LISTEN — Class Disrupted S3 E4: Standards and Curriculum Aren’t the Same — And That Matters
Class Disrupted is a bi-weekly education podcast featuring author Michael Horn and Summit Public Schools’ Diane Tavenner in conversation with educators, school leaders, students and other members of school communities as they investigate the challenges facing the education system amid this pandemic — and where we should go from here. Find every episode by bookmarking our Class Disrupted page or subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher (new episodes every other Tuesday).
In this episode of Class Disrupted, Michael Horn interviews Diane Tavenner about the difference between standards and curriculum, and why she’s in favor of a common core set of standards but not a common curriculum.
Listen to the episode below. A full transcript follows.
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Michael Horn: Hey, Diane. It is good to see you. There continue to be so many headlines in the mainstream media about schools right now. But I will say that here we’re kind of happily settling into some good routine with our kids and their school. And hopefully I didn’t just jinx us, but things feel pretty good right now. How are you?
Diane Tavenner: Well, I’m glad to hear that, Michael. And I will say similarly, I had the really good fortune of spending Friday with a group of our school leaders and I was really heartened by a relatively consistent theme of things feeling like they’re starting to stabilize a little bit. This has been the hardest start of school I’ve ever experienced, we’ve ever experienced as a group. And so I don’t know about that jinx. It might just be that what we’re learning from COVID is it comes in waves. And so maybe we’re just on the up for right now. It’s weird to live both in that positive momentum space and simultaneously be preparing for who knows what might come next, which honestly, Michael is partly why we’re here and why we started a third season of Class Disrupted, something neither of us anticipated for a few reasons.
Most obviously we’re doing this because class is still disrupted in so many ways, but, more importantly, we get daily reminders of how the schools that we had before the pandemic are not the schools that our children need. And they are really in dire need of a makeover. And we are both eternal optimists and we both think this is our collective opportunity to do just that, to remake our schools. And so we really continue to explore, and I think in ever more nuanced ways, what redesigned schools look like and why they are so much better for kids and our communities and our country. And so this season, our take on that is we’re following our own curiosity, as well as what listeners are curious about. So thanks to everyone who’s writing to us to let us know what they’re wondering. But today, Michael, I think you are curious about something. It seems I may have said some things that have piqued your interest.
Michael: Well, with curiosity as the theme, I wanted to avoid the headlines of today in the news, but instead go deeper on two things that you’ve said in our last couple episodes that I suspect maybe have left a few people, a few listeners who are paying close attention, if you will close reading, scratching their heads. And so two episodes ago where we addressed what is taught, you said that you didn’t believe that schools or students should likely have the same curriculum. Made sense as we were talking about it. But then in the last episode, Diane, we were talking about who decides what gets taught. So from the what to the who, and you said that you were in favor of common core standards. And I thought, well, let’s go a step deeper because I suspect a lot of people heard that and had a little bit of whiplash. Not common curriculum, but common standards.
And so I’d love to play off that a little bit for people because I’d love to talk about what does that look like on the ground? What’s the difference between curriculum and standards and how do they impact each other? How does that sound?
Diane: It sounds fascinating. And it’s so funny. It’s so fascinating to see yourself and what you say through other people’s eyes. And so I love this topic. And so if two episodes ago we were exploring what students learn and then last time we talked about who decides, today I think we can focus on how—how standards impact what’s taught and how they connect to curriculum. Yes, let’s do it.
Michael: Perfect. I love it. And I will say just as a prelude that I found a lot of times we use the same words in conversations, but we mean very different things. And so in many ways, this episode gives us an opportunity, Diane, to go just a heck of a lot deeper on these terms and go super deep so that there is no ambiguity at the end of what we mean when we’re talking about standards versus curriculum. So let me start with a what question and then we’ll get to the how, which is, just tell us what are state standards and help us understand what they do and don’t say, and what do they codify?
