The curriculum directors in New Hampshire school districts are the beating heart of classroom instruction in the State. Often serving as assistant superintendents, they are the leaders translating the State’s academic standards – goals for what students should learn – into a curriculum that principals can use in teachers’ professional development and teachers can use as the basis for their lesson plans. (more…)
Here’s my Concord Monitor opinion piece from yesterday. It’s odd how Common Core opponents assert that teachers don’t really understand the evils of the new standards that raise expectations for our students, even as they use them every day in their classrooms.
The Monitor published an article on Dec. 17 about Joseph Mendola of Warner forming a political action committee to oppose the Common Core. That’s fine. It can take its place beside the PACs to oppose Obamacare and global warming. But what surprised me was that Mendola said, “teachers have just a glimpse of what they think (the Common Core is) about.”
In my work with Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, an advocacy organization, I have visited schools across the state and talked to teachers and administrators about the Common Core. I can tell you that there is strong appreciation for the new higher standards from any teacher who has actually used them in her classroom. Here are some examples:
When I visited Angela Manning’s vibrant and engaged fifth grade at Portsmouth’s New Franklin Elementary School, she said, “It’s overwhelming, of course, because it’s a big shift. It’s been interesting, though, to watch the kids step up to the level of deeper thinking that we’re asking them to do.”
Sue Hannan, 6th and 7th grade teacher at Manchester’s Hillside Middle School: We need to set that higher standard. The Common Core does that.
Sue Hannan, a 25 year teacher, taught in a great special reading program until it was lost to the budget cut. Now she teaches 6th and 7th grades at Manchester’s Hillside Middle School.
What’s the status of the Common Core in Manchester classrooms?
“..we did not reject Common Core. It’s still part of what we do. We’re just going to build on it.”
What got you started down the Common Core road?
“Manchester School District principals essentially were told, “Roll out Common Core at your own school.” So our principal, luckily for us, jumped on it and brought lots of training in.”
Do the new standards raise expectations?
“In the past, schools let it slide when a parent said, ‘My student can do this or can’t do that.’ The educational community became fearful of raising expectations. But that’s where we’ve been failing. We need to set that higher standard. The Common Core does that.
Each teacher provides a different educational experience but achieves the same standard
“…under the Common Core I retain my autonomy.”
“Our teaching became illogical with the advent of No Child Left Behind because we were so concerned with adequate yearly progress. It became a data circus – became useless, really….Now it’s clear what students should know and be able to do by the end of the year. We can move through the year in a logical way.”
What about algebra in the 8th grade?
“…once students have learned multiplication and division, they can put a variable in and make basic algebraic equations….. When they want to do algebra or pre-algebra in the 8th grade, they understand the principles and can do it.”
Now all teachers are English teachers:
“Students are starting to see that their English skills need to be used in every part of their lives, not just language arts class.”
Students are responding to the challenge:
“Ms. Hannan, I don’t want to leave your class. It’s fun and I like what we’re doing.”
Even learning vocabulary is more engaging now:
“I’ve started giving them ten minutes at the beginning of class to sit with another student and study vocabulary together. They have to show what they know and don’t want to be embarrassed….Many more students passed most of vocabulary tests with flying colors.”
We read closely and drive deeper into the text:
“…they have to do close reading of the text, read it again and sometimes find a deeper meaning. But it’s no longer only a matter of writing. They’ve got to be able to discuss it.”
The kids learn to write for the real world:
“You can’t write a letter to your boss and say, ‘I need a raise. The end.’”
Teach to the standards, not the test:
“You can’t teach to these tests anyway…..But we’re teaching all year long to the standards. By the time the test comes along in April or May, we should have accomplished those standards and the students will be prepared for the test.”
Parents should be thinking….
“My child needs to be challenged more. My child needs to work harder and do better.” Isn’t it every parent’s goal for their child does better than they did? And if we’re providing something that’s going to help them be better, why oppose it?
Susan Martin, Kindergarten teacher at Mt. Lebanon Elementary School, West Lebanon: Common Core is “phenomenally hard” but most welcome it
At the NEA-NH fall professional development day in Bow, NH, Susan Martin talks about demands the new standards make on kindergarteners.
We have just put in an all-day Kindergarten – plus we were charged with doing Common Core from the get-go – so we spent weeks doing this in terms of just setting up all the logistics behind it and determining how we were going to assess….
It was a huge commitment…I have to say,…I’ve probably increased my time by 25%…, but I think it’s getting less…. I’m just more familiar with the standards and what we’re looking at so that anxiety has decreased.
