Sixth grade students at PDS recently finished reading Number the Stars, a story whose protagonist faces many challenges and is forced to transition into adulthood, sooner rather than later. For the culminating activity, Mr. Cummings and I chose to have the students make “monuments”, a project created by Alice Parker. In Ms. Parker’s project, students use items of their choice to build a 3-D statue to be a visual representation of themes, symbols, and important story elements. For these particular monuments, students used items to represent the symbol of the “woods” in the story, where the protagonist transitions from a little girl into a more mature adult, and “woods” in their own lives, challenges during which they mature.
Now that the projects are underway, I decided to see how many standards this activity covers. At the completion of the project, students will have worked through twenty-one Common Core Standards, including subsets. TWENTY ONE. What does this mean (aside from the fact that our students are superstars for conquering this challenge)? It means learning is more about thinking than it is about checking off standards. This week, we set out to ask our students to dig deep in their understanding of the story, think metaphorically, and build a model that required them to connect to the text on a whole new level. This week I learned it shouldn’t be all about the standards. It should be all about the thinking, exploring, and creating. While I’m not advocating for the removal of standards, I am urging that we shift the responsibility of learning from the teacher to the students. When the focus is on meeting standards, it is all about the teachers. But when we think about what we want our students to DO and then let them discover ways to do it, it becomes all about the students.
We did not tell our students the answers or the metaphors for their challenges. We provided the foundation for the students to discover them. We did not tell the students to work through each of the twenty one standards. We provided them with a context to explore the standards themselves. If we want our students to be successful, beyond what schools consider success, they must be thinkers, explorers, and creators. It must be all about the students