Diane: It’s a great place to start because so often people talk about standards. I don’t think they really know what they are. So I’m glad you’re starting here, Michael. And to be fair, standards have changed over my 25 years in education. And so just to give you a sense, when I started out teaching, state standards, honestly, to the extent that they existed, were probably more like what people think of when they’re thinking about them. They were often a list of facts and information, and sometimes books that were supposed to be taught in the schools. And you would get this list. Funny, when I started teaching, we didn’t have the internet. So I don’t even really remember how you got it quite frankly, but as we….
Michael: It was probably a hand-out or something.
Diane: Seriously, passed down, or copied down. As we previously talked about, these are pretty political so whatever folks in power valued would often make the list. And of course, textbook company publishers would lobby hard to have the list match what they were offering. So that was the list back then, if you will. When I was training for my teaching credential in the early ’90s, things were starting to change. And I think I personally felt like I had incredible fortune of having one of my professors, who’s a very long time and very respected English teacher in a local high school, having been a part of a significant state effort to bring teachers together, to be much more intentional and explicit and coordinated about the skills and knowledge that all students should have access to and the opportunity to learn.
And so I was trained as a teacher on those draft standards that were being created. And they’re really the precursor to what we’re seeing today. There were many more efforts like those, and as a profession, I would say we’ve gotten better and better at identifying meaningful standards that are really grounded in how people learn. We’ve talked often about the science having really come a long way, and so how people learn and what they need to know to be successful in career and life today.
Michael: It makes a lot of sense. Can you just give us a quick example of how those standards have evolved over time? When you first got into teaching, what might it have looked like and what might it look like now?
Diane: Here’s a fun one. I’m going to go back to even before I taught. I’m going to go back to my ninth grade biology class. And while I don’t know what the exact standard was given the activity we did, I’m guessing it was something like this. The standard was probably along the lines of teach kids what an ecosystem is and quite frankly, the standard was probably something like that because what we ended up doing in my 9th grade class, Michael, was we had forest, grassland, tundra and desert ecosystems, and we all went to an encyclopedia or a textbook and looked them up and we made pretty poster boards where we cut out little animals and plants and pasted them on the poster board to show what a desert ecosystem was. So that’s kind of pre today. Let me share one, a real one from today’s next generation science standards. And this one, this standard literally is, the student will be able to “evaluate claims, evidence and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem”. And so you see this one is significantly more complex and meaningful and relevant and deep than “what’s an ecosystem?”
Michael: Well, so if those are the state standards, which I think start to give us an idea of how they may or may not connect to curriculum, before we go there, let’s just do one more beat on this and talk about what were the standards known as the common core?
Diane: All right. So common core standards, which I have said I’m in favor of were created in a similar way to what I just described just at a much greater scale. I mean, there were leaders and educators from all 50 states that came together and really hashed through what should all American students be able to know and do? Although it was still limited because they were really only tackling math and English, but I fear that’s not quite getting to your question. So let me see if I can make this concrete and give you a specific example, Michael. And for this one, I’ve picked one of my very favorite standards. It’s from the English language arts common core standards and what I want to do is start with the standard for a first grader.
So what we ask a first grader to do is when they’re reading to be able to ask and answer questions about key details in a text that they’re reading. So that’s first grade. The next year, we make that a little bit more complex. We say we want learners to be able to ask and answer such questions such as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text. I think that might mean, we’re operating at a second grade school-
Michael: I was going to say, we’re operating at a second grade level for a podcast, but that puts with us with the major newspapers, right, so. That’s okay.
Diane: But actually if we skip ahead a little bit to sixth grade, here’s how the standard gets more complex as kids are growing and learning. Now in the sixth grade, we want kids to be able to cite textual evidence. So they’re not just answering those questions anymore. They’re citing evidence to support an analysis of what the text says explicitly, as well as inferences drawn from it. So we’re getting much more complex here. What’s fascinating to me is ninth grade and then 11th grade and 12th grade, just keep building on that complexity. And so they don’t add much more to it. By ninth grade we want you to be able to cite really strong and thorough textual evidence. And by 12th grade, we want you to be able to do all those things and also figure out what the text leaves uncertain. But what you see is the same skillset, literally growing over the entire student’s journey in school, getting more and more complex.
