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Home » Common Core » Jenn Manning, Newton kindergarten teacher: “My students used to write fairy tales. Now they write opinion pieces.”

Jenn Manning, Newton kindergarten teacher: “My students used to write fairy tales. Now they write opinion pieces.”

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At the June 16 Hollis/Brookline Common Core forum, Ms. Jenn Manning, Newton Elementary School kindergarten teacher tells it like it is. Here are some edited highlights:

With the Common Core,
I've created such 
a rich 
learning experience 
for these little minds.

I’ve been teaching Kindergarten for twelve years…and when I look back at that first year, I didn’t teach half of what I teach now.  When I think back to what the Common Core has done for my teaching, I feel confident that I’ve created such a rich learning experience for these little minds.

It is a streamlined, 
focused set of standards 
that will help my students
achieve to levels 
I didn't think they could before.

The title for tonight is “What’s the buzz about the Common Core?” From a teacher’s perspective, I don’t get the debate. In the classroom, I find it is a streamlined, focused set of standards that will help my students achieve to levels I didn’t think they could before.

When I sat down 
with the Common Core, 
I was concerned.
"Can I really expect 
my students to do this?"

The first time I sat down with the Common Core, I was concerned – “How can a Kindergartener write an opinion piece?  How can they decompose numbers?….Can I really expect my students to do this?” How can you expect a five-year-old to know that the number 15 is ten and five more?  But my students did that this year!

My students used to write
fairy tales. Now 
they write opinion pieces.

A few years ago, my students wrote fairytales or told me about what they did on their weekends.  This year, they wrote opinion pieces on school rules that they thought were important – and they had to support their opinions. They were thinkers.

We need to remember that, especially for our young students, the Common Core says that our learners should meet these standards “…with prompting and support..” Sometimes I do want them to achieve a standard without my prompting, but that support is there.

I now have such focus 
in my teaching 
that my students 
are learning more.

Are these standards developmentally appropriate? Can young students learn standards that are so rigorous? I say yes. I now have such focus in my teaching that my students are learning more. They are learning through play.

You can go into the dramatic play center in my classroom and see students making grocery lists.  They’re shopping for items by the beginning sound. They’re sorting items by four different categories. Coins are not in the Common Core at this point, but do I still use coins with my students? Absolutely!  Because I know that’s a way they can learn to count by 10’s.

Common Core is so streamlined 
I can be sure my students 
are reaching mastery.

Because Common Core is so streamlined and I now have such a clear set of standards, I can be sure my students are reaching mastery. If a group doesn’t get the difference between fiction and nonfiction, for instance, I can reteach that skill. My students are applying their new knowledge to real life situations.

Recently we learned about common animals and made an informational text to share with people at an animal shelter –  when someone adopted a cat, they could see what they needed to do. They were proud to share those books and feel like they’d played such an important role. And, of course, they’ll see those kinds of performance tasks on the Smarter Balance test.

They're thinkers 
- where before, 
it had just been rote.

So where do I see my students after two years? They’re thinkers – where before, it had just been rote. Now they understand why they have to count and why it’s so meaningful. And the standards build upon each other.

In kindergarten, students are comparing types of text, and in 1st and 2nd grade they’re doing that too. But in kindergarten I am teaching at a developmentally appropriate level. When they go to 1st grade, they’re learning it at a deeper level, and again in 2nd grade.


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