What is Common Core? Find out in this teaching demo

05/02/14 Crystal Farina
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Tags: Common Core, education, Pasco County

photo by Crystal Farina

Prepare to say good-bye to the FCAT and hello to Common Core Standards. It's a K-12 teaching and testing initiative that has been adopted by Florida and 44 other states, as well as the District of Columbia.

Dawn Beck is a first grade teacher at Dayspring Elementary charter school in Pasco County. She led her classroom through a common core math demonstration Thursday.

“Ok, which group has an answer? How many edges do you have. Marco? You have 12, you have to count all the edges, say good job Marco. “Good job, Marco!” Good job. Now we’re at the vertex. A vertex is like a corner. But do you see more than one? Yes. Yeah, there’s more than one. So when it’s more than one is what’s called vertices. Can you teach your table that more than one is called vertices?”

Common core’s supporters laud it as a more applicable approach for students. The teacher introduces the learning concepts, while students are called upon to identify the subject matter. So far, this is the same as the traditional standard.

”Let’s call a different table. Rockin’ Rubies! Do you have 8? Do you see 4 on top? Do you see 4 on bottom? What’s 4 plus 4 class? 8!”

But here’s where it differs:

“At this point with the old standard, we would stop here. They identified, they defined all the vertices, the faces and the edges: the attributes. But with the new standards we’re going to dive deeper and keep going. Now we’re going to involve critical thinking and collaboration.”

The children were instructed to push in their chairs, go to their stations and fulfill each role.

“You’re going to do this as groups. And we already determined each group has a team leader: raise your hand. Ok, you have your readers, your recorders and your reporters.”

“Make sure the recorder does not record answers until the team leader gets everyone’s opinion and you guys discuss it. Ok, and when you guys agree, the recorder will write it down. The reporter will share an answer when you come back as whole group.”

Faye Adams, former third grade teacher at Dayspring Academy, is confident in Common Core.

“It’s not a curriculum. It’s standards, it’s benchmarks that we want our students to know these skills by the end of each grade level. And we want that to happen across the country so that our students aren’t going to be falling behind in another state where they’re performing great in one state and then falling behind in another. So I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there. I think the commercials have really opened up a lot doors to be able to express the truth about what the Common Core is because again, a lot of misinformation is out there about them. And people need to be more informed to look at the website, ‘Learn more, go further.’ There’s a lot of frequently asked questions on there and it helps clear things up.”

Florida has used its old system of standardized testing, the FCAT, since 1998. And now some parents and teachers are concerned about what these new standards mean for their children. Susan Smith, a preschool teacher for seven years, thinks the program needs more work.

“I don’t think they’re developmentally appropriate for young children. I was a preschool teacher and from everything I’ve seen about the ones for the lower grades, they’re not appropriate for young children. For all children, you can’t take a standard and say a child is going to meet these benchmarks at a certain time.”

Many are also curious of what the new Language Arts standards will look like. The Foundation for Florida’s Future, chaired by former Governor Jeb Bush, is leading demonstrations on Common Core around the state, like the one at this elementary school. Lauren Chianese, their director of external affairs, speaks on the issue.

“I think that’s one of the big concerns, is that we’re not going to be reading novels anymore. We’re actually, we’ve almost done 100% narrative and novel based English Language Arts in our education system here in America, up until this point. Think about how much we have to read expository text and informational text and we’re not preparing our students to do that successfully in school. It’s actually going to be a 50/50 split. So students are still going to be reading The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby and those classic novels, and they’re still going to be talking about them and what it means. And that’s exactly what they’re going to do. What’s the motivation of the character in some of these great novels? Instead of just leaving it at that, and saying what the motivation is, they’re going to have to go and find evidence.”

But the critic of Common Core we heard from earlier, Susan Smith, is still dubious of the results it will produce.

“I think that they like the flexibility they’ve been given because they’ve been so tied to the FCAT testing the last few years that they’ve been teaching to that test.”

Smith thinks there’s a lot more room for improvement.

“I think it should be tested, I think there should be a means to go back and change it, if it’s not a standard that’s appropriate. And currently, the way it has been forced onto people, there’s no way to go back and look and change a standard. If a group of kindergarten teachers or first grade teachers say that a standard’s not appropriate, there’s absolutely no mechanism in place for going back and looking at the standard and changing it.”

In Florida, Common Core standardized testing will begin in the upcoming school year.

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