Seventy Before Seventy

One of my favorite assignments for my students each year was “Thirty Before Thirty” (by Robert Wilder).  As I neared retirement, I began to think about what this list would look like for me; I even joked with the students and wrote my “Six Before Sixty” list on the board a time or two. (They weren’t very interested, understandably.) As I transition this blog from teaching to retirement, I thought about my tagline. I’ve been quite scattered, working on too many projects I have waited years to have time for. I found I have way more than six things I’d like to experience and accomplish before age seventy; I’m already past the sixty mark! I’ve always enjoyed the number seventy (especially in the 1970s, when our national government had the since-debunked idea that restricting the speed limit to 55 miles per hour would be safer). I need to record the unorganized list of things I want to do in retirement; even if there are not actually seventy items at present, there is the possibility of a good number eventually. 

It has a nice symmetry to it: Seventy Before Seventy. I did a web search in case someone else had the idea first, and the closest I found was a woman who wrote a book, Seven Before Seventy, about visiting all seven continents. Relieved, because I always feel not too original, as if everything has been done and created before….That’s another subject (which seems pretty boring itself).

Let’s see where this goes. Maybe I can help someone else who is in the same stage of life, in the absence of the much-appreciated More magazine. 

Who I Am and Why I’m Here


Since I’ve had my website for years and am still paying a considerable amount of money for it, I’d like to find out whether it is worth keeping. I recently retired from teaching high school English, and the website was started as a teaching site. I’ve needed to rebuild it a few times using different content management systems; by working my way through WordPress, Concrete5, and another CMS that I can’t recall at the moment, I’ve learned a bit about the process.

I feel I’m not the most original anything–I don’t really want to sell the things I create, and I don’t believe I have many unique thoughts or ideas. I have jotted down a few ideas for writing, and may expand upon those. Exploring the realities of retirement, after working full-time pretty continuously since my 1973 high school graduation, is what I’m currently occupied with. How am I so much busier now than when I was working? What will my fashion image look like (after I finally organize my closet)? Will I be able to travel or own a horse again? Do I have any interesting ideas to contribute to the online world?

Will I complete the WordPress blogging fundamentals course I signed up for?




Retaliation–Post to United Opt Out National’s Facebook page

At Kealakehe High School in Kailua Kona, Hawaii– My administrators are attempting to remove me from teaching Grade 11 English because of my actions in providing information to students who inquired about how to opt out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. As our administrators began receiving opt out letters from parents, teachers were warned in a faculty meeting, and a librarian was directed to not answer student questions about opting out. I was then cautioned in a private meeting with a VP that “if this is presented as a lesson [it was not], you must address both sides.” Today, in another meeting, I was informed that Admin would like to remove me from teaching 11th grade due to my actions in allegedly providing articles and form letters to students wishing to opt out. They would like to place me in Grades 9-10–I’ve been teaching 11/12 for about nine years. (They attempted to do the same thing last year, due to my stated opinions about common assessments, common scripted [Springboard] curriculum, and excessive mandated data collection. Last year my union backed me up, and I was allowed to stay in my position if I promised to comply with all common assessments.) I am awaiting further news next week on how exactly they are hoping to accomplish their goal. I don’t have figures on how many students opted out this year, but it was apparently enough to cause our administration to fear disciplinary action if they fail to achieve their 95% participation rate.

How far and how fast can we run away from Springboard?

How far and how fast can we run away from Springboard?

Thursday was a good day at school, not only because of my wonderful students, but because our 12th grade PLC (Professional Learning Community) agreed with me about the general terrible tone and quality of the Springboard Senior English curriculum. We agreed to drop it and return to the “normal” world of actually teaching British Literature and Expository Writing. What a relief!

The Common Core Springboard curriculum that we are being strongly encouraged–read forced–to teach contains very little British Literature. It is populated with nonfiction texts that could have been sourced from Brit Lit, but were not. For example, for the “stranger in the village” concept, why did the authors choose James Baldwin instead of Grendel, the villain/outsider in Beowulf? There are numerous cases throughout the book (such as Jamaica Kincaid complaining about British colonialism in the Caribbean) that could have used better, less biased, actual British literary sources.

In fact, even the wording of the short author biographies shows an aversion to virtually anything favorable about western civilization. For example, “…Antigua, an island that would not gain full independence from British colonial rule until 1981” and “…the effects and aftereffects of colonialism, and alienation more generally” from page 40 about Jamaica Kincaid.

