Eye on Education

AFT President Randi Weingarten Explains How She Would Teach the Common Core

Kathy Anderson / The Times-Picayune/Landov

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Teachers in schools in Ohio and across the nation are changing how they teach. It’s part of the switch to the Common Core, a new set of national standards for what students should know and be able to do in reading and math.

By next school year, all Ohio schools are supposed be teaching the Common Core.

But what exactly does a Common Core-style lesson look like?

When we talked with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten earlier this month, she explained how she would teach under the Common Core.

Weingarten supports the Common Core, but has been calling for a pause in using the results of new Common Core tests for purposes including evaluating teachers and sanctioning low performing schools. Weingarten said teachers have not had enough time or help understanding the new standards and how to change how they teach.

“Teachers are really supportive of it, but they want to get it done right,” she said.

The Lesson

When Weingarten was in the classroom, one of her favorite lessons to teach was about the moral dilemma of dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II.

In the past, it would have been “just” a social studies lesson. But under the Common Core, the lesson would incorporate the problem-solving skills required under the new standards as well as the Common Core’s focus on interpreting primary sources.

The Old Way

Back in the day, Weingarten might have covered the topic over a day or two. Students would read a section in a textbook the night before then in class the next day they would be divided into teams to debate the question, “Was it right or wrong to bomb Hiroshima?”

The teams would plan, present, and then the class would have 20 minutes or so of classroom discussion and maybe a written assignment afterwards to sum things up.

The New Way

Under the Common Core, Weingarten said she would give students three or four days, a week even, to explore the same topic.

Students would first get a lesson in locating primary sources and other research material, or (Weingarten would put together a packet of contemporary texts from both the U.S. and Japan if time was short.)

Students would then spend a day working in teams to come up with answers to key questions about the decision to bomb Hiroshima. On the next day, they’d work again in teams to critique and refine each others’ arguments. And on the next day — finally — the class would have a full-on oral debate.

With another day on the topic, Weingarten might have students change sides in the debate,  challenge each others’ views and provide evidence for their conclusions.

The Bottom Line

The Common Core-style lesson takes more time, Weingarten said. But it teaches skills beyond regurgitating textbook passages.

“It’s deeper thinking,” she said. “It’s a lot of skills [working] both with each other as well as individually.”

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  • Jack

    Working in teams ….. give me a break. It is the same old group concept. Put 4 in a group or on a team and one does all the work while the others are texting on their smartphones. This lesson would work great for advance placement students or with classes of 12 students.

    • http://www.facebook.com/leensteve Lee Cross

      anyone can think…not just gifted…common core seems like the way to give/teach every kid to be gifted. Its deeper way of thinking and educating. Who wants their kid to get a surface education. Then put 12 kids to a class.

  • Unitymustgo!

    Lets be clear Weingarten was never a teacher. She is a lawyer who was hand picked by the Unity party of the UFT to be brought on board. They arranged for her to teach a token class for 6 months before leaving the classroom forever. She knows s__t about being a teacher.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tommy-Calderon/100000263260717 Tommy Calderon

    If Ms. Weingarten gave this some thought she would see the glaring problem. The CCLS require students to answer questions on a higher order level than previously used. Constant group work limits the progress and level of the average student discussion. Without the added stimulus and challenge added by discourse involving the teacher, students tend to respond on the same level they are functioning. This usually results in maintaining a rather unsophisticated flavor to student response.

    • vision


      Ms. W. apparently lacks the “deeper thinking” skills required to understand the problem.
      “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Mr. E.

  • http://twitter.com/doctordea Dea Conrad-Curry
  • vision

    I wish that someone with great wisdom would define “deeper thinking” for me. Is this a new educational, psychological, or neurological term? Is this different than critical or higher level thinking?
    My kindergarten teacher told me to be wary of professional educators who coin new terms to describe a new educational initiative.

  • Nancy schodroski

    Thank you to the person who made clear the true credentials of this person. It is extremely enlightening. I am coming to the realization that I am not the only one with HUGE concerns about making a cycle into a method that has not proven effective in the past. Why must the education world constantly fall into the trap of all-or-nothing thinking? There are usually pieces to a method that will improve learning. Why not pick the best of all to have an effective learning situation?

