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Dorothy Parker and Allen Ginsberg. If you count metaphorical poets, the list includes Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen and Junot Diaz, among many others.

We even had a Poet Laureate, Amari Baraka, who was so outspoken that he almost got fired. Absent a legal way to dismiss him, the State Senate had to abolish his post.

That was back in 2003. But the law couldn't keep ballads from coursing through the veins of New Jersey residents. The place is too rich with material. Look at Springsteen, who finds inspiration on the New Jersey Turnpike, "ridin' on a wet night, 'neath the refinery's glow, out where the great black rivers flow."

There's a muse, it seems, at every toll booth, exit and jughandle—the latter a word that New Jersey invented. Jazzman John Pizzarelli sees poetry in "betting halls, shopping malls" and "good old Rutgers U," not to mention the "47 shoe stores [that] line Route 22."

In honor of National Poetry Month, here are five lyrical selections from the Garden State:


What Think You I Take My Pen In Hand?  Walt Whitman, 1819-1892

What think you I take my pen in hand to record?
The battle-ship, perfect-model'd, majestic, that I saw pass the
offing to-day under full sail?
The splendors of the past day? Or the splendor of the night that
envelopes me?
Or the vaunted glory and growth of the great city spread around me?--
But I record of two simple men I saw to-day, on the pier, in the
midst of the crowd, parting the parting of dear friends;
The one to remain hung on the other's neck, and passionately kiss'd
While the one to depart, tightly prest the one to remain in his arms.


The Red Wheelbarrow  William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

so much depends



a red wheel



glazed with rain



beside the white



Alfred, Lord Tennyson  Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

Should Heaven send me any son,

I hope he's not like Tennyson.

I'd rather have him play a fiddle

Than rise and bow and speak an idyll.


Homework  Allen Ginsberg (1925-1997)

If I were doing my Laundry I’d wash my dirty Iran

I’d throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap, scrub up Africa, put all the

   birds and elephants back in the jungle,

I’d wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico,   

Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska,   

Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos, Flush that sparkly Cesium out of Love


Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain Sludge out of the

Mediterranean basin & make it azure again,

Put some blueing back into the sky over the Rhine, bleach the little Clouds so snow

   return white as snow,

Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie   

Then I’d throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood & Agent Orange,

Dump the whole mess of Russia and China in the wringer, squeeze out the tattletail

   Gray of U.S. Central American police state,

& put the planet in the drier & let it sit 20 minutes or an Aeon till it came out clean.


On the Roof  C. K. Williams (born 1936)

The trouble with me is that whether I get love or not

I suffer from it. My heart always seems to be prowling

a mile ahead of me, and, by the time I get there to surround it,

it's chewing fences in the next county, clawing

the bank-vault wall or smashing in the window

I'd just started etching my name on with my diamond.


And that's how come I end up on the roof. Because even if I talk

into my fist everyone still hears my voice like the ocean

in theirs, and so they solace me and I have to keep

breaking toes with my gun-boots and coming up here

to live—by myself, like an aerial, with a hand on the ledge,

one eye glued to the tin door and one to the skylight.

Putting a stop to red ink in the classroom

Colors are a form of nonverbal communication. The color red is generally associated with passion or anger and green is often described as calm and safe. According to traffic signals red means stop and green means go.

Subconsciously, the meanings of color transfer over to other aspects of our lives. So it comes as no surprise that some schools are banning the use of red pens. Red ink inadvertently gives students the idea that the teacher has the final say and triggers them to scan their papers for their final grade.

The grading process should be a way for educators to provide constructive feedback and start an open dialogue with their students, right. After all, what is the purpose of grading if students do not understand the reason behind why they earned a certain grade?

Mounts Bay Academy, in Cornwall, England, encourages teachers to use green pens—signaling students to “go” and promote engagement. While teachers mark papers in green ink, the students are expected to leave their comments in purple ink to continue the conversation around their work.

Do you agree that using red ink can minimize student engagement? Why or why not?

It isn't just one thing that defines great teachers

We hear about this intangible "it" factor that celebrities have to make them stars. We ask business leaders what their key to success is and parents of amazing kids for a piece of advice on how to raise children. We are all seeking a magic bullet it would seem and in education, we are no different. We yearn for the definition of great teaching and what makes a great teacher. It's frustrating at times because "we know it when we see it" don't we? I think I have one key to unlocking this mystery and it is that there is no one thing. Now, I know this is no surprise to teachers whatsoever because they are experiencing new challenges and teaching new lessons every day. Naturally they do not rely on one skill or attribute. The quote I'm sharing today is a great one when it comes to articulating this reality.

The quote came to us through the research report Primary Sources: America's Teachers on Teaching in an Era of Change, a project of Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In the same report, we asked teachers about the characteristics a great teacher and, you guessed it, they reported a combination of talents as important rather than a singular item rising to the top. Managing the classroom effectively is cited by 100% of teachers as very or extremely important to being a great teacher but then 99% of teachers say the same about creating an environment where students feel safe making mistakes, delivering content clearly, maintaining high academic expectations, and anticipating and responding to student learning needs. Making the contest for the most important skill even tighter, the next three on the list are at 98% and we never go below 83% when looking at the complete list which you can find in the full report downloadable at www.scholastic.com/primarysources. And you'll see items that are not purely academic including being interested in students' lives inside and outside of school which is a reflection of the stat in which 99% of teachers tell us teaching is more than academics; it is about reinforcing good citizenship, resilience and social skills.

