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Tuesday, September 2, 2014
A Day of Common Core
Tougher standards are the new normal
Andrew Hackmack/Herald
Willow Road School kindergartner Samantha Clifford works on her letter skills.

Common Core is a phrase that has drawn the ire of many parents and educators in recent months, especially when discussing the testing that accompanies it. But day in and day out, students are learning skills based on these new national standards, and teachers say they are starting to notice a difference.

Just before the holiday break, the Herald visited each of District 13’s elementary schools to see Common Core lessons in action, at a variety of grade levels. We saw what Superintendent Dr. Adrienne Robb-Fund sees every day during her visits to classrooms and teacher observations.

“Our teachers are doing a great job implementing the new Common Core modules,” she said. Modules are curriculum units in English language arts and math that include several related lessons.

Each module has a “big idea” — a theme or focus with specific skills that students are expected to develop and concepts they must learn.

The Common Core Learning Standards are designed to ensure that students are college and career ready when they graduate high school. Expectations have been raised and Robb-Fund said the children are working hard to meet these challenges.

Learning centers in kindergarten

In Gail Shaw’s kindergarten class at Willow Road School, children spend much of their day working in small groups, known as learning centers. They move from table to table working on various literacy skills.

Every day, the children visit all five centers, including word study, phonemic awareness, guided reading, phonics and Fundations — a language basics program. In the phonics center, the children play detective, receiving a list of words and having to find that item, or at least a picture of it, in the classroom. At Fundations, the students study two letters per week and all the sounds associated with that letter.

The groups spend 12 to 15 minutes at each center. Shaw works with the guided reading groups, where children learn to not just read words, but to comprehend what those words and sentences mean.

“It’s so literacy rich and it’s so in-depth with the concepts we’re teaching,” she said. “There are times where perhaps these concepts are above them, but they’re learning how to adapt.”

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