Florida

Putting Education Reform To The Test

What A Florida Middle School Has Learned So Far Teaching Common Core Standards

This story is part of a series from The Hechinger Report and StateImpact Florida looking at how Florida schools are getting ready for Common Core standards. Read — and listen to — the first story here.

Monroe Middle School teacher Dawn Norris hears a difference in her language arts classes since she starting using Common Core standards two years ago. It’s how the 13-year teacher knows the new standards are working.

Middle schools across Florida will begin using the new math and language arts standards when classes start this fall. But most middle schools in the Tampa area, where Monroe is located, are already using Common Core.

Monroe Middle School teacher Dawn Norris talks to her students about how to write an essay about fairy tales. Norris has been teaching based on the Common Core standards for two years. Since making the switch, she says her students have taken more control of the lessons.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Monroe Middle School teacher Dawn Norris talks to her students about how to write an essay about fairy tales. Norris has been teaching based on the Common Core standards for two years. Since making the switch, she says her students have taken more control of the lessons.

Common Core has been fully adopted by 45 states. But the standards have been criticized for their quality, for reducing local control over classroom content and for continuing emphasis on student test results to determine whether teachers and schools are successful.

“What I’ve noticed in my classes now is they’re loud. And that’s OK,” Norris said. “Where in the old days it was, no, you want that silent classroom, but the more they talk, they’re all on task. They’re all working on that same common goal.”

Monroe has about 530 students right outside the gates of MacDill Air Force base. Four of five students at the C-rated school qualify for federal free and reduced-priced lunches. About 25 percent of students transfer into or out of the school during a typical year – higher than typical Hillsborough County schools.

Designers say Common Core’s structure should help low-income students, or those who move frequently – like those at Monroe.

Norris’ sixth grade students are studying fairy tales from around world. She broke them into four groups and asks them to write about how different cultures tell the same story.

Two girls talked about Chinye, a West African version of Cinderella in a corner of the room.

“What happened in the story again? I forgot. ‘Cause I know that the flamingo part…?” one student asked. “Didn’t she have those magical things? Those magical bean things?

“Beans?” her partner responded. “Are you talking about Jack and the Beanstalk?

“No the gorge – things.”

“The gourd?”

“Gourds!” the first student confirmed.

Two boys talked about essay structure across the room. One showed how to write about an idea based on what they’ve read.

Supporting ideas with evidence from a text is a central pillar of the Common Core language arts standards.

“And that’s your claim, which is your topic sentence,” he said, pointing to the essay. “This is your thesis, the central claim.”

Hillsborough County middle school teacher Christina Phillips has based her lesson on Common Core standards for two years.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Hillsborough County middle school teacher Christina Phillips has based her lesson on Common Core standards for two years.

Norris bounced from group to group. Her timing was good – often stepping in just as student classwork focus headed sideways.

Norris says giving students more control over their learning is a key component of Common Core. The standards outline what students should know at the end of each grade. But they also emphasize a package of teaching techniques – such as students working in small and large groups.

She plans the lessons. But it’s up to students to question, challenge and prod each other toward the goal written on the classroom whiteboard.

Norris said she had trouble giving up control at first. But her students quickly proved they could handle the assignments.

“I always say when the kids take over as teacher,” she said, “I know that they’re really learning and understanding it.”

You’re probably familiar with the three R’s – reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic.

Over in Christina Phillips’ sixth grade students learned about the three C’s – claim, claim evidence and commentary.

Phillips had her students read essays and identify whether the underlined text is making a statement, presenting evidence, or expressing a fact-based opinion.

A classroom chart explaining the differences between claims, claim evidence and commentary. Hillsborough County schools are teaching the Three Cs as the building blocks of student writing.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

A classroom chart explaining the differences between claims, claim evidence and commentary. Hillsborough County schools are teaching the Three Cs as the building blocks of student writing.

“OK, so let’s start with blue first. Okay?” Phillips asked. “The blue said ‘This pig made his house of bricks.’ Is that factual evidence from the text? Or is that my opinion?

“That’s evidence!” a student pops back.

“Textual evidence,” Phillps confirmed. “So, blue would represent?”

“Claim evidence,” the students said.

“Claim evidence. So circle it and tell me how you know,” she said, asking them to fill out their assignment.

Phillips said Common Core meant big changes in her lessons. It’s all designed to make sure kids are prepared for college-level or professional work by the time they graduate high school.

“Four years ago, there wouldn’t be any text in a writing assignment.” She said. “It would simply be a prompt. And we would probably have kids writing a lot more anecdotes. Now, they have to use the text.

“You know, it’s what’s expected at the higher level.”

Principal Kenneth Hart said a few teachers have struggled to turn over more control of lessons to students.