    • Thomas

      I’ve been teaching 25 years. My question-why isn’t this type of thinking, use of primary texts, understanding the claims on every side of an issue, and using literature both analytically and as evidence a problem for school teachers? I have watched enough shallow teaching, especiallya t the secondary level. This has been proven effective in the past. In fact, this kind of teaching goes back thousands of years. It is Plato, Cicero, Seneca, and Herodotus. Maybe the biggest change we need is to root out teachers who aren’t trained to think and read this closely and therefore are a barrier to instilling these skills in their students. I cannot imagine why this frightens anyone. I can imagine why people don’t trust our profession. How does anyone get out of college not ready to do this?

      • pjrreed

        one of the biggest obstacles to using primary text is finding the primary sources that are accessible to my students (middle school) – I would love to rely more on primary sources, but the supply is limited for ancient history!

  • http://twitter.com/edteck Peter Pappas

    Forget the packet! If you want students to think critically about why we dropped the “Bomb” have them watch this US propaganda film “My Japan” http://archive.org/details/MyJapan1945

    It’s one of the films I used in my interactive iBook “Why We Fight: WWII and the Art of Public Persuasion” Download a free preview at iTunes. http://bit.ly/VfqckS

    My IBook is filled with “stop-and-think” prompts based on Common Core skills to guide the student analysis of the primary sources. It includes reflective questions that draw parallels between Pearl Harbor and 9/11. How did the American response to 9/11 differ from its response to Pearl Harbor? To what extent has the government tried to shape public opinion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Some of the material in this book contains objectionable racial and ethnic stereotypes. Did WWII justify their use? To what extent do we continue to use negative stereotypes today? Here’s a post that explains more about the instructional approach “Multi-Touch iBook – Experience the US Homefront in WWII” http://bit.ly/ROVOLx

    • vision

      Great materials.
      I worry about children who lack the reading skills and abstract reasoning skills needed for “deep thinking.”

  • Sal Tralongo, Principal

    We seem to buy into every new program that the so-called experts dream up, and yet according to other so-called experts the US is falling behind. Let’s get back to the basics that made us the number one country, and build on a sound foundation instead of the shifting sands of politically motivated educational theory.

    • http://www.facebook.com/leensteve Lee Cross

      These standards are designed to allow teachers to help students gain a better understanding of the basics.

  • Cloe

    Reading packets… Really?? How is this any better??

  • Matt Chapman

    In her April 30 speech, Randi Weingarten demonstrated clear and unimpeachable logic by asking for adequate time and resources to prepare for and implement the Common Core State Standards before punishing teachers and students for non-performance on those standards. The standards themselves provide a solid foundation of what our students should learn, so it follows that, in those states where they have been adopted and fully implemented, it is reasonable to hold teachers accountable for teaching them effectively, and to hold students accountable for learning them.

    The wrinkle in this is that there are few places where the standards have been fully implemented. Full implementation does, and should, include unpacking the standards and converting them into a local curriculum, training teachers in how to teach the new curriculum effectively, and giving at least a full year to find the bugs and make adjustments as needed. It simply is not reasonable to expect workers in any industry to make a major change instantly, without time to retool and retrain.

    We sometimes have a tendency in education to do a half-baked implementation, then declare the basic recipe a failure and abandon it before we know whether it would have worked if fully cooked. We seem to be headed in that direction with the Common Core. If these standards are driven to failure, the remaining choice will be to return to what we already know won’t work, or to rush toward the next big thing that also hasn’t been adequately prepared for in the classroom. We already have far too great a fixation on high stakes accountability testing, and bringing this hammer down on our teachers and students without even a reasonable shot at success is at best unacceptable.

    We seem to admire what Finland has become, but are not willing to acknowledge the long path they followed to achieve their goals. They adopted a plan, put a tremendous effort into training their educators how to make it work, and now spend years training each new teacher to be effective in their model. If Finland really is in the promised land of education, we need be willing to follow their lead if we want to join them.


  • Ed

    There’s a VERY fine line between the student-directed, primary source based, group analysis model, EXTREMELY TIME CONSUMING method being espoused in this article and flat out lazy pedagogy.

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