When you've experienced great teaching, how did you know? Teachers, how would you define a great teacher?

Children and trauma: a new approach

There's a big difference between normal, everyday stress, which can build resilience in a child, and "toxic stress," which often stems from abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction. Toxic stress can impair a child's mental and physical health—and disrupt the lives of everyone around him, both at home and at school.

"What the science is telling us now is how experience gets into the brain as it's developing its basic architecture, and how it gets into the cardiovascular system and the immune system," Jack P. Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University says in The New York Times column linked above. "These insights provide an opportunity to think about new ways we might try to reduce the achievement gap and health disparities—and not just do the same old things."

Such advances offer hope in the wake of a new report by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. Statistics from the 2011-12 school year paint a disturbing picture of school suspensions and expulsions, even among 4-year-olds in preschool, with minority children faring the worst.

In this New York Times column, author David Bornstein discusses ways that young children who have suffered "significant chronic adversity" are benefiting from an experimental program developed for Head Start Trauma Smart. The program trains teachers, parents, and guardians to respond to anger and aggression with compassion and systematic strategies, like offering "safe corners" and "breathing stars."

Bornstein tells about a 5-year-old boy named "Luke" (his name was changed for the column), whose parents struggled with drug abuse and neglected him. Luke's participation in a program in Kansas City, Missouri, has led to significant improvements in his behavior.

"Before, I was always the bad guy," Luke's grandmother says. "Whenever I made [him] sit quietly by himself, he said, 'Grandma, I hate you.' Now I know that's not what was needed. And he's also able to step back and look. He even says, 'Thank you, Grandma,' and gives me a hug after he calms down. He's a very intelligent person if he can get past the anger."

To learn more about Head Start Trauma Start, click here.

Repeated read alouds may lead to reading success for young children

More than 50 years ago, Dr. Dolores Durkin studied children who learned to read before starting school. She reported that one of the most consistent findings among these children were parents who read to their children regularly during their preschool years. This finding has since manifested itself in the advice we give to parents to read to their children.

Over the years, I have discovered that there is a type of parent-child read aloud experience that seems to be evident when children are quite young: Children have that one special book that they have their parents read to them daily. I have come to wonder if there is something quite powerful about this rereading experience that helps children become readers.  

As a person interested in reading fluency, a foundational reading competency, according to the Common Core State Standards, I have learned that rereadings or repeated readings of texts can lead to significant and generalized improvements in students’ word recognition, fluency, and comprehension. Indeed, repeated readings has become a mainstay of many reading fluency instructional programs.

Do the repeated readings that parents often engage in with their young children also have a beneficial effect on children’s early reading development? I think they do. As parents repeatedly read a text chosen as special by the child, the child eventually comes to the point where he or she has the oral text memorized. During most read aloud experiences, children sit next to their parents so that they can actually view the text itself and pictures as the parent reads. Through repeated readings and viewings the child begins to map the words that he or she hears with the words that he or she sees in the text. The sight and sound of the words eventually get locked into the child’s brain. This is the beginning of sight vocabulary and reading itself. More of these repeated experiences at home will lead to the development of a large sight vocabulary and through analysis of the learned sight words, the child will begin to make generalizations about phonics in particular and reading in general.

Given the possible connection between repeated reading in early childhood and children’s positive literacy outcomes it seems that it would not be unwise to recommend to parents that they allow themselves to read and reread favorite books and other texts (e.g. songs and poetry) to their children -- even to the point of memorization. Many children have a natural inclination to one or a few books that they love to hear repeatedly. I am beginning to think that there is something incredibly powerful in children’s apparent and innate desire to hear a story read to them again and again. We should take advantage of this inclination at home as well as in school as we move children ever closer to the goal of conventional reading.

Fisher and Frey on fostering collaborative conversations

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey shared a wealth of knowledge with teachers, leaders, and curriculum developers at the ASCD Conference last weekend. In “Collaborative Conversations: Meeting Anchor Standard 1 in Speaking and Listening,” Fisher began by describing his experience as a student in a graduate-level neuroscience course. One of his main takeaways was that interacting with his classmates kept him motivated, clarified information, and extended his understanding of the brain. He realized he needed time to make sense of the material in his textbooks on neuroanatomy, and collaborative conversations provided access to this complex text.

The speaking and listening section in the Common Core Stand Standards notes the value of collaborative conversations in which students learn guidelines for conversations, use evidence in their arguments, and critically analyze a topic. See anchor standard 1:

Fisher and Frey both recognized the major shift this means for teachers. In the past, it was natural to think students should discuss simpler, easier topics when they didn’t have the support of the teacher. Now, it’s clear that students can have productive group conversations about complex ideas with the right supports. 

To engage in collaborative conversations, students need:

  • Enough background knowledge to have something to say. Supplement with videos and texts on the subject matter.
  • Language support to know how to say their ideas (e.g., sentence frames, vocabulary wall, or peer language broker).
  • An interesting and relevant topic to discuss.
  • Authentic reasons to interact.
  • To understand the expectations of and accountability for the interaction. Establish a culture where students are expected to talk to each other.
  • To feel part of a community of learners that encourages and supports each other.
  • To understand the task (e.g., what to do in a “jigsaw”).

These conversations are key to developing academic language and vocabulary, as well as an understanding of complex texts. Their district in San Diego has set a goal for student-to-student interactions: 50% of instructional minutes. Want to find out more? Check out Fisher and Frey’s website and YouTube Channel.


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