I have agonized over the fact that while students are reading the pre-selected texts (including eight articles about the Dixie Chicks), they are missing the foundational literature of our society: Beowulf, Chaucer, Arthurian legend, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and 1984, to name a few. A colleague at our meeting commented on how the teachers’ faces lit up when talking about teaching these works.

Final assessment after five weeks of applying myself diligently to learning and teaching the Springboard curriculum in both 11th and 12th grades: I hate it, my students would like to read some actual books, and I feel my integrity as a teacher is lost if I continue down the Springboard path.

Opinions: Springboard #5

Sunday, September 2, 2012

SpringBoard: Common Core Crap

I recently had the unfortunate opportunity to examine a SpringBoard assignment, sent to me by a concerned parent with a child in seventh grade.  SpringBoard is the latest and greatest curriculum creation of The College Board which is led by no less than David Coleman, the well known architect of the Common Core.

Their website states, “SpringBoard is fully aligned to the Common Core State Standards and helps all students and teachers reach the goals of the Common Core Initiative. The Common Core Standards provide the “what” in the form of required achievements for students. Curriculum materials must provide the “how” to help students achieve the standards outlined.”

Ch Ching.

This particular assignment from SpringBoard was titled Writing Workshop. I found this to be highly intriguing as I spent my entire teaching career using Writer’s Workshop with my students, and finally supporting teachers in implementing the many fine nuances found within this complex teaching practice. Writer’s Workshop allows for authentic writing as the students engage in the writing process and culminates in publication for a real audience. To the observer who knows little about Writer’s Workshop, it may appear as an extremely messy process, but the highly skilled teacher understands the incredible organization that is needed to implement such a workshop successfully. Let’s just say – it ain’t easy. The process is full of writing, reading, talking, brainstorming, sharing and giving feedback, within a room that has a constant buzz filled with the energy of ideas and the empowerment of the student voice. All in all, it is beautiful. The high level of engagement is contagious – the urgency and excitement with which ideas are expressed – the smiles, the struggles and the support of the learners as they work together in groups to revise their writing pieces – it is authentic learning. One minute the teacher is sharing her own writing by thinking aloud as she writes on chart paper, the next she is with a small group, then she is roving, and finally she is conferencing with individual students. The children are fluid – they move from space to space – they have command of their work, their resources – and they know what they need to do to in order to meet their own personal writing goals.


Those were the days…

Please see the following screen shots from SpringBoard, a new college and career ready curriculum that is followed lockstep by teachers. Students at home can log in and print out assignments and get their questions addressed online. Needless to say, this is unlike any Writer’s Workshop I have ever seen. Best practices, such as Writer’s Workshop, will be destroyed at the hands of Common Core because it simply will not fit into the mold needed to create measurable data.

[Sorry, the screen shots did not copy over.]

In this first screen shot the children are asked to create a graphic of the writing process. I am unsure why this is necessary, if they are indeed engaged in their own authentic writing process, which – call me crazy – would indeed be its own graphic, now wouldn’t it? I am sure that struggling readers will be hell bent on addressing the “recursive” nature.

Here, the student is asked to explore his/her topic further. Notice the language such as “persona.” Notice the word “mode.”  I am wondering how second language learners and struggling readers might do on this assignment – let alone the typical 7th grader?!!?  I am wondering how this graphic will create scripted writing as students fill it out, plugging in strong verbs as demanded, simply to be done with this as quickly as possible. In addition, children plan differently as they consider their writing. Often a child has a killer writing idea and the format comes later. Writing is messy. It cannot be contained in a worksheet. The “role of the writer” is really beyond me – should they take on a new identity or something in order to “establish a connection with your readers?” And “establish a connection” – talk about a buzz kill if you even fathomed having a good writing idea.

Now see the fill in the blank – I can promise you that my students never filled in a blank in their draftbooks let alone on a god forsaken worksheet like this one. Throwing plates yet?

Don Murray would cringe to see his name on this. Of course he is correct – often writing does bounce along – fast –  and there is nothing better than a scripted worksheet such as this to shut down that momentum. Note the last line – “Write a draft to develop points in the preliminary organizational structure?”  What??? What is this language? Do they know who their audience is? These are seventh grade students!! Not business men planning a power point for a board meeting!

And last but not least, directions for meeting in writing groups – I simply can’t imagine being able to speak a coherent sentence on my own after being given this lockstep process for participating in a group. But you see, that is the goal here – teacher proof curriculum with all teachers on the same page every day, complete with a lockstep process for students to follow rather than think. Follow, don’t think.

