They just seem a little vague.
Last week, one of my students came across the term “hyperbole” on a vocabulary assignment. “What does hyperbole mean?” he asked.
Wow, I thought. Five years ago, my students knew that term. Why? Because I taught it to them, along with other common figurative language techniques. Why? Because they were specifically listed in the standards, which at the time were known as Grade-Level Expectations (GLEs) and were in place when I began teaching in 2011.
But hyperbole isn’t even mentioned today in the Missouri Learning Standards (MLS), the educational standards adopted by Missouri legislators in 2016 and modeled on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Also not mentioned are these: simile, metaphor, alliteration, personification, onomatopoeia, and oxymoron.
And this illustrates my one and only complaint with the MLS for English Language Arts: They just seem a little vague, when compared to the old GLEs, which were clear, specific, and practically a checklist even, of the techniques and academic language terms Missouri kids were expected to know. Heck, I even remember printing out the figurative language section of the GLEs for each grade that I taught (6th, 7th, and 8th), and crossing off each device as I covered it in my classes.
In general, I’m a fan of the Missouri Learning Standards, and their progenitor, the Common Core. I can support the various standards and the modifications made.
Yes, at first, I questioned the subjugation of grammar, mechanics, and conventions (known as language standards) under various subsections of the writing standards; however, as a teacher in my third year of implementation of the MLS, I have reconciled what some may perceive as a dismissal of grammar with what I believe is a more authentic approach that 1) stresses an initial emphasis in the writing process on ideas, and 2) leaves the grammar checks and editing for later. In the words of the late writing instructor Gary Provost, “Good grammar does not guarantee good writing any more than a good referee guarantees a good basketball game.”
Still, my support for this aspect of the MLS is tempered by a desire for greater specificity within those standards, especially when those specifics include literary techniques that I know my students will be expected to know during standardized testing in the spring.
In effect, the CCSS and MLS have left it up to the educators to pinpoint the devices they will teach. And, yes, it’s excellent that educators are allowed the freedom to teach the devices they choose, but how am I supposed to help my students do well on a standardized test (that ultimately determines federal funding of my school district, by the way) if I am unaware of the items to be tested?
So, even though I support the CCSS and the MLS, holes do exist in them. I’ve attended standard setting meetings with other educators where we’ve pored over the standards line by line. And true, one could say the standards reflect overall what educators have deemed necessary; however, those needs do not always match up with the tests that students undergo every spring.
To remedy that, my ideal standards would be a melding of the old GLEs into the MLS that would precisely include the specific skills, techniques, and terminology that students need to know not only to express themselves accurately but also to successfully complete a standardized test.