Working Together for a Common Focus on the Common Core

After spending 2 more grueling days in Albany as a member of the Greece Network Team one thing is very clear… ELA teachers and social studies teachers must work hand in hand if we are to truly create a rich reading and writing curriculum here at Greece CSD. With the Common

Core’s Learning Standards focus on the use of historical documents both supplemental and central to the Standards the expertise of both the ELA and social studies teachers must be combined to help student to “read like detectives and write like investigative reporters.”

For two days earlier this week, Diane Boni, Stephanie Smyka, Eric Blask and I were introduced to what seemed like 10 days of material on ELA Common Core shifts 1 & 2, 4 and 6. The math folks also got their fill of some of the new information coming from the state.

In this session the ELA folks were treated to some amazing ideas of how to roll out the common core in the classroom including video of teachers delving into complex texts with students and engaging them in text based questions that were worth asking. To hear these students confidently answer the questions while citing textual evidence for their response was an inspiring moment for many at the Institute.

The presenters also offered up great ideas on how to drill down into the text to help struggling students who may not understand the “message” by digging down through these 5 layers of the text:

1. The text (as a whole)

2. A passage

3. A sentence

4. A phrase

5. A word

Studies have shown that when a student cannot comprehend a complex text, it is most often because they are having trouble with a sentence, phrase or word. The teacher can find the student’s point of confusion by checking for understanding at each of these layers. Once the point of confusion is identified a teacher can address the issue, and spiral back up through the layers to ensure a student’s understanding of the entire text.

Supplemental historical text supporting larger works was also a major topic at the institute. Imagine the power of reading The Crucible (Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem Witch Trials) in an ELA class, followed by a close read in a social studies class of the “Enemies from Within” speech by Senator McCarthy, as he accuses key members of our government of being communist. These two texts support each other by providing a “mental velcro” to finally help students make interdisciplinary connections stick.  Furthermore, delving into multiple supplemental historical texts on this subject with increasing complexity, will allow students’ to be more exposed to those crucial tier 2 and 3 vocabulary words.

The trip was long and the work was tiring but somehow every time we come back home we have even more energy and excitement to put toward the important work ahead to make all of our students college and career ready.

For more information on what Greece Central School District is doing click on our new section of our website below.

4th & 5th Grade Curriculum Realignment and Assessment Committee Agrees on Changes

Yesterday, the 4th and 5th Grade Curriculum Realignment and Assessment Committee met to discuss the effectiveness of the district wide 5th grade social studies exam as well as the curriculum taught in both grade levels.

All agreed that the assessment which was designed to emulate the past NY State exams did not provide the feedback required to inform instruction in an effective way. Therefore we have decided to put on hold the implementation of the 5th grade social studies exam this year.

We also analyzed the social studies curriculum maps for 4th and 5th grade and noticed that 5th grade had several more weeks of social studies instruction. We also were able to determine that Unit 1 (US Gov. Federal, State and Local), Unit 2 (Erie Canal and Industrial Revolution), and Unit 3 (European Immigration) were out of sync with the NYS Social Studies Core Curriculum Map for elementary grades. The Committee discussed the past need for these units in 5th grade while the 5th grade assessment was in place, however with the aforementioned change in thinking, the committee agreed that Units 1-3 should be shifted to the end of the 4th grade curriculum as units 6-8. This would also put us back into alignment with the NYS Social Studies Core Curriculum Map for elementary grades for this year.

Essentially 5th grade will continue teaching to the old social studies curriculum for the remainder of the academic year. 4th grade will be adding these units onto the end of this current academic year. Next year 5th grade would use the new curriculum.

The committee also asked that there be time for discussion on these two items. Please feel free to create a discussion thread below by commenting on this post or email me directly with any questions or feedback you may have. Barring a major outcry of concerns I can have the revised curriculum maps posted on the website by 10/21/2011.

The feedback that I received from the committee’s 4th ,5th grade teachers and administrators was invaluable. I thank everyone for helping us begin this conversation. We hope that these changes will provide for a more cohesive and balanced approach to social studies in the 4th and 5th grade classrooms across the district. We also hope that this new assessment direction will truly empower the teachers with feedback that will be more diagnostic.