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Parents attend schools’ Common Core workshop

Caitlin Rickard • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:20 PM

With the recent switch to Common Core state standards in schools, parents have still had questions on what this means for their children and the school system.

After hearing concerns, Lebanon Director of Schools Scott Benson decided to hold a workshop Monday to define Common Core state standards and to have school coaches demonstrate examples of literacy and math tasks currently being taught in classrooms.

For some grade levels, the program began for math and English language arts in 2011. In spring and summer 2012, more than 13,000 teachers were trained, and this summer, more than 29,000 teachers were trained.

On Monday, Beth Petty, Lebanon Family Resource Center coordinator, along with Lebanon schools’ Common Core coaches Julie Whitefield, Patti Anderson and Traci Sparkman, spoke to a group of parents at Castle Heights Elementary School, where they further explained Common Core, provided classroom examples and answered questions from parents.

Common Core state standards set grade-by-grade learning expectations for K-12 students in math and English language arts.

Whitefield, from Sam Houston Elementary, first defined Common Core and shared some English language arts examples.

Whitefield said that although states have had standards previously, this set focuses on preparing students for college or the workforce by setting clear, consistent and high learning goals.

Whitefield said, along with focusing on further preparation, the consistency of the standards across the country is also huge. She noted that 46 percent of all American families move.

“With Common Core, if a family were to move out of state, everything is common across the board and they can pick right up where they left off,” Whitefield said. “We don’t have someone who’s making an A in Seattle move to Chicago where, for that same thing, they’d be making a C.”

According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s website, 45 states, the District of Columbia and four territories have adopted the standards. Texas, Virginia, Nebraska, Alaska and Minnesota have not yet adopted the standards.

Whitefield also said the standards are not a curriculum for the schools, but the end goals.

“I think of Common Core as the Land of Oz. How we take students down the yellow brick road is up to us,” Whitefield said.

She then explained the shift Common Core has made for English language arts and literacy.

“Our goal is to teach students to be good readers,” Whitefield said. “We’re starting in kindergarten and making step increases each year in complexity, so each year we’re gradually increasing and building.”

The new shift focuses on building knowledge through nonfiction, reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from the text and regular practice with complex text.

English language arts standards include reading literature, reading informational text and foundational skills in reading. They also include language, writing and speaking and listening.

“Writing wise, in second grade the students may do a ‘shared’ research assignment where they can work with partners and in fifth grade they may have to do a paper where they draw evidence from their research,” Whitefield said. “By eighth grade they’re going to have to write arguments with reasoning and relevant text.”

Whitefield said three huge areas of English language arts are vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

She said that by reading and re-reading to children, we can help build the vocabulary of students and also improve the fluency and accuracy of the student while reading.

“Fluency really is the bridge to comprehension,” Whitefield said.

Anderson, a first-grade teacher, spoke next on math.

“I’ve taught first grade for 10 years in the same school in the same classroom, so I feel like so many things are the same. But this change, I really do feel like it’s for the better,” Anderson said.

She said the beauty of Common Core standards is that so much carries over to the next grade.

“The first set of standards I taught, there were so many math standards and the pressure was on to cover them all and if the child didn’t understand we had to move on.  The standards and content were good, but we were teaching a mile wide and an inch deep,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the repercussions were that students got into third, fourth and fifth grades and found it increasingly harder to feel successes because they didn’t have skills needed.

“When I saw the Common Core standards, I heard angels singing,” Anderson said. “No longer would I be teaching a mile wide and inch deep, because now we have fewer standards but I can also go deeper into content for deeper learning to occur.”

Anderson said that although standards change from time to time—Whitefield said this is her fourth set to teach—she didn’t believe this set would be changing soon.

“Looking at it logistically and looking at the map of states that have adopted these standards tells me they’re solid. The amount of research gone into and experts employed who’ve come together to create these standards tells me these are strong standards,” Anderson said.

She said that by using Common Core standards in her classroom, her first-graders were able to do things she’d never imagined.

“I found out real quick that I was the one that was holding them back,” Anderson said. “The bottom line is the Common Core standards create thinkers and problem solvers and not people who can plug numbers into an equation and solve.”

For more resources and information, visit tncore.org or expectmoretn.org. Questions may also be sent to tncore.questions@tn.gov.

Petty said another workshop on Common Core would be offered again in February.

“We don’t just want our students to survive, we want them to thrive,” Petty said.

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