EDITOR’S NOTE: Will the planned implementation of federal Common Core learning standards improve student performance? That’s the subject of our Point/Counterpoint discussion, which follows on Pages 4 and 5. We asked this author to write a preface to the debate, discussing where implementation of English and math standards stands in Madison County. He breaks the topic down to its two basic categories.
The new Illinois Learning Standards for English/Language Arts (ELA) have raised the bar for all of us in education.
An honest review of the new ELA Standards indicates that expecting our students to think, write and speak more deeply are reasonable expectations. However, how do we get there from our present situation that over emphasizes content coverage and a skill/drill/kill mentality? This is the very question the Madison County Professional Development Steering Committee has been grappling with for the past two years.
The Professional Development Steering Committee, comprised of curriculum specialists from all 13 public school districts in Madison County, has organized a professional development plan to assist school districts in making the curricular and instructional “shifts” necessary to successfully implement the new ELA Standards. This plan utilizes “Shift Kits” to address the shifts or changes needed to move our instruction to a deeper, more thoughtful level as required by the new standards.
So, you might ask, what are these “shifts?” The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers identifies three major areas of focus in the ELA Standards. The Partnership then identifies shifts within each focus area in which our students need expertise to be successful in college and in a career.
The first major area of focus is engaging in complex text. Engaging in complex text requires students to contend with difficult texts and make sense of them. It also requires an understanding of academic vocabulary that is consistent across all disciplines.
The second major area of focus is extracting and employing evidence. This requires students to cite evidence, respond to questions with multiple answers, and then write using sources to substantiate their claims. The third major area of focus is building knowledge. This requires students to read and use informational text to compare, analyze and synthesize ideas.
The Madison County Professional Development Steering Committee then developed six “shift kits” containing resources to assist school districts in making the needed instructional shifts. Generally speaking, the resources included in each kit are:
- Student/Teacher/Administrator roles and responsibilities
- PowerPoint presentations for in-school presenters
- Books highlighting best practices
- Flipcharts and task cards for teachers
The next task for the Madison County Professional Development Steering Committee in this “Shift Kit” initiative was to construct a cohesive, ongoing model to deliver meaningful professional development. Our model used the “train the trainer” process to train teacher leaders from all 13 public school districts and three parochial schools in Madison County. These teacher leaders were trained during the 2013-2014 school year on how to implement all six instructional shifts, and on how to share their expertise with their colleagues. All six trainings will be repeated during the 2014-2015 school year to broaden the pool of teacher leaders within the school districts of Madison County.
Similarly, the Illinois Learning Standards in Mathematics have raised the educational achievement bar. As in English/Language Arts, the mathematics experts identified three key shifts necessary for the implementation of the new math standards. They are:
- Focus – This means a narrowing of the number of topics covered each year, but increasing the depth of teaching on the specific topics. In other words, shifting away from a curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep”, and moving towards one that focuses on true mastery and understanding.
- Coherence – This means thinking across grade levels and linking major topics within grades.
- Rigor – This does not necessarily mean harder or more difficult. Rather, it means pursuing conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency (know math facts), and be able to apply math to real world problems.
These three shifts can be made by focusing instruction on the following eight mathematical practices:
1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
3. Construct viable arguments and critique the arguments of others.
4. Model with mathematics.
5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
6. Attend to precision.
7. Look for and make use of structure.
8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
The Madison County Professional Development Steering Committee has developed a series of workshops and trainings for the 2014-2105 school year to help Madison County teachers of mathematics begin making the instructional shifts required by the new standards.
One workshop series for elementary teachers will focus on the teaching of fractions in grades 3, 4, and 5, which is a priority indicated by the new math standards. Other trainings will focus on using the Math Model Content Framework provided by the Illinois State Board of Education. This framework helps teachers indentify what is priority math content for a given year or subject. Other workshops will be developed as teachers ask for help with specific topics and strategies.
It is our hope and plan that these ELA and Math “Shift Initiatives” will build a network of teacher experts within all 13 districts in Madison County, which will lead to positive shifts in instructional practice, and increased student success in learning.
Marvin Warner is director of school improvement for the Madison County Regional Office of Education.