In states across the country, teachers and school leaders are working to implement the new Common Core State Standards in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. When implemented well, the standards can empower and guide educators to work much more deeply with students and help improve their critical-thinking and real-world problem-solving skills while mastering core content. We set out to look for examples of teachers who have made the transition and can help show the way. The following videos show how five teachers with a proven track record, several of whom are America Achieves fellows, are putting the new standards into practice in their classrooms and how enthusiastically their students are responding.
Monica Sims: Reading to inform Chicago teacher Monica Sims uses written material to help her 5th graders use their critical-thinking and communications skills. In the video, her students draw inferences from a text about Harriet Tubman, while explaining and defending their reasoning. Monica reminds the kids to use evidence from the written material in making persuasive arguments, which resembles the kind of work young people will have to do in college and in many jobs.
Devon Conley: Shapes and me When the Common Core is taught well, it helps students boost their communication skills, a top priority for college and business leaders. Kindergarten teacher Devon Conley demonstrates that it is never too early to get started as she introduces a lesson on shapes to her students in San Jose, CA. Rather than just having her kids cut out and name circles and squares, Devon encourages the children to discuss the properties of each shape. She also asks them to explain their reasoning in these conversations. Devon says teaching is much more rewarding now that she can go into more depth with her students rather than race across a lot of the material so that everything is “covered.”
Dwight Davis: Words with friends Across the country, Dwight Davis teaches 5th graders in Washington, DC. In the video, Dwight introduces his students to a Martin Luther King Jr. speech and asks them to analyze and draw observations from the text. It is the kind of complex, non-fiction written material the Common Core requires students to master. The material is challenging for many of his students, and Dwight says that is okay and demonstrates how he helps all learners master the material. “We have to give that child the opportunity to wrestle because when we don’t, we’re basically damning him to low expectations.”
Laura Kretschmar: For the love of math This Oakland, CA, educator teaches her 5th and 6th graders the meaning of division by fractions. But she also lets them make their own discoveries by working with partners to solve a problem. Laura says the new standards have empowered her to focus on helping students master thinking and self-directed learning, as well as skill building. As a result, she says teaching and learning math has become much more engaging.
Steven McKinney: Keeping it real It’s easy to see that 9th graders in Steven McKinney’s math class in Memphis, TN, are similarly engaged in their work when you observe his classroom. Steven makes the Pythagorean Theorem come to life and helps teens discover real-world applications for the concepts they are learning. He also asks his students for feedback – a smart and commonsense practice that too often gets overlooked. As you can see, young people have a lot to say about the lessons before them.
Different grades, different subjects, different schools, but one common denominator: Educators who, by rolling up their sleeves and embracing the Common Core, are helping their students achieve deeper learning and making this transition beneficial for students and teachers alike.
Standards alone will not ensure our students succeed. But with the kind of teaching and learning on display in these classrooms, our students can make dramatic progress.