By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
Historical documents will become more prevalent than literature, math skills will be taught at younger ages and class lectures will be less common.
As Mississippi public schools begin to transition to a new curriculum, classrooms will look different. Some of those changes already can be seen.
Mississippi is one of 46 states that have agreed to use the Common Core State Standards, a curriculum framework developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards were written in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and other experts and were designed to give students the skills they need to be better prepared for college and the workforce when they graduate from high school.
“We’ve always tried to do that, but the stakes are higher,” said Leigh Mobley, executive director of school improvement for the Tupelo Public School District.
The idea was also that the standards would bring better consistency to what was being taught in different states across the nation.
For Mississippi, the new standards will lead to lessons being taught in much more depth. In many cases, students will cover fewer objectives but will be more thorough with those they do study.
They also call for a greater use of real-world examples.
“This is very different than other curriculum changes because this is a national movement, this is not just a state movement,” said Amory Superintendent Tony Cook. “The level of rigor that is built into the standards is so much higher than what has been expected. Students will be required to learn not just the process of working a math problem or a scientific problem, but to explain how they got their answer and prove how that answer is correct.”
The plan is for schools to be tested on Common Core standards for the first time during the 2014-15 school year. In the meantime, many schools are gradually working them into what they teach now.
Students will feel the changes in many ways. First, lessons will have added rigor and depth. The idea will be to make students think, not merely memorize facts.
“It won’t be adding two plus two is four,” Cook said. “How do you know two plus two equals four and how can you show me and prove it and justify it?”
Then there is the added real-world emphasis. Mobley uses the example of students studying area. Not only will they need to know the formula, they’ll need to determine how much carpet a new room would need and how to budget for that.
“We will see more ongoing problem- solving and real-life applications” said Lee County School District Chief Academic Officer Kathy Mask.
Added Tessa Grammer, a teacher at Saltillo High School and also a parent: “As a parent, I’m excited. My kids can leave high school and know they will be able to use the skills they’ve learned. They can see the relevance in the math they are learning in high school.”
The real-world application will mean teachers will need to deliver lessons differently. Instead of standing in the front of a classroom and giving a lecture, they will be asked to guide students through solving various problems. Often these problems will tie together many things they’ve learned and lead them to new discoveries.
There also will be a greater collaboration between lessons students learn in different subjects – math, science, English, social studies and the arts – bringing all of those skills together.
“An example would be a teacher teaching a specific skill or a couple of things and then giving them a task that involves putting all of those skills into action and coming up with a solution,” said Lisa Franks Eldridge, also a Chief Academic Officer for Lee County Schools. “Students may discover other ways of doing things. They make connections if I pull in math lessons or vocabulary lessons; I am making a connection between all subject areas. It lets students discover things on their own.”
Saltillo High School English teacher Susan Martin noted teachers will need to collaborate more with other departments.
“Teaching will be completely different,” said Shannon High School’s Pam Rayburn. “There will be no more open textbooks to page 55 and write notes, and then do a worksheet. It is more group work and discover your own learning.”
The change also will require much more time for teachers to prepare their lessons.
“Teachers will have to plan for each part of the day to matter,” said Sungja Collins, director of curriculum and instruction for the Itawamba County School District. “There will be a lot more supplemental material and resources.”
Parents will notice some of that supplemental material in what their children take home. The Common Core places an emphasis on using informational texts to teach reading skills. That means students will not do all of their reading from textbooks, but will use historical documents, independent research and technical manuals.
Common Core calls for about 70 percent of what students read to be from informational texts, although that also includes reading they will do for math, science and social studies.
Homework also will likely change.
“Homework may be less,” Mobley said. “It will be a lot of hands-on projects rather than pencil and paper.”
Added Mask: “What I see happening as far as homework, I don’t think parents will see as much rote drills, worksheets, fill-in-the-blank. There will be more research projects, reading novels and open-ended questions.”
Math lessons, in many instances, will be moved down to lower grades, with older students delving deeper.
“Foundational skills are being emphasized in lower levels,” said Lee County curriculum adviser Chris Conwill. “It used to be you would build up: one year you would learn what a fraction is, the next year you would learn how to add fractions and one year later you would multiply them. In between that time, you wouldn’t touch them.
“Under Common Core, students would pick up fractions and go through all of the things to do with fractions and get a solid understanding of what a fraction is. You would apply it after that.”
The standards will put more emphasis on writing, particularly argumentative writing with research to provide support. They also will require students to learn speaking and listening skills.
“We’ve never had that focus before,” Eldridge said.”In the past, parents think we don’t talk in school. We are trying to teach kids how to have these conversations and how these conversations need to be meaningful and relevant. That will be a really big change for us.”