But the other thing that you have to remember is that the material they’re reading is also getting more complex. And so they’re reading something very simple in first grade, but by the time they’re getting in ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th grade, they’re reading much more complex materials, so their skills get better. And what they’re doing their skill on or in is more complicated.
Michael: Got you. So it’s so interesting. Before I add some thoughts, just one more beat from you. That’s a far cry from a lot of the common core debates that we were hearing around the new math being equivalent to common core, right?
Diane: Michael, one of the things I noticed in those common core debates was that people loved to take a worksheet that a teacher had sent home with their child and post it on Facebook and call it common core math or common core reading. And inevitably it would be a worksheet that would have something like, I don’t know, a spelling error or some topic that the parents didn’t like, or their Facebook friends would find offensive. And the reality is that worksheet isn’t a common core standard. It actually has nothing to do with the common core standard. The common core has only ever been a set of standards, just like the one I just read to you. And that’s all. That’s literally what the common core standards are, is those types of things. And in my experience, when people actually sit down and think about and read those standards, no one dislikes them.
I mean, think about a world, Michael, where every child learned to really read and could bring evidence out of what they were reading and analyze it. I mean, I don’t know of many people who think that’s a bad thing.
Michael: No, that would be a wonderful world you just described, I would argue. It’s also interesting because what you just described really creates the architectural framework to create cohesion between grades and across subjects if we use it that way, which so many people point out is lacking in American education even within the school or across a grade, there is literally just very little semblance of how one concept connects to another. And this gives you an architectural framework to pin, I don’t want to get ahead of us because I want to ask you the question on curriculum. But together the other thing that’s interesting also about the common core specifically that I always found compelling was the motto was fewer, clearer, higher. And what people meant by that was that… And I’ll do it in reverse order, was that the standards would be higher, that we would go for something deeper than this surface recitation of facts that you were talking about was the 9th grade standard that you experienced, right.
And by the way, different episode, but has given projects a bad name for so many parents over the years. And then clear was to be way more clear and specific about what do we mean by the standard and was evidence that someone had learned it look like? And fewer, which meant that instead of a 180 days of school year and 180 different standards and so you’re just flying by trying to tick off every single one, that we’d have fewer, you could go deeper into them that instead of being a mile wide and an inch deep, we could actually have some depth to the curriculum. I don’t know about you, but my read of it is the fewer is the one that got dropped pretty quickly in a lot of these common core conversations. And we quickly piled on standards. And I’ll add one other bit of opinion on this, which is I’ve always felt also that a lot of the common nature of the common core should really be focused on that K through six to eight range and then we could give a lot more freedom of expression, if you will, of students following their different passions and things of that nature.
Although I think I’m going beyond common core when I say that and starting to think about all the other subject matters, right? But I think the notion is that we’re giving an architecture to have that exploration and passion, which starts to jump into this, I think that the curriculum conversation. And so I think it follows naturally, which is when you say curriculum, what does that refer to and how does it differ from standards? In other words, if that worksheet that that parent is complaining about on Facebook isn’t a standard and it’s not curriculum, maybe all of its own either. What is it and how does it fit together?
Diane: Thought you’d never ask! Let’s get a little bit nerdy here.
Michael: That’s good.
Diane: I love curriculum. So let me start by offering six critical elements of a quality curriculum. And so let me share those six elements, and then I’ll give you some examples to bring them to life, because otherwise this gets just way too theoretical. I want to give a little credit here to the, in my view, the Bible of curriculum, if you will, Understanding By Design, Wiggins and McTighe, through this classic way of thinking about building really quality curriculum. And so those six categories begin with what we call essential questions. So these being questions that really shape a whole learning experience and think about it for a year or multiple years and then within a unit as well of study.
Second are enduring understanding. So there are these questions that really drive from our curiosity, but then there’s these [inaudible 00:18:36] concepts so we know that we want kids to have that’s not group two. And then there are the skills and that’s the knowledge. So this is where the standards now fit in. You start to see them slot in, is that framework of like, okay, we’ve got these big questions. We got these big ideas. Here’s some specific skills, knowledge, concepts we need kids to learn and master, which then naturally leads to, how do you know if they’ve learned them and mastered them? So you need performance tasks where they can show their learning, and then you need rubrics. And non-educators are always like, “Rubric, rubric. What’s a rubric? You’re always talking about rubrics?” And so you need rubrics, which are basically tools to assess if kids have learned. And then the sixth bucket is learning experiences and activities.
