How Common Core Is Changing Classrooms Across San Diego
Christy McAloney’s sophomore geometry students at Monte Vista High School were sitting at small groups of desks, turned in to face each other one recent Thursday morning. They won’t be listening to a lecture today.
CAVANAUGH: We've spoken quite a bit on Midday Edition about the new educational common core curriculum. It's a new approach to teaching that emphasizes critical thinking, discussion, and problem-solving skills in the classroom. The Chula Vista elementary school district is already using Common Core, and we decided to check in to see how the new curriculum is being received. Tom Fudge recently spoke with Nancy Rojas, a 3rd grade teacher at Chula Vista elementary. She's teaching the new standards and training other teachers in Common Core. FUDGE: Nancy, your school district is trying to implement the new Common Core standards. How's it going? ROJAS: It's going wonderfully. Our transition actually began last year. And this year, we are continuing on that path. All of our teachers are attending academies, and in those academies, teachers are grouped in trade levels. And they are receiving instruction in all of the areas that affect Common Core. So throughout this year, they will have three academies, and we just had our first round. And right now, we are working on the literacy part, looking at the text complexity and higher order thinking skills, and the technology piece as well. So our teachers are excited about that. FUDGE: And you're one of the teachers at the academy. ROJAS: I am. I'm one ofs teachers and I'm working with the ELD component as well. FUDGE: Okay. How are the common core goals changing what students are doing in the classroom? ROJAS: Well, students are -- if you think of the traditional setting where teachers are standing in front of the room and students are open with their books and worksheets, and they are -- the teacher is delivering the lesson, now if you walk into a classroom, it looks very different. Students are engaged in groups, they are discussing texts, they're using higher order thinking skills. They are negotiating, and they are always building from the text. They're having deeper conversations. And you see a lot of that discussion. And the teacher is there to facilitate and support students. So the teacher has done that planning in the past to support their learning. FUDGE: So it sounds like with common core curriculum, there's more emphasis put on expressing yourself and discussing? ROJAS: Yes, language is central to common core. Students are speaking throughout the entire day in all subject areas, and writing is another component as well. So speaking and writing you will see across the entire curriculum, even math which we traditionally don't think of, writing and math. FUDGE: How might a 3rd great lesson about multiplication look different under the new guidelines? ROJAS: Well, when we think of multiplication, a lot of times we think of fact and recall. And now it's more about that cognitive understanding of multiplication. So you may see breaking down factors. 6 times 7 is 42, a student can show that in different ways. They may show it in a number line, they may break down the factors. And then also explain in writing their understanding of that. Also technology may be brought in as well, using iPad, and students will explain that, and bring in technology. FUDGE: How would a student describe how they came to the conclusion that 6 times 7 equals 42? ROJAS: Well, they would look at the groupings, and they would separate group, and also show it on a number line and explain how the number line works. FUDGE: You talked about this a little bit, but expand on that. ROJAS: For instance with reading, students are engaged, and there is a practice called close reading where reading has gone beyond the comprehension piece with central ideas where students are just answering a question. We're finding the answer to a comprehension question. Students now are thinking at a higher, deeper level. So they're revisiting the text with a different purpose. They may revisit to look at text structure, or the craft that the writer and the author used. And they're having discussions around the text. So they're constantly going back and having deep discussions with text. FUDGE: Are kids expected to read more as a result of this new curriculum? ROJAS: Absolutely, yes. Students are reading, but like we said, are it's that bumped up level of complexity and rigor. FUDGE: We talked about math. Let's talk about it a little further. What might students do for homework instead of, let's say, a math worksheet with 12 similar problems? ROJAS: Well, for homework, parents may not see -- they won't see that worksheet. They will see again students showing a concept in many different ways and writing, explaining their rationale for solving a problem. And it may also include edmoto, that technology community. It's an educational blog, where students are posing a question, and a teacher may respond. So once they have gone home, they're still engaging in [that|na|?|] discussion. FUDGE: Now, what about teachers? You're training teachers. What specific skills are teachering going to have to develop in order to do common core? ROJAS: One of the shifts is that teachers are -- ourtivities are not teacher-led anymore. So we take on more of that role of a facilitator. So in our academies when we come in and get that professional development piece, we are learning to implement those lessons. And we are students in those lessons, and we're practicing what our students will practice. So we in turn turn around, go back to our sites, collaborate, and we develop those lessons. And we support our students. FUDGE: Now, I assume that standardized testing in California eventually will reflect these new students. Can you talk about that a little bit? ROJAS: Well, we have a break from standardized testing this year. And that is a great opportunity for us to focus on this transition and really understand common core and continue with that development and that learning process. And support one another in that task. FUDGE: But it sounds like the tests maybe have not been devised yet. Can you talk about that? Have you yet to see the test? ROJAS: Well, there is a website, Smarter Balance, and we are able to see the test, and we know that the test has been piloted, including in our district. So again, that preparation with the technology component for our students as well. FUDGE: In the end, the whole point of this is to try to prepare students better for college and better for the workplace. Can you talk about that a bit? What makes you think that that -- this is going to achieve that goal? ROJAS: Well, we know that when students are entering college, they are entering with remedial skills. And our students need all of the skills that we're developing in common core to compete in the global economy. They need to be able to communicate, they need to be able to communicate well and write well. And we also need that creativity piece. So we are working very hard toward that, and we do believe that that's one of the things that will make a difference for the fighter of our students. FUDGE: What kind of reaction are you getting from teachers in Chula Vista? Are they finding this difficult or are they getting it down? ROJAS: Well, are as I mentioned earlier, we are attending these academies, and in the academies, teachers come together. And we're having the opportunity to collaborate, and not just collaborate with our team members but with teachers from other sites and then go back to our own sites and turn that around and implement those lessons with our students. And it's exciting to see how students are engaged, how they're taking ownership of their own learning. And they are speaking in ways that we haven't seen before. And it's exciting to see that growth in our students. Yes, there is a challenge and a struggle, are but it's great that we know that we have the skills to support our students along the way. FUDGE: Nancy Rojas is taking a break from the classroom to train others in the new standards of common core curriculum. Nancy, thank you very much. ROJAS: Thank you so much for having me.
