The Portsmouth Herald had a good balanced discussion of the Common Core standards yesterday. Here are some highlights, with the quotes from teachers bolded. It’s worth reading the whole thing.
Mary Lyons, assistant superintendent of SAU 50, the district covering Rye, Greenland, Newington and New Castle, said any criticism of the Common Core she has seen from the public is due a lack of understanding or the spread of misinformation. Teachers will still have the autonomy to be creative when it comes to running their classrooms and won’t be constrained by the standards, she said.
“It’s not like it’s a new idea to be responsible for standards,” she said.
Even so, some educators are concerned about the standards’ emphasis on reading informational and non-fiction texts. According to Common Core proponents, the thought is that since college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, the standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write and research beyond literary works.
According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative Web site, this can be achieved by ensuring teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas. However, Portsmouth Middle School English teacher Melissa Provost said she worries the emphasis will come at the expense of classic literature.
“The Common Core has forced me to rethink my curriculum lessons while maintaining a grasp on my personal reasons for teaching this subject matter — to inspire students to become lifelong readers, writers and thinkers,” she said.
Provost said it takes time to inspire middle schoolers and immerse them in a novel, and she often reads books aloud, asking students to make connections to the text, problem solve, take notes and write across different genres.
“Most importantly, I dramatize while modeling the craft of reading and they listen and learn,” she said. “My job is to open their minds via reading and writing. I’m not insinuating Common Core does not support this, but with the push for us to focus 70 percent of our studies (across the grade) on informational text, it greatly reduces the amount of time I have to let creativity and inspiration happen organically.”
Portsmouth Middle School math teacher Christine Kwesell had a different perspective. She said she is excited that the Common Core is striving to build deeper meaning when it comes to math concepts. She said the shifts have already been happening, but become more intentional with the implementation of the standards.
“There’s a model for excellent teaching. The Common Core supports that model,” she said. “It changes what we do in the classrooms with the kids, in a good way.”
This school year, schools are expected to be aligned with the standards. This fall, students will take the New England Common Assessment Program standardized test for the last time, paving the way for the new Smarter Balanced Assessment in spring 2015.
“It’s definitely a difference. I think the difference really is around, in many cases, shifting some content from one grade level to another,” said Portsmouth Assistant Superintendent Steve Zadravec.
Zadravec said the Common Core emphasizes mastery of subjects through delving much deeper into topics. The adage among educators is that lesson plans used to be “a mile wide and an inch deep,” covering many topics but lacking the depth for students to achieve true mastery of the concepts.
Lyons said the Common Core establishes high standards, but focuses on a smaller number of standards to encourage a greater depth of learning.
“The standards are very clear (compared to the old standards),” she said. “I feel that our teachers are happy with that. They find them easier to read and understand. … We’re excited about the challenge.”
Portsmouth’s approach to implementing the Common Core is teacher driven, Zadravec said. During summer institutes and other professional development time, teachers have been looking closely at the standards and their implications, he said.
The standards are promoting a transition from the “sage on the stage” who lectures students from the front of the classroom to the “coach on the side” who works with students on strategies to meet the challenge ahead, Hopkins said.
“What I see it doing is refining us,” she said. “Good teaching always asks kids to think on their own. This moves us one step closer to shooting toward that goal. I see it as a positive thing.”