“That’s difficult for a lot of more mature teachers to be able to transition into that,” he said. “It’s safe for me to teach you. It’s safe for me to be the leader of the classroom.”

In implementing Common Core, Monroe Middle School has made it a priority that every student participates in lessons. The school has taken an idea inspired by game shows and is using devices that randomly select students to answer questions or read passages in some classrooms.

“It just goes bing, bing, bing, bing,” Hart said. “It pops on your name and you’re the one that gets called.”

Each day, Dawn Norris’ students fill out notecards about what they learned in class.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Each day, Dawn Norris’ students fill out notecards about what they learned in class.

With so many students who come and go during the school year, Hart also said that he likes that Common Core will provide consistency for school districts across the country.

“I think the bottom line is it levels the playing field,” Hart said. “It will not penalize the youngster who’s in a mobile population. It will not penalize the student who comes from a military base in Kansas.”

Phillips, Norris and Hart think Common Core is an improvement. The standards eliminate some topics – giving teachers more time to focus on what’s important.

The teachers say they know new Common Core tests will be harder. But the teachers think they and their students will be up for the challenge next school year.

Comments

  • John

    That’s interesting, because here is an article (http://onlineathens.com/opinion/2014-03-08/blackmon-common-core-just-symptom-real-problem-education) that talks about how Common Core is a symptom of a much larger problem, and if we’re not careful we will never control what we teach in schools anymore. For example, there is a question on a test that shows a simulation of ice caps melting and falling into the ocean. Then the question wants the kids to answer that this is due to Global Warming! So now, my child has to answer the question correctly for the test, and I have to explain the TRUTH that global warming is made up so politicians can advance their liberal agenda.

    • Tony

      John,
      What test has this question? Is it a PARCC assessment or a
      Smarter Balance Assessment? Is it a sample test question? What grade level? Is it a Science question? FYI – PARCC and Smarter Balance CCSS assessments won’t go online in their respective states until the Spring of 2015.
      Tony

    • dj

      The “truth” that global warming is made up?!?! Whose truth are you talking about?? Yours??Be careful that you are not sharing opinions as truth and stick to impartial teaching. The students have the right to examine fact and draw their own conclusions. Not be given our opinions as fact.

    • metista

      Control what we teach in school? Is that a euphemism for ensuring our students learn only what we want them to learn rather than learning enough to make solid decisions as adults running this country when we, their parents, are dead and gone?

  • CORE Cougars

    Ever heard of the Slow Evolutionary Fabian Technique? The teaching curriculums from 1929 to NOW are WE ALL being uses as lab rats?………….

    Recommended Reading: BOOK: The Whole Language / OBE Fraud
    by Samuel L. Blumenfeld.

    Has Floridians Ever Hear of the
    Alphabet Code?… When learning ANY Language FACT one must learn the alphabet
    code first except Chinese and their language is pictorial.

    Recommended Reading: Why Johnny Can’t Read by Dr. Rudolf
    Flesch (recognized by the DOE) – Is the FDOE teaching the centuries-old
    alphabetic phonics method in schools?…Proven and True Phonic?

    Samuel L Blumenfeld has a proven
    curriculum which excels children’s learning why is Florida trying to reinvent the wheel?
    http://corecougars.weebly.com/samuel-l-blumenfeld.html

    John Taylor Gatto has a proven
    curriculum/a way of teaching which excels children’s learning why is Florida trying to reinvent the wheel? http://corecougars.weebly.com/john-taylor-gatto.html

    VIDEO: Samuel Blumenfeld – Making Americans Illiterate Disc 3

    ___Samuel Blumenfeld FOUND ORIGIN
    of the Look Say Method a/k/a Whole Language a/k/a Site Words was Rev. Thomas
    Hopkins Gallaudet teaching children who were def to read without sounds using
    words with pictures. LISTEN FOR
    YOURSELF….(Start Video at 3:40 http://youtu.be/nfKJ-tfibwk)

    __CHILDREN WITH “NO”
    Learning Disability Using the Look Say Method a/k/a Whole Language a/k/a Site
    Words__

    ***Dr.
    Samuel Torrey Orton Neuropathologist
    at University of Iowa PROVED removing “The Alphabet Code System -
    Phonics” from the Educational Curriculum and Implementing the NEW
    Curriculum of Teaching Whole-Word, look-say, Site-Word method creates Dyslexia
    along with other Health Issues where American Children are Unjustly Diagnose.

