What is common core? New standards emphasize doing, not memorizing
By Peter Dugré
You’ll notice that the standards introduced by the new Common Core curriculum all begin with verbs. A standard for third-graders, which conveys an expectation for what the young students should be capable of, states, “Report on a topic or text. Tell a story or recount an experience with appropriate facts and details.” Action words, “Report” and “Tell,” are meant to spur students to learn through doing, not through multiple choice testing. The new emphasis on activity and student engagement is a reaction to the recent regime of standardized testing that had influenced schools to teach to the test.
According to Summerland School third-grade teacher Amanda Furden, teachers will now be facilitators, guiding students as they “grapple with concepts on their own.” Furden, the third-grade chairperson for Carpinteria Unified School District said, “This is why we become teachers, to get in the classroom and teach our students to be creative thinkers like we are.”
In Furden’s classroom, a combination second/third grade class at Summerland School, a school day will flow much differently than it had prior to Common Core. In the past, the elementary school teacher would chunk the day into different subjects. “Instead of saying, ‘okay, now close your writing books and open your science books,’ it’ll be more fluid,” Furden said.
Whether the subject is science or social studies or language arts, student activities and lessons will invariably include writing. The standard, “Report on a topic or text,” can be taught across subjects. The individual writing or reading book need not apply.
In middle school language arts, according to Carpinteria Middle School teacher Robin McCulley, Common Core will make reading less about memorizing plot and characters and more about exposure to a range of texts and comprehending them in a meaningful way.
“We want our students to be able to read any level of reading, to be able to gain a deep understanding from it and then use that understanding to create a thoughtful-yet-focused response to any prompt,” McCulley stated. A standard for middle schoolers will be, “Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.”
McCulley stated, “We really want to get our students to be able to think, read and write well. This is, of course, nothing new, but these new Common Core Standards will allow us to focus on these tasks across the curriculum. That will be our focus for this year.”
Furden said teaching strategies across subjects will emphasize discussion and hands-on activities. Teachers will do less talking at students. The students will be encouraged to engage in academic discourse to share ideas and be independent thinkers, “for the next big step,” she said, meaning college or a career after their K through 12 experience.
In the math classroom, a third-grade standard is “Generate measurement data using rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch.” Another directive geared toward activities and application of skills.
Across subjects, Common Core is designed to force students to be masters of the material taught in classrooms through usage. The pendulum swing in educational paradigms diminishes the importance of memorization while increasing the importance of critical thinking, which educators believe will better prepare students for whatever their futures will bring.