Common Core: A Work In Progress
With one year under their belts, Maryland teachers are still learning how to apply the more rigorous Common Core State Standards in their classrooms.
Last summer, all principals and some teachers from every school in the state were required to attend Common Core training sessions to learn how to apply the new standards in math and English Language Arts. This summer, more than 3,500 teachers signed up voluntarily for classes at various sites around the state.
Those sessions were broadened to include other subjects in a school’s curriculum. Science teachers, for example, may not teach reading or math, but their students will have to read and do math calculations.
Sarah Clark, a Baltimore County science teacher, was one of about 400 teachers who attended training sessions at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville. She said she understands that Common Core is supposed to extend across the entire curriculum “so it shouldn't matter what subject area you teach, you should be incorporating math concepts, English concepts in whatever you're teaching on a daily basis.”
“It will be interesting to see how long it takes teachers and students to get to the levels where we need to be,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a few years before we get to where the goal is.”
The teachers got a taste of Common Core learning in a math session in Rockville. They broke up into small groups, as their students would be, to solve complicated problems. Then, they had to explain and defend their answers. That’s a Common Core requirement teachers have to understand to fine tune classroom instruction.
“That's not what we did in the past,” said Cecilia Rowe, who heads teacher instruction for the state’s education department. “Once you had the correct answer, we'd move on. Once you'd memorized time tables, we moved on. It didn't matter if you knew what it meant.”
Rowe said the Common Core standards also require students to give written explanations for their answers and apply them to the real world. “They have to understand not only why a fraction is a fraction but what that means in real life, where it is on the number line, that real understanding rather than just memorizing formulas,” she said. “They have to know why formulas exist and what that means.”
In English Language Arts classes, that means dissecting more non-fiction reading assignments and less lecturing. In a reading/language arts session, facilitator Katie Kolacki showed teachers a short video clip of President Obama making a speech on education. She used it to explain how what he said could be used to delve deeper into a lesson.
“You could have students pose questions to each other, what questions they would want to ask him,” Kolacki said. “He discusses statistics, how could they discuss the reliability of the statistics, turn that into something that imbeds research and give their own findings.”
That’s an example, Rowe said, of the standards being evidence based. “In the past a teacher may have been satisfied with a student giving the main idea of a passage.” She said. “Now that student is going to have to demonstrate evidence as to why they believe that is the main idea. So it's the more depth of rigor, more independent thinking.”
State education officials hope this summer's sessions and future trainings will arm teachers with the skills they need to wade through year two of the Common Core.