As I said earlier, Writer’s Workshop is a messy yet highly organized teaching process. It cannot be jammed into a curriculum nor can it be force fed to children. The results of this assignment are easy to anticipate – children will treat this like any other good worksheet. They will do what they need to do in order to get the grade and they will not engage (how could they?) and then they will run as quickly as they can from any mention of future writing experiences.

This, you see, is the new world of the Common Core. We must oppose it, refuse it, deny it, defy it, f$#@ing expose it for what it is whenever we can by educating parents and teachers about the profit to be made through the creation of nonthinking, soul destroying worksheets such as these. This is not simply a set of standards – it is a set of standards designed to allow corporations the ability to create common children via common curriculum and common assessments which will be used to drain our public schools of money as they attempt to abide by the guidelines of Race to the Top. There will be more tests – many more tests – as Common Core infiltrates our schools and profits billionaires while privatizing public education. The expense will be immense and will assist in the profiteers’ plans to starve the public schools while using our tax dollars to dismantle what is left. Their goal is to move as quickly as they can, take as much as they can, before we wake up and realize we’ve been screwed. SpringBoard is simply one example of many more to follow.

And the casualties? The children of course. Always, the children.

Posted by Peggy at 9:41 PM

Quoted from: Peg with Pen

Opinions: Springboard #4

[From 2010–It’s interesting that all of these articles were available before Hawaii chose this curriculum.]

English teachers question new curriculum

Ohanian Comment: First, they pass the Common Core Standards. Next, they ship in the Common Core Curriculum. And then, come the Common Core Tests.

Think I’m exaggerating? The College Board backs the Common Core, though their Senior Advisor could use a grammar lesson:

“Common standards ensure that every child across the country is getting the best possible education, no matter where a child lives or what their background is. The common standards will provide an accessible roadmap for schools, teachers, parents and students, with clear and realistic goals.”
— Gov. Roy Romer, Senior Advisor, The College Board

Don’t you wonder how Springboard, “the Official Pre-AP Program,” a program that has eliminated the novel from the curriculum, could be “preparing students for AP courses”?

An interesting detail: Springboard comes with:

  • Consumable Student Editions
  • Annotated Teacher Editions
  • Professional Development

AND (sound the trumpets)

Formative Assessments.

With national standards, a national test will soon follow. You can bank on it, while all interested parties carry their riches to the bank.

A number of dedicated, savvy teachers have expressed concern over Springboard. Here’s one:

by Scott Neuffer
Literary critics have long bemoaned the death of the novel and the subsequent demise of the reading public.

In Douglas County, that lament has taken on new meaning as English teachers throughout the Valley’s secondary schools question the depth and efficacy of a new curriculum and set of textbooks the central office is attempting to adopt.

William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” and “Macbeth,” George Orwell’s Animal Farm, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, J.D. Salinger’s

The Catcher in the Rye, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain — these are some of the literary masters and classic works left out of the new curriculum, said Douglas High 11th-grade English teacher Katy Shipley.

“I do not feel right endorsing a product that completely deprives students of the literary experience we feel necessary,” she said. “I feel we are losing the most important and integral part of the curriculum by adopting this text.”

That text/curriculum is called SpringBoard, which the Douglas County School District piloted in grades 7-11 this academic year and used as a supplemental text in the middle schools the year before.

Designed by the College Board, which developed the Advanced Placement program, SpringBoard is “vertically aligned” in grades 6-12 and uses “standards-based instruction to reinforce content.”

The district puts the cost of SpringBoard materials for grades 7-11 at roughly $42,500 a year.

On May 19, Assistant Superintendent Lyn Gorrindo and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Kerry Pope made the case for SpringBoard adoption in front of the Douglas County School Board.

“We’re a district that believes in common formative assessments, and those assessments are included in the SpringBoard books,” said Pope. “SpringBoard is very thematic. The texts jump around chronologically, which some teachers like, and for others, it’s a huge shift from how we’ve been teaching English. Part of the conundrum is that SpringBoard is not just a text book, but it really drives curricular pieces.”

Pope said no text will align perfectly with district competencies, but that teachers can supplement SpringBoard with other texts if needed.

“It’s a huge shift from English that has traditionally been taught through novels,” she said.

When Pope confirmed that only one novel a year is taught via SpringBoard, Trustee Sharla Hales asked how many novels a teacher could realistically add while still staying true to the new curriculum.

“They would not be able to read a novel in class,” Pope responded.