And I would argue that the vast majority of people, lots of teachers included, think that curriculum is really only that last bucket, my goal, to learning experiences and activities, because that’s what happens day-to-day. And so that’s where this worksheet fits. It fits into that bucket. And you can do those activities and experiences all day, every day, without those five categories that I just listed them I’m going to go back to. Sadly, I think that’s what a lot of classrooms in our country are doing. And the reality is, this is not what is good for kids. It’s not how people learn. It’s not effective. And so maybe I can give you some examples of those five categories above and help eliminate why they’re so important in shaping the day-to-day.
Michael: Yeah. I mean, I think that’d be super helpful, Diane, because you sketching out those different areas. What occurs to me is, even in my own concept, I tend to think of curriculum, conflate it with the text that someone is using and the lesson plan that a teacher brings. And you don’t think about… I mean, you just had rubric, evaluation, assessment, the performance task, right? All of these other things to come with it that we tend not to think of it outside of the answer key at the back of a book that a publisher offered with the course. So I think that’s a super helpful area to continue to expand our sense of what this is. And I’d love to know how these… More explicitly how these standards and curriculum connect them. What codified in the standards? How does that impact what you’re teaching on the ground?
Diane: Right. Great. Well, let’s start with that first category, essential questions. And so we have talked at length about how kids are naturally curious, that the way people learn best is if they follow their curiosity. And so what we do when we think about backward planning and one of the things we say to ourselves, we want to think about that plan with the end in mind. So where do we want kids in 12th grade when they’re graduating from our schools? What do we want them to be doing? And so we start with these essential questions and let me give you one from science. We started with science, so let’s stick there, like an essential question in a high school science course could be, “How have scientific inventions transformed how we live?” So a lot of kids take physics, in high school. This would be a really interesting essential question for a physics course. “How have scientific inventions transformed how humans live?” And then what happens is, just think about that. You’re already starting to think, right? Like, “Well, how did that happen?” And you start looking around you.
Michael: Important point to insert here, right? Which is, there’s a considerable body of learning science that when you ask these essential questions that have a little bit of puzzlement and open-endedness, and even paradox in them, that it grabs people, even if you don’t think you’re interested in them, you tend to be because you want to solve or answer the question.
Diane: Yes. And so here’s a really good example where that question is so big and so open that it truly could drive an entire physics course for a whole year. And oh, by the way, it’s not the only one that could drive that physics course. And so this is where the customization starts coming in. It could be what… I’m in Silicon Valley. The question we might ask here might be different than maybe someone’s going to ask in Michigan because it’s contextualized. It’s more based on the community or things like… And that’s great as long as you’re going with a big essential question.
Next bucket is an enduring understanding. And I talked about this a little bit previously where each subject area has these, during understanding, these big concepts that we really need to understand if we’re going to be able to think like scientists or think like historians.
And so let’s turn to history, for example, on this one and a good example, I think, a really current example of an enduring understanding in history would be this idea that human migration is the story of humankind. It’s been going on for as long as we can possibly understand. It shapes our history, it shapes our present and it shapes our future. That’s a big idea and what we want to do throughout a course of study is have kids really come back to that idea and deeply internalize that enduring understanding and the course. Me just telling you right now, this is not going to stick with you. You’re going to have to need to revisit it over and over and over again. Right.
Michael: I’ll take your word for it.
