By Chris Kieffer
VERONA – Verona Elementary’s youngest students sat on the carpet in Alice Maynard Griggs’ classroom last month and studied the reading passage projected in front of them.
This wasn’t Dr. Seuss, but was a nonfiction paragraph about Christmas trees and their origin. After the class read it together, the kindergartners were tasked to answer three questions about it. They had to use complete sentences and cite evidence from the reading. It may sound like an unlikely task, but the students breezed through it.
“I never dreamed about them being able to understand nouns and verbs and write sentences based on them,” said Griggs, who first fully used Common Core last year. “Now I’ve seen it.”
Under the previous frameworks, students needed to recognize numbers and know letter sounds. Now they must read and write sentences and begin to add and subtract, Griggs said. They also should be introduced to more complex, nonfiction texts and some higher-level vocabulary, she said.
“Everything in Common Core spirals and builds on itself,” she said. “I’m laying the foundation here.”
Introducing the concepts is difficult because it is new, she said, adding that she feels the requirements are appropriate for kindergartners. However, she said, the more preparation students could have before kindergarten, the better.
The new standards also emphasize speaking and listening skills. The students began the lesson by splitting into groups and discussing various Christmas symbols – such as candy canes, stars, stockings and ornaments.
Griggs also introduced other skills. When the passage mentioned Germany, she pulled out a globe and showed her students where the country is located. When they answered the questions, she discussed punctuation.
“We thought we had high expectations for kids,” she said. “Now we really do. It is challenging because you have to find the best practices, reflect on it and continue changing so every student understands.”