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Hollis/Brookline High School algebra teacher: “The Common Core is what good teachers have been doing all along!”

At the June 16 Hollis/Brookline Common Core forum, Tammy Leonard, Hollis Brookline High School Algebra II teacher, reported back on how the Common Core math standards have worked on in her classroom.  She found that the new standards enabled her to teach as she had always wanted. (more…)

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

At the June 16 Hollis/Brookline Common Core forum, Ms. Jenn Manning, Newton Elementary School kindergarten teacher tells it like it is. (more…)

Middle school math teacher Jamie Sirois explains Common Core rigor: “I’ve made big changes in how I prepare for my classroom.”

Jamie Sirois, Stratham Cooperative Middle School teacher and Learning Area Leader, along with two of other colleagues from Bow Memorial School and Winnisquam Regional, gave a great workshop on the Common Core math standards at the NEA-NH Spring Instructional Conference at Bow High School on April 5th.

Among other things, she said,

“Rigor requires conceptual understanding, procedural skill, fluency and the ability to apply math to real problems.  It is an equal balance of these three that creates rigor.”


Kimberly Kelliher, social studies teacher and curriculum leader at Prospect Mountain High School in Alton, testifies based on her first hand Common Core experience

Kim Kelliher’s school, Prospect Mountain High School, is jointly managed as SAU#301 by Alton and Barnstead.  Each town has its own K-8 elementary/middle school. (more…)

Sanborn Regional teachers talk about the new Smarter Balanced test

Virtually all New Hampshire school districts are down the road toward using the new Common Core standards to guide their curricula and lesson plans. New Hampshire is scheduled to start using the new Smarter Balanced annual test in the spring of 2015, but many teachers have already reviewed preliminary versions of the test or taken a sample test. (more…)

Sanborn Regional teachers make the Common Core fun for their kindergarten students

We hear concerns about whether the Common Core is developmentally appropriate in the early grades, but the New Hampshire teachers I talk to don’t share that concern.

On my recent visit to the Sanborn Regional School District in Kingston and Newton, the passion for their teaching and their commitment to making the new standards work for their students were clear. (more…)

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 HannanIn Summary

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.”

How does teaching to the Common Core compare to teaching in the No Child Left Behind era?

“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?


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.


Here’s how a Manchester fourth grade teacher has made the new standards work for her

singing class outsideDebbie Villiard, a fourth grade teacher passionately dedicated to the kids at Manchester’s Northwest Elementary School, has had great success with the new standards in her classroom.

Here’s what she told me a couple of weeks ago:

How big a change are the new standards?

Common Core standards don’t limit what I do in the classroom – they open doors.  I can use interesting topics from articles or chapter books and dig deeper into literature with the students.  I can teach them to look at the text, see who the source is and see if they believe it. That’s what the standard says.

What I’m teaching hasn’t changed drastically.  But we go deeper and spend more time on skills.  We don’t just teach something and move on.  In math, for instance, we do lots of different activities having to do with place value.  I try to make sure that not only can they do a paper and pencil task but, maybe, a task with place value blocks or a word problem or game that involves, say, adding five ten-thousandths to this number.  I try to make sure they really, really own those skills.

In English, we spend a lot more time looking closely at the text and answering real questions.  There’s no more, “How did you feel when you read that?”  Now it’s, “How did the character feel or why did the character do this?”

We do have teachers’ guides that help with questions on such things as identifying the themes, the skills and the vocabulary.  It’s all right there for the teacher.  But I don’t use those worksheets.

I’m looking for, “What are the things in the new standards that I need to use from that teachers’ guide?” – like identifying the theme, for example.  Say the theme in a given book is “friendship.”  I might draw from the questions in the teacher guide that deal with friendship but leave out the questions that say, “Describe a time when you had a friend”

We just have to pick the parts of existing materials resources that best fit the standards so we don’t have to start from scratch.


Amazing second grade teacher talks about how her kids are responding to the new standards

Jane Ellwood teaches second grade at Manchester’s Northwest Elementary School, where Principal Shelly Larochelle has been leading a savvy and effective rollout of the new state standards.  Here’s how Ms. Ellwood described her experience to me: (more…)