“We talked about linear pairs, we talked about complementary and we talked about supplementary," McAloney said, reminding them about the previous day's lesson. "So your job in your team right now is to have a discussion.”
Discussing what they’re learning with classmates is one thing students in the Grossmont Union High School District and across California will be doing a lot more. Explaining conclusions and reasoning their way to answers are just a couple of skills at the heart of new state math and English standards called the Common Core. California is one of 45 states and Washington, D.C., that have adopted the voluntary, national standards. While California has been gearing up for the standards change since 2010, this is the first year those changes are hitting most of the state's classrooms.
From now on, it won’t be enough to memorize and repeat facts.
“You do not only have content standards, you also have mathematical practices," Mc Aloney said. "So you have to teach students how to reason, to critique the thinking of others. They have to problem solve and persevere through difficult tasks they aren’t used to doing.”
McAloney is part of the district’s team of teachers designing new lessons that meet the Common Core’s requirements. But she and Monte Vista High School Principal Randy Montesanto agree the switch is going to be a challenge for students and teachers.
“They’ve got to do the work to figure it out to a certain extent and teachers want to give kids the answers when they struggle because they want to have the kids learn," Montesanto said. "Well, if the kid’s struggling and it’s taking him awhile to get to the answer, that’s where that collaboration comes in with the kids having those valuable conversations.”
Back in McAloney’s classroom the conversations were about different kinds of angles. She wasn’t telling students which questions they had answered correctly or incorrectly, but she was redirecting conversations.
For 15 year old Angel Maurin, talking problems over with his classmates is an improvement over his previous attempt at geometry.
“It was more independent. This is a little better, honestly," he said. "It just helps you understand, like knowing, like seeing everything from other peoples’ point of view. I just think it helps really.”
Talking with classmates leads right into another big focus of the new standards: writing.
On McAloney's students' worksheets the last question is a writing prompt. They have to write out everything they know about a set of angles.
Under the guidelines set by the Common Core, students will have to write not only in English courses, but in math, science and other classes. They'll be asked to explain what they understand and how they arrived at their answers.
“It’s something I haven’t had to do before," said Jeahna Kertzman, who is also 15. She said math has never been her favorite subject, but she doesn't mind the added writing this year. "It’s cool, I like it because it helps me understand it.”
Kertzman and her classmates weren’t immediately enthusiastic about giving up the old approach of listening to lectures and completing worksheets silently, on their own.
“In the beginning they were very reluctant, they would just sit there and say ‘I can’t do this,’" McAloney said. "And now, when I give them a task they start on it and they try and they have discussions and they work together. And they know I’m not going to give them the answers, so they have to talk to each other.”
Being comfortable with tackling problems they don’t totally understand at first glace will translate into more real-world preparedness if the Common Core lives up to its promises, according to Principal Randy Montesanto.
“We need to get our kids to a point that when they’re leaving high school, going into college, they're ready to create new, innovative programs, ideas, thoughts, whatever it might be," he said. "And I think to keep our country competitive from a global perspective, we need to be the innovative country. Well, it’s tough to do that when your kids aren’t thinking creatively.”
But Montesanto thinks it would be overly optimistic to expect high school grads to have radically different skills three or four years from now. He expects to see more of a difference in students who are just starting school now – because the only kind of education they’ll know will focus on thinking creatively, making predictions based on evidence and collaborating with their classmates.
Students are just getting their first taste of Common Core in the classroom. They can count on more changes to come.