Diane: Yeah. So how both of those two things tie, the next place we go is, like I said to the standards, so now we’re going to turn to the standards that tell us, for example, kids need to be able to take a text, read it, pull evidence from it. Now I do that in the context of these big questions and these big understandings. I’m learning those skills within the ideas and the knowledge within the ideas that are in those big questions and big understandings. And then I have to show you that I’ve learned it. And so I’m going to do that through performance tasks. And this is where the bubble test is very insufficient compared to really the way that these types of skills and knowledge get best demonstrated. Will be through some piece of writing and there’s like a million types of pieces of writing that are really relevant and coherent, speaking, some presentation or speaking, or dialogue or discussion, a model where I literally build a model. For example, you could build a model of an ecosystem, right?
Michael: This isn’t your poster board?
Diane: It’s not a poster board or an experiment. As a good example, when you can really show these skills and these understandings coming to life. Then I need these rubrics, these tools that really break down what we’re looking for to understand the quality of that skill or knowledge. If you think about it, an A, literally tells you nothing, it’s not helpful. It doesn’t tell you anything, but a rubric is going to have very concrete language that says, “When you brought out that piece of evidence, you did X, Y, and Z with it, which was really helpful versus over here, you didn’t, which makes it not as good.” And that is the differentiation between let’s say an A and a C, but most importantly, it helps the student know how to improve and get better and for the teacher to properly evaluate that across things.
And then finally, and again, now we’re back to learning experiences and activities. What are all the things kids are going to do every single day and at home and all over the place that will lead them to explore these questions, have these understandings, learn these skills and knowledge and be able to demonstrate that. Then everything you’re doing every day has been driving in that direction.
Michael: I mean, you’re starting to codify, right, how these standards impact your school on the ground, but then how much more you’re putting around them and not just letting them be the driving question somehow for what you’re designing? So go one step deeper, right? If I say I’m starting to understand how standards feature into the curriculum, if you will, and even if they drive what you make sure you’re covering and assessing in the rubric, let’s go deeper on this. How do they really drive what you’re doing? And I’m going to do a two-for-one. As you know I like to do, which is, tell us, why in favor then of common core and something common, but not for the curriculum?
Diane: Yeah. So, well, let’s start with this idea of maybe I can eliminate what the difference is in the actual classroom, let’s say, on this Monday in my approach or the other activity based approach. So one of the things that I’ve seen happen a lot since standards have come along is that you will go into a classroom and you will see that a teacher has written a standard on the board.
So they literally copy that technical standard that I just shared with you and they write it on the board and they will say to the students, “We’re going to learn that standard today.” And then they’re going to give them a worksheet and so let’s take the one about the textual evidence. They’ll give them a worksheet with a paragraph and they’ll say, “Read the paragraph,” and then there’ll be like five questions after it. Then I’ll say, “What evidence in that paragraph of the main idea? What’s the main idea? What’s the inference?” And it’s like fill in the little form, right?
Diane: Okay. Boring, number one. So boring. We wonder why kids are so bored. Two, they don’t understand why they’re doing that and it’s not connected to anything meaningful in the world. And three, what we know about the science is that’s not actually how you practice and learn that particular skill. And it’s so one dimensional. You’re literally only focusing on that. With a rich learning experience you’re doing so many things at once. So that’s one version happening a lot in a lot of places and sadly, Michael, is getting labeled as good teaching because you have your standard on the board. That’s terrible.
Diane: Sorry. That was judgment.
Michael: No, I think it’s important because that’s one way that standards impact a curriculum. You do it very differently.
Michael: So, let’s do that.
Diane: So, let’s take, for example, the theme of human migration and that enduring understanding. Let’s say that I’m in a class that has been backward planned. That’s our theme for the year. And let’s take that same concept of, I give students a couple of readings that are literally in and of this moment. We can look at readings that are talking about the Haitian crisis at the border right now, because here it is. It’s linked to that big idea. We can look at the very same texts. We can look across multiple texts. We can see which ones are using evidence of an argument. We don’t even have to state a position on what’s happening there, but we can ask kids to try to figure out what are the different positions? What is the evidence for those positions? How do you think about that?
I mean, this is the type of critical thinking and learning that we want kids to do. They’re authentically interested in it. It’s relevant and meaningful to them. And they’re going to be so into and passionate about what they’re doing that they’re going to learn the skill significantly better than in that other scenario. But they’re also going to learn a whole bunch of other stuff around that at the same time.
