The new Common Core State Standards, which were adopted by the state Department of Education in August 2010, are in their first year of implementation in classrooms. Teachers are now beginning to prepare their students for the Smarter Balance Assessment, the standardized test associated with common core, which the state proposes to implement in the 2014-2015 school year.
Elementary school teachers in the Caesar Rodney School District are going the extra mile when it comes to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Several first-through-fifth-grade teachers from schools across the district have been chosen and put pen to paper to write their Common Core teaching materials.
“We heard about several districts that had adopted materials,” said Dr. Scott Lykens, director of instruction for the Caesar Rodney School District. “When we looked at materials on our elementary level, we couldn’t find anything that we felt aligned. We didn’t think it was fiscally responsible to spend a lot of money on something that wasn’t going to align. So what we’ve done is taken our system, the way we do our curriculum and assessment, and we’ve started creating our own.”
One of the focuses of the new materials is coherence, which means taking a look at what students were expected to know by the end of the previous grade and what they will be expected to know at the start of the next grade level. The materials also include differentiations for teaching students who are struggling, students who are working at it and students who are excelling. Teachers have been focusing on transition lessons, which are moving the elementary levels toward implementation, said Lykens.
“It’s been a year-long project that I’ve been involved in,” said Kerri Carr, a second-grade teacher at Star Hill who has been part of a working group charged with putting together the materials. “It’s been great having those times to talk and really figure out what is it that we’re trying to teach and how we are going to do that.”
In the beginning of the year a handful of teachers, one from each elementary school, came together to put the common core implementation into action. The teachers drew up a schedule of when exactly each standard would be taught.
“One of the standards for second graders is to be able to add and subtract within 100 in one and two step word problems,” Carr said. “As a second grader that’s quite overwhelming. So we looked back to see how we could teach it so they could master it.”
The teachers decided to take it slow and build the students up to the standard. First students will add and subtract within 20 in a one-step problem, then two-step problems within 50 and then be brought up to speed to meet the requirement.
Page 2 of 2 - “We were trying to break it down into terms and reasonable goals that they could accomplish,” Carr said. “We wanted, with first and second grade, to build those skills so that next year when they get into third grade and the following year when they have that test, we’ve given them the tools that they need.”
Another important component of the new plans that the teachers have created is a home connection letter that goes with each unit of instruction. The letter gives parents a summary of what their child is learning at a particular time. The letter includes a list of essential skills and vocabulary and suggestions of what parents can do at home to help their child learn, Carr said.
One of the new aspects that Common Core is bringing to the English/language arts subject is the incorporation of science and social studies into reading and writing.
“We are making cross-curricular connections,” said Ashlee Miller, a second-grade teacher at Welch Elementary and another member of the working group responsible for writing the new materials. “One way that we’re doing that is we’re tying together information texts as well as literary text. For example, one of our science units is on bridges so we tried to find books, informational and literary, that have to do with bridges.”
The new Common Core State Standards helps teachers better differentiate between students’ various abilities, said Miller.
“I think that it more accurately depicts where my students are,” Miller said. “I’ve noticed that I’m really able to see and meet the needs of my upper-level learners, my middle-level learners and my lower-level learners.”
Miller has also noticed more students striking out on their own.
“The students are really taking hold of learning on their own,” Miller said. “They’re going home and trying to apply what they learn and I think that is one of the most telling signs that it is great learning, because they want to go home and do things on their own.”