April 19, 2014 - 21:19
Common Core shifts method of teaching
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With the second article in the ongoing series exploring Common Core in our schools, we begin talking with local educators about their thoughts and experiences as the Common Core standards are implemented.
With the second article in the ongoing series exploring Common Core in our schools, we begin talking with local educators about their thoughts and experiences as the Common Core standards are implemented.

Sarah Haynes, a 5th grade teacher at South Polk Elementary School, is one of five teachers selected from Polk County as a Common Core Coach. Currently in her second full year as a Common Core Coach, Haynes was selected through an application process that included 700 teachers across the state. The goal of Common Core Coaches is to provide support for students, teachers, and schools in Tennessee during the transition to the Common Core State Standards. Coaches participate in training regarding instruction in their grade level and content area, facilitate training for teachers in their regions, and provide ongoing support in their schools and regions as peer leaders.
 “I was a math coach in the summer of 2012 when the state first began making trainings available statewide, and I was rehired as a fifth grade math common core coach again this summer,” Haynes said, adding she has had almost two years of training with the Institute for Learning out of the University of Pittsburg. 
“They have worked with us on understanding the methods and the content of these new standards.  I have spent a month of the last two summers training teachers from middle and east Tennessee in the methods of instruction that will hopefully make Tennessee students competitive when they graduate from high school to enter college or career,” she said.
According to Haynes, common core standards have changed the way teachers are teaching much more than what they are teaching. 
“There is a bit of confusion with people when they think that Common Core is going to dictate our curriculum and require us to use certain materials or books to teach our students.  The real shift that has taken place with the transition to Common Core is the method by which we question our students and present material,” Haynes said.
According to Haynes, teachers are moving from being the “teachers of knowledge” to the “facilitators of learning.” 
“Our students are no longer being spoon fed material or mathematical procedures; our students are exploring the subject matter in each grade level to find out how and why things work,” Haynes said.
Haynes said teachers are no longer just lecturing all the time and expecting students to remember everything that is said. 
“As a teacher, I am able to spend meaningful time with each standard instead of skimming through the surface of an overwhelming list of standards that my students will recognize the next year, but will not have mastered,” Haynes said, adding, “I feel like the Common Core has given us a chance to teach deeply so students have understanding of concepts.” 
Haynes said no system is going to be perfect, and there will always be students that fall behind sometimes and need to be caught up, but the hope is that after years of teaching this way, the gap will become smaller and smaller. She said she could see a positive outcome with the students she has used the new teaching methods with so far. 
“I can tell that the material means more to them, and it sticks with them longer when they have ownership of their learning process,” she said. Haynes said students are more involved and motivated by these shifts and standards.
Haynes pointed out that while she believes Common Core is a positive change for students, there are other unrelated shifts taking place in the education system that are creating a negative image around the topic. 
“The testing of students and the evaluation of teachers that is coming along at the same time, but are not a direct tie to the standards, are nerve-racking,” Haynes said.
The Tennessee legislature has decided, although it has been postponed for a year, that teachers’ licenses will be tied to student achievement. The evaluation of teachers will be done using student surveys, and only the value-added portion of test data.
“To someone who is unfamiliar with the system of scoring for student data, this sounds great, but there are all types of environmental and real-world factors that change the way a student will perform or test on a particular day. Common Core is a great asset to the education field, but in my opinion, our struggle will remain to find a way to judge teachers AND students in a way that is fair and beneficial to both,” Haynes said.
Hayes said teachers and administrators want to do what is best for kids and she feels Common Core fits that bill, “but we have to make sure that the details and procedures that go along with it match up appropriately.”
“I am proud to work for a school district that is being proactive about the Common Core changes. I have friends in other (larger) school districts that have not had the opportunity to practice tests and assessments that are examples of what we might see in the new testing phase. Polk County, even though we are small, has put great effort into giving us as much information and practice with this material as possible,” Haynes said.

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