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Milford Beacon
  • BACK TO SCHOOL: Breaking down the Common Core

  • Despite any opposition, Common Core appears here to stay. Common Core was implemented throughout the state last year as a way to bridge the gap between varying state standards and challenge students to become more involved learners. Travis Moorman, Milford School District’s director of teaching and learning, recently discussed the ins and outs of the new standards with the Milford Beacon...
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  • Despite any opposition, Common Core appears here to stay. As students fill their backpacks and settle into their new classrooms next week, they’ll be facing the challenge of taking charge of their learning. Common Core was implemented throughout the state last year as a way to bridge the gap between varying state standards and challenge students to become more involved learners. School days filled with lectures and multiple choice handouts are a thing of the past. The new standards are intended to better prepare students for the practical application of knowledge, with the goal of creating better college students and more skilled workers. Travis Moorman, Milford School District’s director of teaching and learning, recently discussed the ins and outs of the new standards with the Milford Beacon:
     
    WHAT IS IT?
    “Common Core is a set of nationally bench-marked – really globally bench-marked – standards,” Moorman said.
    Before the finalization and release of the Common Core in 2010, each state was left to create its own expectations and standards. But the trouble came when a student would cross state lines and attend a new school in a new state. Performance levels couldn’t be properly measured because of the difference in standards, he explained.
    “The purpose is to provide a common language for all educators that helps align what kids should know and be able to accomplish when they leave high school,” Moorman said. Common Core was state-mandated last year, and Delaware districts are working to fulfill the requirement of 100-percent alignment to the new standards this year.
    In addition to set standards and benchmarks – something that Delaware has worked with in previous years under different names like “performance indicators” and “grade-level expectations” – there is also an explicit way of designing instruction to engage students. Common Core encourages more student involvement, with the goal of 80 percent of classroom time dedicated to student discussion, questions and problem solving with 20 percent of the time taken up by teacher explanations.
    “It’s restructuring the way classrooms are run when you traditionally think of school,” Moorman said.
     
    HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM PREVIOUS STANDARDS?
    Common Core focuses on English language arts (ELA) and math studies primarily, but in doing so, creates the opportunity to learn these core skills throughout every class. The new standard focuses on encouraging students to learn by explaining their conclusions instead of regurgitating memorized information.
    “The state standards used to be varied and wide,” explained Phyllis Kohel, district superintendent. “Common Core standards are much more focused and much more compact.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Common Core steps away from reading to learn and encourages students to apply knowledge to ask questions and apply knowledge in a practical way.
    “Traditionally, a history class would be heavy in lecture with a traditional text book,” Moorman explained. “You’d open to a chapter to learn a little bit about that area of history. A Common Core classroom will not be nearly as reliant on a text book. It’s asking teachers to identify primary sources of material, like the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address, and kids actually spend more time reading primary-source material. With guidance from the teacher, they’re asking questions about what President Lincoln is talking about in his inferences. Instead of just reading to learn, they’re using what they learn as they read.”
    Traditionally, Moorman said, discussing inferences, drawing conclusions and comparing text would only be addressed by ELA teachers. But the Common Core encourages literacy lessons within all disciplines, including science and social studies.
    “If it’s done correctly, it really helps with traditional issues we’ve always had in education: achievement gaps and really reaching out to those underserved populations,” Moorman said. “It levels that playing field for all kids when they come to us.”
     
    WHAT DO PARENTS NEED TO KNOW?
    Moorman said parents need to understand that Common Core is not a program and that Delaware almost has always been a standards-based state.
    “They myth is that Common Core is a program,” he said. “Common Core is not indicating what kind of problems we’re doing, it’s the expectations, it’s the benchmark. There’s a lot of parent-friendly resources out there that puts Common Core into layman’s terms. If they have any questions, reach out to their teacher. They will tell you that Common Core is the right thing, it’s not that much of a shift as far as what the kids are expected to do. It gives the resources to create more fluent problem-solvers and critical thinkers in the classroom.”
    Moorman said Common Core is an effort to encourage students to become more independent in their learning, which sometimes includes struggling with a problem or concept.
    “It’s what we call creating grit,” he said. “It’s about getting students to understand you cannot give up – it’s just the effort that counts. Sometimes, for high school students, that gives the biggest issue, but if the kids know their teachers care about them and that’s what this is all about, the kids will buy into it, they really will.”
    Page 3 of 3 - In addition to students taking control of their learning process, equal responsibility lies with teachers, who are tasked with finding the right resources to provide instruction that encourages students to understand how to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world experiences.
    “Parents have to realize that it’s not just a matter of being able to solve x+1=5,” Kohel said. “Now you have to be able to actually discuss how you came to that and be able to apply it to something in your own world. It’s not enough anymore to be able to say x+1=5, x=4. It’s about being able to think mathematically and being able to translate that process into a real world situation. … If the Common Core does what everybody is saying it’ll do, then we’ll be able to graduate students that are much more analytically minded.”

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