However, Pope said about four novels a year could be added through outside reading or through “literary circles.”

Because SpringBoard might not have been implemented with fidelity this year, Pope said the district can’t get accurate test data on whether the program is improving student achievement.

Nonetheless, central staff believe this is the right program to engage students and align curriculum. Pope said SpringBoard will allow students to walk away from different classrooms with the same understanding of the material.

More than a dozen English teachers at the meeting disagreed. Several spoke during public comment, and a panel of Douglas High instructors gave their own presentation outlining why they’re opposed to the adoption.

Teachers’ concerns were both general and specific. Generally speaking, they argued SpringBoard prevents students from being exposed to classic, challenging texts with rich vocabularies. Rather, they said, students are stuck with one novel a year and random excerpts, some of which deal with movies and television shows, resulting in a loss of the English literary tradition.

More specifically, teachers argued that SpringBoard lacks rigorous grammar, vocabulary and writing instruction.

“In our recent quest to find a common English curriculum, I feel that we’ve repeatedly used the term ‘rigor,’ yet we’ve failed to acknowledge the lack of rigor in SpringBoard,” said Carson Valley Middle School teacher and novelist Liz Leiknes. “As a parent, I’m afraid that by the time my own children are in middle school, we will have watered down the curriculum so much that they will not be exposed to challenging writing assignments and texts, and therefore will be unprepared as compared to students who have experienced a more rigorous English curriculum of the past.”

Leiknes said if SpringBoard becomes the district’s primary text, “I fear that we will be sending our students to swim in shallow waters, yet setting them up to drown in the academically competitive deep sea of the real world.”

Douglas High English and German teacher Karen Heine emphasized SpringBoard’s lack of “authentic grammar instruction.” She pointed out that the first time grammar is addressed in her new edition of the book is on page 18, where a side box discusses the difference between cumulative and periodic sentences.

“I don’t know how this can be addressed before you learn dependent and independent clauses,” Heine said.

As a young English teacher at the high school, Karen Lamb said she’s not afraid of change. She said she piloted the sophomore SpringBoard text with fidelity.

“I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m not afraid of reinventing the wheel,” she said. “I’m OK with it, if it’s what’s best for students.”

But Lamb said she found problems with the new curriculum.

“The grammar is weak, to say the least,” she said. “The literature is disconnected and often irrelevant.”

Teachers weren’t the only ones protesting the recommended adoption. Students were also upset.

Sophomore Taylor Gray said her ninth-grade honors English class was less than impressive as a result of SpringBoard.

“During my entire ninth-grade year, I did not learn a fraction of the grammar, structure, or vocabulary I was hoping to,” she said. “Before my sophomore year, I was unaware of what a decently written essay could look like. I was unaware of what pronouns agreed to certain antecedents. The reason? I was spending time learning about ‘Edward Scissorhands’ cinematic value.”

Speech and debate state champ Will Dornbrook, a senior, said SpringBoard has too much social studies, too many random passages and watered-down content. He said the curriculum lacks rhetorical and argumentative instruction.

“I don’t know how the college-bound group will benefit from reading one novel a year,” he said.

Teachers said the SpringBoard debate is about more than curriculum. They said a certain amount of trust was broken in the adoption process.

Pope said the pilot review committees were comprised of a teacher from each site, herself, a parent and site administrator, among others. The seventh-grade committee voted 7-0 in favor of SpringBoard; the eighth-grade committee voted 6-1 in favor; the ninth-grade committee voted 5-2 in favor; the 10th-grade committee voted 4-1 against; and the 11th-grade committee tied 2-2.

Heine said she initially asked for the SpringBoard pilot to try, but was dismayed by the steps taken toward adoption.

“If a vote was taken, one teacher, one vote, the majority of teachers would vote this product down,” she said. “Many teachers were denied their right to sit on the committees and express their beliefs.”

Not all teachers are on the same page, though. CVMS instructor Susan Van Doren spoke in favor of SpringBoard at the meeting.

“SpringBoard makes it possible to throw open the doors to Advanced Placement that have long been closed to all but the elite,” she said. “The confidence my students had after just one year of using SpringBoard with fidelity is exactly the kind of empowerment I want for my own children.”
In a letter to school board members, Van Doren said, “No textbook can provide everything a teacher needs for an ELA (English Language Arts) class. In the past, we have supplemented our Prentice Hall textbooks with additional grammar textbooks, workbooks, vocabulary curriculum, novels, films, and many other sources.
“There’s no reason to think that teachers couldn’t supplement SpringBoard as well. I was able to teach two different grade levels with fidelity this year while supplementing with a daily SAT prep vocabulary program, regular grammar lessons, and at least one additional novel in each unit.”

