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By Ashley Ludwig
Temecula Valley Unified School District principal on special assignment, Joe Balleweg and Andree Grey, Director of Curriculum Instruction of Temecula Valley Unified School District (TVUSD) greeted a crowd of about 50 teachers, parents, and students for an informal demonstration of the upcoming Common Core standards, due to reach classrooms in the 2013-14 school year.
Temecula Valley Unified School District (File: Ashley Ludwig/SWRNN)
“We are building awareness for parents on how this paradigm shift affects our kids in the classroom, and even more, wanting to show everyone what it looks like,” Grey said.
To demonstrate, a group of 15 Great Oak High School Language Arts students from the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program, and their teacher Melissa Casady displayed a “Socratic” discussion in action.
“The IB program at Great Oak High School greatly resembles what the Common Core standards hope to achieve and is the reason for this demonstration,” said Balleweg.
A ring of chairs and Great Oak students set the main stage, and all present were given the two-page excerpt from “The Life of Pi,” by Yann Martel.
Following a brief explanation of the Common Core standards by Balleweg and Grey, the students started a conversation that left the audience applauding.
In an orderly discussion, the students strove to answer a question posited by their teacher — using their understanding of literature themes, symbolism and author motivation and asking questions of each other to glean further information.
According Casady, this round-table is “a typical classroom experience for these kids.”
According to the National Governors Association, currently 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia are participating in the Common Core for K-12, state standards in English, language arts, and mathematics.
The nationwide Common Core Standards have led to some confusion among parents and citizens, but Grey and Balleweg answered questions and cited examples of success during pilot sessions of Common Core standards in action at varying grade levels.
“While we are used to the three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic), now we are teaching the four C’s — communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. Layered on top of that are the skills that each student will need to access that content, and use it to come to conclusions, using facts,” said Balleweg,
“This is a changing world and we need to change to prepare our kids for a 21st century world,” said Grey. “We do that through problem-solving, critical thinking and learning to work with others.”
Balleweg explained that the benchmark goals for social studies are the same, science may be changing, and literature will focus on broader content, giving the students more time with reading the actual texts.
“We know that teachers gently guide students to answers. We are now teaching strategic thinking, guiding our students, of course, but gradually releasing our kids to evaluate their own sources for credibility. From K-5 they will learn basic tools that will support students in higher grades as they delve into more complex learning,” he said.
The Socratic Seminars which will be introduced in fall of 2013 are just one strategy of implementing the Common Core in the classroom.
“This also creates blocks of time where they can work in smaller groups and help each other and the teachers can take advantage of Intervention periods, to help those who might not have the proper building blocks in place to gain a better understanding of how to learn,” said Casady.
One audience member suggested that her child might fall behind in such a round-table setting or that another student might be afraid to speak in an oral discussion.
“The students have always been graded on their listening and speaking standards. These kids didn’t start their careers speaking this way. All of our TVUSD students will learn the tools they need to participate in this way,” said Balleweg. “We are teaching them to look at the world through different lenses.”
Another question arose about whether all teachers will be able to engage children as Casady has.
“This is why cohort groups, late start Mondays and modified days are so important. Teachers will be learning from each other as we go into these new strategies,” Grey said. “The fact that it is a national program means that there is a huge knowledge base for our teachers to use to gain other strategies for helping our kids learn to learn. Students won’t be just bubbling answers in anymore.”
Regarding the question of testing, true high stakes testing will not begin in TVUSD until the 2014/15 school year, according to Grey.
“More questions on testing can be answered on our website,” Grey said. “We are confident that our kids will graduate with the tools they’ll need to succeed both in the work place and in college.”
For more information on the Common Core standards, click here.