Michael: Got you. That’s super helpful. Okay. So then let’s talk about the common piece, which is why common standards, not common curriculum. I think you started to answer the latter, but maybe not the former.
Diane:No, I think you’re right. So, I mean, here’s the deal. There are a universal set of skills and concepts that at this point in time, every child is well-served to know and have mastered when they graduate from our K-12 system. I would just say that’s fact, full stop.
Michael: Full stop.
Diane: So identifying those skills and concepts and validating them should be actually a large-scale coordinated effort that includes employers from across the country, families, learning scientists, educators levels, like all of us have a stake in having a really well-educated population, right. And none of us has the full view of understanding what all of those pieces should be. And we should negotiate through that and figure out what that looks like. It’s not a job for an individual teacher, or I would say even an individual school. It just doesn’t make sense, Michael.
What we would be asking people to do in my mind is the equivalent of if we went to every local hospital in the country and said, “You know what? You figure out what medical services and procedures you’re going to offer.” They’re not connected to anyone else. You just figure that out by yourself. I think people would think that’s crazy. There’s this whole body of science and learning from each other. But that is why we need common core set of standards so that we can collectively do that work to figure out what is most important. And then, there’s so much opportunity for that rich and local responsive curriculum that gets built around those standards. I truly believe this is an and. There does not have to be a trade-off here.
Michael: Yeah. That makes a ton of sense, Diane. One observation from that is likewise, an individual teacher’s not responsible for building up the curriculum. You can also rely on your local community and experts and others who have done a lot of the thinking around what are those driving questions that will grab, right, and going through everything that you just talked about. And frankly, there are a lot of great rubrics out there that have been created and validated and so forth to answer and so each of the steps, I think, you can do a lot of that work and customizing it into your circumstances. But let’s stay on this train one last time. One last question, which is, how do you think about on the ground, what should and shouldn’t be common in the curriculum now. And you gave a great framework a couple of episodes ago of how to think about what people should learn of starting curiosity about themselves and then their communities, et cetera, and going from the concrete to the more abstract.
But I’m curious, one more step, because we know that cohesion across disciplines, we’ve talked about this, years is important. And then there are folks like Doug Lemov, who will talk about the value of having an entire class read a common book, in say English Language Arts, and having a whole class discussion on it. And I’m going to leave my opinions out of this for a moment, because I would just love to hear your thoughts on that question as we wrap up around what do you make common and not common, and how do you make those determinations?
Diane: Well, I think we have to start by doing something we have historically not done, which is centering students and the student experience in whatever it is we decide and design. The truth is, what we’ve taught kids is really driven by adults. It’s what they’re passionate about or they’re interested in, or whatever they think is best. And we don’t actually put ourselves in the role of the student and think backward plan their entire K-12 journey and think about what will they need to be successful when they leave our system? So I think that’s where we start. Whatever schools are involved in that journey should be planning and coordinating a backward plan across disciplines. So if you’re a system that has K through 12, fine. If you have your elementary, middle, and high school, you should be thinking as a whole system, not separate from each other.
You should be thinking across the disciplines at a minimum, English, math, science, and history and what we call within those subject areas vertically. So K-12 and I think there’s really two ways to go about this and you’re alluding to them, Michael, is a school or group of schools can either do the work themselves. This is something we did at Summit. We took all of our teachers, everyone together. We spent years really mapping this entire experience, or you can adopt a model and deeply internalize it and customize it to your site. And you started alluding to that. There’s all these great pieces out there that you can put together. That might be a different episode because there are some real issues with what’s available and all of that stuff. But let’s just say, conceptually, I think there’s two ways of going about that to really create a coherent, backward, planned-
Michael: If you’re just grabbing a bunch of stuff off the shelf, because it was good to hear, and it’s not connected to the other thing you grabbed off the shelf, that’s not going to work.
