As states rush to implement the Common Core State Standards, teachers make valiant efforts to educate themselves; this means attending intensive professional development workshops this summer for many education professionals.
One state with a clear focus on the Common Core Alignment slated for the 2013-2014 school year is Arizona. Two of their districts launched herculean efforts to educate teachers and distill details of the states’ Common Core Standards. An intensive 8-day development workshop served to dissect the requirements and better prepare teachers for he change.
Teachers from the Deer Valley and Peoria school districts are preparing for implementation of Arizona’s Common Core State Standards, a set of more rigorous academic standards, next school year.
The Peoria Unified School District recruited teachers from each of its 39 elementary and high schools to participate in an eight-day workshop that began last week. Teachers in the Deer Valley Unified School District began meeting about the curriculum in May.
Arizona’s Common Core standards
The goal is to train teachers on how to distill the new state standards into a curriculum that will ultimately help teachers create effective lesson plans.
“Our curriculum document should be a living document,” said Gayle Galligan, Deer Valley’s head of curriculum. “We continually revise that based on input from our teachers.”
Although both districts revise their curriculum every year, this summer marks a final effort to make changes before all teachers are required to teach to the new standards. Kindergarten through third-grade teachers have already begun the process. The state required schools to implement Common Core in the early grades last year.
Common Core has teachers rushing to prepare
Arizona adopted Common Core in 2010, which prompted districts to begin making changes. The standards are considered a radical shift in teaching that focus more on critical thinking and conceptual understanding than rote memorization.
The biggest changes are expected to be in high-school math and language arts. In some grades, content will be taught a year earlier.
On a recent Wednesday morning, four Peoria kindergarten teachers appeared deep in thought as they read over the geometry standards for their grade.
“Describe objects in the environment using names of shapes, and describe the relative positions of these objects using terms …” read Gina Musselman, who teaches at Paseo Verde Elementary in Peoria.
The group, in a room with about 35 other teachers working on math curriculum, needed to determine the difficulty level of each standard on a scale of 1 to 4.
Level 1 is the most basic of skills, and requires only recalling the concept being learned. In this case, being able to name rectangles and circles. Level 2 goes a bit further, and asks students to relate or compare the shapes.
After careful discussion, the group settles on level 2. Relating shapes to a child’s surroundings requires higher-level thinking, Musselman said.
The number, as well as the teaching strategies and advice they later added, will provide guidance to teachers on what they should expect from their students, something that isn’t always easily understood from reading just the standards.
“We know what teachers are thinking and what is going to be of most use to them,” Musselman said. The group also worked on revising learning objectives and criteria for judging a student’s mastery of a skill.
Any changes to the curriculum must first be approved by an instructional coach. Once reviewed, teachers input the changes into Peoria’s internal online system for instant access.
But even with these recommendations, teachers have the flexibility to determine how a skill is taught.
Curriculum is “like a house,” Peoria’s instructional coach Kristen Henninger said. “It’s the basic framing, and then the teacher gets to take it and create it into a lesson plan for their own students.”
Henninger previously worked with the Arizona Department of Education to develop AIMS test problems and was trained by the state to help implement Common Core.
A similar revision process occurs in Deer Valley. Teachers met with curriculum specialists in May to set the agenda for the summer. In late May and in June, more teachers got involved to discuss the actual revisions.
Deer Valley expects to spend more than $150,000 in teacher pay for work on curriculum. Peoria is spending more than $100,000 paid out of Title 1 and 2 funds.
The money and time is worth it, said Connie Witte, Peoria’s administrator for curriculum and instruction, because it encourages buy-in from those who will actually be using the curriculum: teachers. Peoria rotates a portion of the teachers involved in the discussion every year to increase exposure to Common Core.
“If our teachers build it, they understand it. They’re more committed to it. We’re going to see better results,” Witte said.
Many who get involved become leaders in Common Core at their respective campuses.
Melissa Malmos, a math teacher at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, said the process has helped her better understand how to incorporate the new concepts in the classroom before full implementation.
“As with anything new, knowledge comes with experience. The patience in working with the new Common Core standards is going to be essential for teachers,” Malmos said.