    ***Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton Wrote an Article in
    the February 1929 Journal of Educational Psychology Titled, “The
    Site Reading Method of Teaching Reading as a Source of Reading Disability”
    “Faulty Teaching Methods May Not Only Prevent the Acquisition Academic
    Education by Children of Average Capacity but May Also Give Rise to Far
    Reaching Damage to Their Emotional Life”. Dr. Orton Warned of the
    Harmful Effects of This New Learning Method and Students Were Taught It
    Regardless.http://www.donpotter.net/pdf/orton-sight-reading-method.pdf

    Samuel Blumenfeld BOOK: The New Literates –and
    how you can keep your child from becoming one

    ___Book: School and
    Society by John Dewey (Mr. Dewey Started the New School Curriculum “Sight Reading Method” to
    Dumb Down Children.) (Mr. John D. Rockerfeller, Jr. was a Great Admirer of Mr.
    Dewey’s and Sent ALL 4 of His Boys in the Lincoln Experimental School Called
    for by Mr. Dewey Where the Results Where ALL 4 Boy Became Dyslexic! http://youtu.be/BD_Yds81n2w)

    ___1929 Professors
    Were Warned the New Teaching Methods Would Cause Reading Problems by Dr. Samuel
    T. Orton Neuropathologist at University of Iowahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Orton

    ___Exposing the Global
    Road to Ruin through Education http://corecougars.weebly.com/charlotte-thomson-iserbyt.html

  • CORE Cougars

    Ever heard of the Slow Evolutionary Fabian Technique? The teaching curriculums from 1929 to NOW are WE ALL being uses as lab rats?………….

    Recommended Reading: BOOK: The Whole Language / OBE Fraud

    by Samuel L. Blumenfeld.

    Has Floridians Ever Hear of the Alphabet Code?… When learning ANY Language FACT one must learn the alphabet code first except Chinese and their language is pictorial.

    Recommended Reading: Why Johnny Can’t Read by Dr. Rudolf Flesch (recognized by the DOE) – Is the FDOE teaching the centuries-old alphabetic phonics method in schools?…Proven and True Phonic?

    Samuel L Blumenfeld has a proven curriculum which excels children’s learning why is Florida trying to reinvent the wheel? http://corecougars.weebly.com/samuel-l-blumenfeld.html

    John Taylor Gatto has a proven curriculum/a way of teaching which excels children’s learning why is Florida trying to reinvent the wheel? http://corecougars.weebly.com/john-taylor-gatto.html

    VIDEO: Samuel Blumenfeld – Making Americans Illiterate Disc 3

    ___Samuel Blumenfeld FOUND ORIGIN of the Look Say Method a/k/a Whole Language a/k/a Site Words was Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet teaching children who were def to read without sounds using words with pictures. LISTEN FOR

    YOURSELF….(Start Video at 3:40 http://youtu.be/nfKJ-tfibwk)

    __CHILDREN WITH “NO” Learning Disability Using the Look Say Method a/k/a Whole Language a/k/a Site Words__

    ***Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton Neuropathologist at University of Iowa PROVED removing “The Alphabet Code System – Phonics” from the Educational Curriculum and Implementing the NEW Curriculum of Teaching Whole-Word, look-say, Site-Word method creates Dyslexia along with other Health Issues where American Children are Unjustly Diagnose.

    ***Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton Wrote an Article in the February 1929 Journal of Educational Psychology Titled, “The Site Reading Method of Teaching Reading as a Source of Reading Disability” “Faulty Teaching Methods May Not Only Prevent the Acquisition Academic Education by Children of Average Capacity but May Also Give Rise to Far Reaching Damage to Their Emotional Life”. Dr. Orton Warned of the Harmful Effects of This New Learning Method and Students Were Taught It

    Regardless.http://www.donpotter.net/pdf/orton-sight-reading-method.pdf

    Samuel Blumenfeld BOOK: The New Literates –and how you can keep your child from becoming one

    ___Book: School and Society by John Dewey (Mr. Dewey Started the New School Curriculum “Sight Reading Method” to Dumb Down Children.) (Mr. John D. Rockerfeller, Jr. was a Great Admirer of Mr. Dewey’s and Sent ALL 4 of His Boys in the Lincoln Experimental School Called for by Mr. Dewey Where the Results Where ALL 4 Boy Became Dyslexic! http://youtu.be/BD_Yds81n2w)

    ___1929 Professors Were Warned the New Teaching Methods Would Cause Reading Problems by Dr. Samuel T. Orton Neuropathologist at University of Iowahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Orton

    ___Exposing the Global Road to Ruin through Education http://corecougars.weebly.com/charlotte-thomson-iserbyt.html

  • Carl rogers

    Is this satire? It is pure insanity and an insult to American intelligence, human intelligence. Its abusive and will end very badly.

  • Skinnerbox

    ” the standards eliminate some topics” yes like facts and truth. Treating children like inmates at an asylum making little posters and cutting paper and group encounter therapy groups. Hey the kids even wear pajamas… Acting out skits in math class.
    Teachers are ” practicioners”. No joke.

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