SpringBoard opponents insist the district restart the adoption process and order more sample texts from different publishers.

“All English teachers should be invited to participate,” Heine said.

After lengthy testimony, and with two trustees absent, school board members decided to continue the item until their next meeting, which is 3:30 p.m. June 8 at Douglas High School.

— Scott Neuffer
Record Courier

Quoted from Outrages

Opinions: Springboard #3

Wrap Up: SpringBoard Curriculum


As the summer is winding down, so is my work in various projects.  Yes, once again, I did not really take a vacation or break this summer.  Sigh…

As promised, here is a review of my utilizing the SpringBoard Curriculum from CollegeBoard.  To get a recap of my initial response to utilizing the curriculum from the beginning of the year, click here.

As I had shared earlier in the school year, I was sold on a different perception of what SpringBoard would do for my students.  The trainings we were required to attend to familiarize us with the curriculum misled us to believe that it would be (1) a resource we would use consistently, (2) allow for much necessary differentiated instruction for students, and (3) we could supplement to meet the needs of our students.  While there is a pacing guide for each unit, we all were under the impression that we could move at the pace of the collective.

As I am sure you have already surmised, it did not happen this way.  School districts who can use the curriculum in this way can be very successful with the students using SpringBoard.  However, when you are mandated to stick to the pacing schedule of the units, do not sway from the curriculum, do everything that is dictated within the curriculum, we now are stuck with a scripted model.  I also shared previously that this curriculum automatically assumes the students walk in on the first day with mastered skills to continue on with the curriculum.  With the 2012-2013 school year being the first year our district has used this curriculum, that was a huge challenge to get the students bridged from where they were to where they needed to be in the standards and skills.  The curriculum also does not touch upon foundations for our high-stakes assessments, including the Discover Education Assessments my district moved to in order to prepare students for the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBACs) assessments we will be utilizing for the next school year.  We were fortunately to have blocks for our ELA courses.  Not all schools followed that method of teaching with the curriculum.  Because of the time constraints of the pacing schedules for the units, there was also not a lot of room for routine writing of more than a quick reflection.

Another downfall was the fact it was a theme that stuck through the entire year.  For our grade level, it was all about choices.  Each level connects to the previous year, so there is a consistent link to the previous year’s work.  However, the prompts are always the same.  An advantage to utilizing SpringBoard was the concept of project-based learning.  Students had a variety of assessments to complete, two each unit.  Some were individual projects while others were small group or partner projects.  Rubrics and step by step guides were included to help students maximize their time and resources, and provide the best effort they could put forth within their work.

Overall, my experience with the curriculum was bleak.  I had no wiggle room to meet the various needs of my students’ learning styles, but I did my best.  I supplemented to meet the demands of high-stakes assessments when I could, but it was not enough.  It became a chore to teach the curriculum, and even more so to continually create a buy in for my students to continue to push forward using it throughout the school year.  The students were the most committed and happy within my teaching when we had three units that were not part of the actual curriculum.  Why? Because they were more interactive, I was able to bring in more supplements to connect to the real world, and the discussions were meaningful.

Now, I want to reiterate that the curriculum itself is not poorly written.  It depends on your demographics you are teaching.  My demographics were of students who could reach the potential, but somehow lost faith in themselves in the sixth grade.  Most of their scores plummeted compared to the scores from elementary school and sixth grade.  This curriculum was executed in all Title I middle schools, which I feel was an even bigger challenge.  As we all know, even if it is a form of stereotyping, Title I schools normally will have students who are not meeting the standards for their grade level.  Many of them file into the classrooms below grade level.  This curriculum is not suitable for this type of student demographics.  If you are in a school that is consistent in achieving grade level standards and reading levels, it will be more successful.

I have had a few teachers across the U.S. contact me personally about my experiences with SpringBoard, and other resources I have gathered or created for the use of it in my lessons and instruction.  I am open to continuing the conversation on my blog, or in private.  I am also open to sharing my resources I have created, especially since I am not teaching 7th grade ELA.   Please feel free to comment, ask questions, or even vent if you have utilized this curriculum also.  Teachers should know the advantages and disadvantages from different parts of the country to piece together a better picture of how to best utilize this curriculum!

Quoted from: Karlana Kulseth | Teaching & Learning

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