…The interesting impact is what parents say. They immediately recognize that it is more rigorous and that we are asking a tremendous amount, and at the Kindergarten level it is phenomenally hard. It’s like 1st grade stuff, and that’s what people will say. And most people are welcoming of it, not everybody accomplishes it…There’s less play but there’s still play.
…we recognize that the Common Core are standards; they’re not the curriculum. We’re still charged with implementing those standards through a curriculum. So if I can figure out a way of doing it in a playful way and I’m reaching those, those standards, it’s fine. It’s great.
Deb Springhorn, American Studies teacher at Lebanon High School: we’ve been doing Common Core for 20 years
Deb Springhorn speaks briefly at the Common Core town hall lunch during the NEA-NH professional development day on October 16, 2013
….this may sound weird but I think we’ve been doing Common Core for at least the 20 years that I’ve been [at Lebanon High School]. To me it’s just good curriculum and good classroom instruction….I for one have been teaching an American Studies program for 21 years where it’s American literature and American history combined together. We bring in philosophy. We bring in economics. We bring in art. We bring in music. And when you have all of these things put together….right embedded in the curriculum, they are the higher order thinking skills I think the Common Core really addresses on a number of fronts. So I’m a believer.
Richard Kirby, 6th grade teacher, talks about the Common Core and parents’ response at Alton Central School
Here is Richard Kirby, who teaches 6th grade math and social studies at Alton Central School, the single school in the Alton school district recently famous for voting to “reject” the Common Core. A second Alton teacher chimes in at the end.
I’m Richard Kirby and I teach at Alton Central School…We’re supported by our Superintendent and by the Principal, but the School Board are the ones who are missing the point. …And they don’t know…we’ve been working on the Common Core for a few years …, putting everything together.
…the Common Core just clarifies things. It makes it easier for me as a teacher.
Kathy Kirby, Hollis/Brookline High social studies teacher: more primary source material – fewer text books.
Here is Kathy Kirby, social studies teacher at Hollis/Brookline Cooperative High School, talking to 50 teachers in a Common Core town hall meeting on October 16, 2013, during an NEA-NH professional development day.
“The objective in our district has always been to graduate successful writers and critical thinkers and people who have developed high reading skills. So those are very much in line with the Common Core….”
How is your classroom actually different as a result of implementing the Common Core?
“We are more focused on primary source material – less on text books. More on actual experience in history. I teach social studies, so the focus has been finding grade level appropriate primary source material that inspires students and gets them to think about developing questions for the author and understanding their point of view, which is a Common Core standard, and be able to turn that around and almost engage in a conversation with [the author] and ask them critical questions. Then they should be able to write a summary the primary source author is trying to communicate the audience.”
Diane Johnson, teaching a combined first and second grade, says the Common Core “is less and more, all at the same time”
Diane Johnson spoke about her Common Core experience at a town hall meeting held on October 11, 2013 at the NEA-NH professional development day at Bow High School.
I’ve been working with the Common Core for a couple of years now and the thing that I’m finding with my first and second grade kids is it’s less and more, all at the same time….. And they’re rising to the occasion. They’re thinking harder about fewer things and they are gaining a broader perspective, number one. …The standards are higher than they were but we’re doing fewer things.
Even in Manchester, recently famous for voting to create its own standards, the Common Core is deeply rooted. On the last day of the Union Leader series on the Common Core, Reporter David Solomon reports on a Gossler Park first grade classroom alive with Common Core based learning:
MANCHESTER — The 19 first-graders gathered for reading class with teacher Amy Villeneuve at Gossler Park Elementary School were excited to have visitors and anxious for the reading to begin, but first they had to answer some questions.
“What kind of stories have we been reading?” Villeneuve asked.
“Narratives,” the class replied.
“And what are the three parts of a narrative?”
It took some coaching, but the class soon established that every narrative has to have a beginning, a middle and an end.
“What are some of the words we can use to show beginning, middle and end,” Villeneuve continued.
Hands shot up, with students providing the answers: first, next, then and finally.
And so Villeneuve began to read the story, titled “It’s Mine,” about a pond full of frogs who told a visiting toad to get lost, only to find themselves swamped in a flood and stuck on a rock, which turned out to be the back of the toad.
They agreed to share the pond.
Afterward, each student had to produce what could be considered a first-grade book report, in which they had to say what happened at the beginning, middle and end of the story. Some used words; some drew pictures; each took a turn presenting to the class.
If you think first grade is too early to start learning the basic structure of a narrative and applying it in your own writing, think again.
“It’s not education like it used to be,” said Principal Lori Upham, who was observing the class. “They start narrative in kindergarten. It’s much more rigorous.”
read the rest at Manchester opts for own standards.