Educators prep for new Common Core standards

Mar 18, 2013 by

For years, Tim Bedley has believed his teaching style was ahead of the curve.

Now that California is among the 45 states poised to implement Common Core standards, the Wildomar Elementary School teacher’s practices — encouraging critical thinking over memorization, focusing on collaboration and integrating technological advances in the classroom — are on the verge of becoming the standard.

Even while passing along those kinds of lessons, Bedley didn’t care as much about his kids’ ability to regurgitate facts such as the answer to “What’s a rhombus” as he did about promoting critical thinking.

“How much of a difference is that going to make in their lives?” said Bedley, a 2013 Riverside County Teacher of the Year who has been an educator for nearly 25 years. “If I can teach students how to collaborate and put their heads together to solve a problem, that’s going to transfer to everything.

“For me, this is always the way I’ve always believed in teaching kids.”

In essence, that’s the goal behind the Common Core State Standards adopted in California in 2010, which aim to unify the lessons and educational experiences across the nation so kids are prepared — even if they change schools or move to a different state — for success in college and in the workplace upon receiving their diploma.

The move to Common Core standards, however, is requiring feverish work as teachers and administrators prepare for a paradigm shift in public education assessment:

It’s no longer as much about the wealth of information students accumulate as it is about students’ reasoning and ability to collaborate and solve problems they may face in the ever-changing landscape of the 21st century.

“We’re moving into a transition from where we’re at — bubbling in answers of what kids know — to a whole new paradigm,” said Jonathan Greenberg, superintendent of Perris Union High School District. “It’s about, ‘What can they do?’ When presented with an issue, how can they analyze it and work with others to solve problems? That’s the world I work in … and that’s the world they are going to work in.

“It’s exciting and it’s going to be turbulent, but the end result is going to be great.”

New math and English language arts standards — “the gateway subjects into the professional world,” according to Kenneth Young, Riverside County’s Superintendent of Schools — will hit the classrooms in the fall of the 2014-15 school year, with new technology-based assessment beginning the following semester. Literacy-infused social studies and science standards will come later, all of it building on lessons that begin when a student walks into a kindergarten class.

Students will learn to explain how they arrive at their answers and more of an emphasis will be placed on informational texts over literature and argumentative writing.

Elementary school students, for instance, might be asked to decide whether “The Giving Tree” in Shel Silverstein’s book is strong or weak and reference the text to defend their argument. Math lessons won’t rely as much on memorizing a trick to solve an equation as much as they will on recognizing what makes a formula work.

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