Diane: It’s not going to work and that’s why you can’t just adopt a middle school science textbook and just plop it in there. And that’s one of the things that happens. Let me talk of this question about the value of students reading a common book, because honestly, this comes up so often, Michael, and them having a class discussion on it is like people are really attached to this particular activity. And so here’s what I would say. First of all, we have to ask what is valuable about reading a common book and having a class discussion on it and when is it valuable? And so here’s what I would say. That’s valuable if the discussion is, let’s say a really high quality Socratic seminar that is involving all of these skills that we’re talking about and that kids are truly preparing for and they’re engaging in a really thoughtful dialogue.
If you’re not doing those things, I’m not sure that it’s valuable just to have a teacher at the front of the room doing call and response on basic comprehension questions about a text, which is what we often see. It’s valuable to read a common text if the whole class is really grappling with maybe a common ethical dilemma or building community or culture by really deeply understanding something. That might be the reason to have the whole class read the same text, but you have to ask yourself, “What are you trading off there when you’re doing that?” Because this is where customization comes in and where kids can find themselves and their identities in texts. And we can get so obsessed by a title that we love as a teacher, and we can be ultimately dismissive of kids and what their interests are and their needs in denying them those opportunities.
And so I think you really have to balance and grapple with those trade offs. And let me just give you an example of when something like this goes really around. I’m going to go back again to my own education. I grew up in Lake Tahoe. In 8th grade, our teachers, I’m sure very well-meaning, thought it would be great if we would read the book about the Donner Party. And then they would take all the 8th graders camping where the Donner Party was and there was a big statue. Not valuable, Michael. There were no skills. It’s like this type of hat trick type of magic that I think educators turn to to try to keep attention when they don’t have something real and meaningful that are truly driving curiosity, like the enduring understandings and essential questions…. So instead they’re just going to try to be like, well, keep our interest because there was cannibalism. That’s the difference in my mind.
Michael: Yeah. It’s incredibly helpful, Diane. I’ve learned a lot through all this. I’m glad we went through this exercise and I hope we’ve answered for folks. I know for me, we certainly have what we have in mind when we’re talking about common curriculum versus common standards and how you navigate the common curriculum aspect of it and what is common versus what is personalized and the value around that. And so I think let’s segue to our final part then with this, which is, what are you reading or watching right now that might interest our listeners outside of our conversation?
Diane: Well, interesting that we just talked about that last example, because this one might be connected here. So one of the really fulfilling parts of my role is I get to help design and facilitate several leadership cohorts in our organization. And so as part of those experiences, we are often doing pre readings about leadership as a body of work. And we’ve really been searching for diverse voices in the leadership space. And it won’t surprise you to learn that this is a space that’s really dominated by white men. And so I was super excited when Ariea Jamal, who’s one of our great leaders, introduced us to a book called the Leadership Lessons From The Cherokee Nation by Chad “Corntassle” Smith. And I would say, Michael, this is everything I want in a leadership reading. It’s straightforward, it’s reflective, it’s honest, it’s useful. And none of what I usually hate, which is, it’s not arrogant, it’s not jargony, it’s not oversimplified. It’s really beautiful.
Michael: Wow. OK, on my end I just finished a book that my wife insisted and recommended that I read by someone that she went to high school with and then went to the same college that she did as well. His name is Phil Klay and it’s called Redeployment. He served in the military in Iraq and it’s a collection of stories, not just his, but from veterans across the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it is raw, intense, disturbing, deep, gripping and you didn’t want to put it down, but you had to put it down because you needed the break. And just a reminder of freedom truly isn’t free for those who fight for it, or frankly, for like all of us on the other side of it. And some of the issues that it brought up. So incredibly moving, but I was glad to have read it.
Diane: Well, thanks for sharing that. Yeah. So much, so much to talk about as always.
Michael: So much to talk about as always, but I appreciate you nerding out and giving us this deep dive and I will look forward to seeing you and talking to all of our listeners next time on Class Disrupted.
Michael Horn is the author of numerous books on the future of learning including Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. He works with a portfolio of organizations to help transform education so that all individuals can build their passions and fulfill their potential.
Diane Tavenner is CEO of Summit Public Schools and co-founder of the Summit Learning Program. She is a life-long educator, innovator, and the author of Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life.Submit a Letter to the Editor