Archives For Stephan Pryor

Perplexed: adj.

1. bewildered; puzzled.
2. complicated; involved; entangled.

(o _ 0 )  ?

I am perplexed as to why this word is on the EngageNY first grade vocabulary list, and again perplexed when I review the first grade units for English Language Arts (ELA) on this website. I am perplexed because I can see that several units in our current grade five curriculum (Early Settlers and the American Revolution) and our entire grade six curriculum (Ancient World History) have  been bundled into a series of units that will be taught in first grade.Did I mention that EngageNY complicates these areas of study with content area lessons on the human body and astronomy in first grade?

All these complications have me even more perplexed as to why so many people are recommending that educators visit and use EngageNY resources. In two separate incidents over the past two weeks, I have heard educators from the State of Connecticut recommend the site. One recommendation was made directly to the Commissioner in the State Department of Education, Stephan Pryor, during a roll-out of the state’s Common Core website. I hope he does not take these recommendations seriously.

Remember that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were supposed to guide teachers to teach less and focus more. The CCSS were promoted as a means to stop instruction that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The CCSS were promoted to allow teachers to select their own materials, an opportunity to move away from scripted programs, stating,”Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”

Engage NY curriculum contrasts with these both of these goals; it is both staggering in its breadth and it is highly scripted.

A look at the Grade One English Language Arts curriculum in the “Listening and Learning Strand” demonstrates the breadth in a curriculum that is organized into 11 separate content area Domains. An examination into Domain 4, titled “Early World Civilizations” shows a unit that is 21 days in length for 6 year-old students using  a Tell It Again! Read-Aloud Anthology. Engage NY explains that this unit:

“….for Early World Civilizations contains background information and resources that the teacher will need to implement Domain 4, including an alignment chart for the domain to the Common Core State Standards; an introduction to the domain including necessary background information for teachers, a list of domain components, a core vocabulary list for the domain, and planning aids and resources; 16 lessons including objectives, read-alouds, discussion questions, and extension activities; a Pausing Point; a domain review; a domain assessment; culminating activities; and teacher resources.”

A further examination of Domain 4 means reviewing its 81 student objectives. That number is not as intimidating as the language in the content area objectives. The first ten objectives state that “by the end of this unit, students will be able to….”:
  1. Locate the area known as Mesopotamia on a world map or globe and identify it as part of Asia;
  2. Explain the importance of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the use of canals to support farming and the development of the city of Babylon;
  3. Describe the city of Babylon and the Hanging Gardens;
  4. Identify cuneiform as the system of writing used in Mesopotamia;
  5. Explain why a written language is important to the development of a civilization;
  6. Explain the significance of the Code of Hammurabi;
  7. Explain why rules and laws are important to the development of a civilization;
  8. Explain the ways in which a leader is important to the development of a civilization;
  9. Explain the significance of gods/goddesses, ziggurats, temples, and priests in Mesopotamia;
  10. Describe key components of a civilization…
Consider the readiness for first graders to meet these content objectives, and consider their readiness in meeting  other content area objectives in this unit including:
#16 Explain the significance of gods/goddesses in ancient Egypt;
#26 Define monotheism as the belief in one God….

The problem with these content area objectives is that the response, (and remember this is a six year old’s response), is limited to a shallow or cursory understanding to any of these larger questions. Entire courses at higher grade levels, middle and high school, have been developed around these objectives, and many of these objectives will be repeated again in these higher grade levels.

Next, consider that the unit that follows Domain 5-Early American Civilizations, is dedicated to a study of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan societies. These first 10 objectives for Domain 5 state that “the student will be able to….”

  1. Explain that a shift occurred from hunting and gathering to farming among early peoples; compare and contrast hunter-gatherer societies and Mayan society;
  2. Explain the importance of extended family to the Maya;
  3. Identify the areas in which the Maya/Aztec/Inca lived;
  4. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca farmed;
  5. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca developed large cities or population centers, or empires, many, many years ago;
  6. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca had leaders (kings or emperors); identify by name the emperor of the Aztec, Moctezuma;
  7. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca each had a religion;
  8. Describe the significance of the stars and planets to the Maya;
  9. Explain the significance of the Mayan calendar;
  10. Identify the Aztec capital as Tenochtitlan; identify that Machu Picchu is an Incan city…
There are 32 more objectives for students in Domain 5, and there are nine other domains with an equally daunting number of “the student will” objectives in the Listening and Learning strands. There are more objectives, with overlap, in the Skill strands for each of remaining nine Domains. According to the curriculum in EngageNY, a first grader would be expected to have a basic understanding of Early World Civilizations and Early American Civilizations as well as these remaining nine domains:

Domain #1: Fables and Stories
Domain #2: The Human Body
Domain #3: Different Lands/Similar Stories
Domain #6: Astronomy
Domain #7: The History of the Earth
Domain #8: Animals and Habitats
Domain #9: Fairy Tales
Domain #10: A New Nation: American Independence
Domain #11: Frontier Explorers

The most striking characteristic of this list of domains is the breadth of content area material that a first grader (remember, these are 6 year-olds), is required to “explain” or “identify” or “describe.” These are at best low level comprehension skills in Bloom’s taxonomy. This list clashes with the CCSS objective to become “more focused and coherent” especially when this list of domains does not appear to be connected by any central theme; their inclusion appears random.

All this content will be important to developing a student’s background knowledge over the course of several years, but how critically important is this material at the first grade level when instruction time is at a premium? Practice in reading and writing should be a priority, and the content used for in the development of reading and writing skills should not overwhelm students, but rather complement student cognitive ability.

Nevertheless, EngageNY provides equally dense ELA curriculum at each grade level. Students often “revisit” content that they may not have understood earlier, an enterprise that could be unnecessary given the cursory treatment that may given a topic at an earlier grade level (example: studying War of 1812 in grade 2).

Like any other website with lessons aligned to the CCSS, teachers may find value in some resources on EngageNY. A cautionary note, however, is that these are not “teacher-tested” lessons, but highly scripted lessons from the juggernaut of publishing and testing, the UK based Pearson. This raises a frightening scenario of having the creators of student achievement tests (Pearson) hold teachers and students accountable for the content they (Pearson) have also created in the lessons.

Connecticut’s adoption of the CCSS should remain true to its stated goals of allowing teachers to select their own materials in the development of focused curriculum at each grade level. The damage may already be done, however, since the website Pryor was offering in the state rollout of the Common Core already contains numerous links to EngageNY resources.

Which brings me to another 1st grade word on the EngageNY vocabulary list.
Apoplexy.