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Wisdom Begins In Wonder

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Lexie Woo
“Wisdom begins in wonder.” This quote, often attributed to the philosopher Socrates, perfectly describes my experience over the last few years implementing higher standards for my students.

As a special educator, I deeply believe it’s important to hold students to the same high standards as their general education peers, a tenet I must balance while I also work to meet them at their current performance level. What I love about the Common Core State Standards is that by

illustrating the grade-level expectations for English Language Arts and Mathematics, they set the bar high for my students, but allow me the freedom as a professional to determine how I want to support every student in reaching those expectations.

Although you might not expect it, when my school began implementing the New York State Learning Standards, I felt more autonomous as a teacher than I ever had before. At that time, my school was using a specific curriculum aligned to the Standards. While planning each unit, I noticed that the curriculum alone was not sufficient for my students to learn at high levels, particularly when it came to Speaking and Listening skills.

PictureLexie Woo in her classroom at The Dorothy Bonawit Kole School in Queens, NYC.

My wisdom as a teacher usually begins in wonder, particularly in wondering about how I could adapt a strong curriculum to make it even more powerful for my students.

So, with all I knew from my experience and professional studies, I dove into our mammoth textbook and began making changes to meet the needs of my students and empower them to reach the grade-level goals the Standards set for them.

I found myself pooling resources from multiple sources to adapt the lessons in my textbook, changing how I wanted to present the texts, defining confusing vocabulary, and clarifying challenging questions. Ultimately, I decided I would take on a huge challenge with my students— a student-ledSocratic Seminar.


Before the unit, my students had read a variety of complex texts that challenged their thinking.  They also engaged in intensive learning about how to develop complex questions and how to participate effectively in a discussion (none of which were in the textbook, but, nevertheless, aligned to Common Core).

Finally, the day arrived! It was time for me to take the backseat and for my students to engage in a Socratic Seminar, a discussion format that requires them to both ask and answer questions as they reflect on their reading. Students must lead this discussion; I, as the teacher, would have little to no participation. As I inhaled deeply, waiting for the first student to ask a question and start the discussion, I thought back to my classrooms before the Common Core. I smiled, thinking of how differently it looked now: students at the center of the classroom, actively thinking about and discussing a complex text, me, not “delivering instruction,” but instead, supporting students as they directed their own learning.

As that image began to fade, the importance of high standards became crystal clear to me. They gave both me and my students the freedom to wonder. I set out to design a curriculum that would help my students learn at high levels, and my students had the opportunity to read, discuss, reflect, and wonder about the world.

It’s not just that high standards give educators the freedom to be more creative and independent (which they do, in my experience). My epiphany was that high standards create opportunities for students to be more creative and independent — two things that will drastically affect their success in my classroom and beyond.

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