Common Core curriculum calls for new approach

Updated standards stress critical thinking

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comJune 4, 2013 

— In the past, students didn't have to think. They could just check a box on a test. Now they will have to show how they know what they learned and will get credit for demonstrating their thinking skills.

That's a key element of the new Common Core instructional practices all school districts must implement in the 2014-2015 school year, according to Kathy Pon, assistant superintendent for instructional services with the Merced County Office of Education.

"We see Common Core as an opportunity to elevate the skills of students," Pon said. "We will be opening up classrooms for innovative thinking and problem-solving."

The county schools office has been holding periodic training sessions with prominent speakers on Common Core and are meeting regularly with curriculum experts at local school districts, Pon said. Some of the smaller districts don't have the funds for their own staff development and rely on MCOE services.

Robin Hopper, assistant superintendent in the Livingston Union School District, said teachers' roles are changing.

"Teachers no longer are the sole keepers of knowledge to impart to their students," Hopper said. "Children today can find information on any subject within seconds via the Internet. A teacher's job now is to teach students how to find primary sources, critically analyze the vast amounts of information out there and then apply their new learning to useful, real-world problems."

Tammie Calzadillas, executive director of educational services with the Merced Union High School District, said her district has 24 early adopters of Common Core.

These teachers are leading fellow instructors in learning Common Core principles.

"A lot of districts aren't planning to do anything until the year of implementation," Calzadillas said. "We want to prepare kids to be college and career-ready.

"Our role in the district office is trying to get ahead of Common Core implementation," she said. "(Teachers) hold the keys to the kingdom. My job is to be the facilitator of the process."

Pon said that with Common Core, teachers are taking a step up by encouraging higher-level thinking. Educators will be making sure Common Core prepares students of all grades for more rigorous work.

Thinking critically, having more creativity, communicating clearly and collaborating with diverse groups of people are stressed, according to Pon.

One Common Core goal is to get students to read at higher and more complex levels, being able to master college texts and technical documents, Pon said.

Argumentative writing is stressed. Students learn to take a position based on facts and evidence.

Hopper said educators know they must view 21st century education standards differently and shift instruction from a teacher-centered to student-centered approaches through inquiry, project-based learning and effective use of technology.

"The Common Core requires students to have good foundational skills but also the ability to readily apply those skills through extensive opportunities to think and write critically, problem-solve, analyze and defend their arguments for and against an issue," she said.

Hopper said schools must do a better job of empowering students to utilize their skills to be successful in a world in which their future jobs and careers haven't even been invented yet.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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