Style Over Substance

Asymmetric Poncho

Today’s FO provides another teaching metaphor: Asymmetric Poncho, a lacy Tunisian crochet pattern from Stitch Diva in a ribbon yarn. It was novel and engaging to learn a new technique and to work with an unusual yarn. I used to love throwing this on over a solid tank or tee in the summer. Then I stopped. Ultimately, this lacy little accessory epitomizes style over substance. It’s far from functional, not even pretending to be warm, and often the unpredictable fringe gets in the way when I’m writing or driving  or even drinking a cup of coffee.

My Asymmetric Poncho = many CCSS “resources” on the market.

(A caveat: I support the Common Core State Standards whole-heartedly. My elementary school colleagues tell me of challenges at their level, but at high school ELA, I see worthy goals. I do, however, have huge issues with the assessment piece. I will save that rant for another post.)

Many apprehensive educators are grasping for quick fixes to implement what is seen as a huge change in curriculum and instruction. (I believe that CCSS simply codifies teaching critical thinking, so these “new standards” shouldn’t come as a huge surprise — once again, more on this later.) So these educators attend to every new shiny product with a CCSS label in the hopes it will just take care of it. And publishers are eager to provide an expensive plethora of worksheets and activities and systems to make CCSS implementation “easy.” Style over substance.

Slapping the CCSS label on a mere worksheet or collection of readings is as effective as throwing my poncho on over a holey tee shirt to wear to a wedding. It may improve the appearance, but only covers up an idea that was flawed to begin with. Teaching critical thinking requires teacher planning, student engagement, interaction, individual attention, and, often, innovation.  No “one-size fits all product” can substitute for a planned approach designed for a particular class or student. That’s what good teaching has always been and always will be. And it’s not easy. Nor is it truly different from what has always worked in the past.

Educators and the public need to look beyond the promises and fears of the CCSS label to the substance of teaching practices and continue the hard work of refining best practices to do what teachers have always done.

I think I now understand why I have never knit another lacy poncho and why all my scarves are more than just accessories. I prefer substance over style.

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