As Lincoln County schools prepare to see changes in curriculum in the upcoming school year, two elementary school teachers who have already incorporated the changes into their classrooms over the last two years, talked last week with the Times-News about Common Core State Standards and Essential Standards — alterations that affect English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics heavily, while offering in-depth teaching of other subjects as well.
Love Memorial Elementary teachers Dana Avery and Tammy Cloninger have been pleased with the results they have seen from the standards so far, and the way they have opened the minds of their students, though the process is by no means quick and easy, they noted.
“It’s definitely more interactive now,” Avery said. “Students are thinking, big time.”
Avery is a Kindergarten instructor who has been teaching for 19 years, five of which have been beside Cloninger — a first-grade teacher who has served nearly three decades in the county schools. The women share a classroom, assisting one another in certain areas of instruction, they said.
The teachers are members of committees — Avery works with the math group and Cloninger meets with the ELA committee — that oversee and discuss how the students are responding to the new way of learning, talking about what works, what doesn’t and why as they share experiences from their own classrooms.
Director of Elementary Education for county schools Glenda Walker worked to create the groups, selecting three to four teachers per grade level to join each troupe, Avery explained.
Aside from meeting with their designated groups, the teachers are responsible for attending various workshops and seminars in order to better understand the new way of teaching they are undergoing. Throughout the school year, teachers meet to discuss and learn about the standards — a never-ending process, but one they have enjoyed so far, the two agreed.
Cloninger thought back to when she was in school, and how she used to feel when her teachers lectured on certain subjects. Since then, and even since she started teaching in the 1980s, she said she has noticed major changes.
“Children are expected to do much more now than before,” Cloninger said. “There is less paper-and-pencil learning and more thinking and problem-solving.”
Avery also has noticed a transformation in her Kindergarten students and their daily routine. When we think of 5 and 6 year olds, we think of nap time and playing, she said, but now the play time is engaging them in the material, which excites them.
“I can” statements are available on the Internet for parents to see the skills their children will be responsible for learning through the new curriculum. The two instructors recall parents’ concerns when they heard about the standards, but Cloninger assures that what’s expected is nothing the students can’t handle.
The majority of the changes Avery and Cloninger have seen are in math. English always required critical thinking, reading and discussion, Cloninger said, but with math the students are now given more freedom with the way they solve their problems and get their answers. Children will explain how they thought about the problem and what steps they took, sometimes surprising Avery with ways she never thought of before, she said.
The two have noticed a definite increase in student interest in math over the last two years and would go as far as to say that the children seem like they are enjoying it now. When it’s time for math, they know they will be working in groups, using Smart Boards and other tools to work through the problems, Avery said. Math is no longer just addition and subtraction; learning looks and sounds different now, she said.
She and Cloninger also have to keep in mind that the students are assessed every nine weeks to monitor their progress and help those falling behind to catch up with the rest. This year, an emphasis is being put on writing, and third- through fifth-graders will be taking a county test to measure their skills this year.
For the math evaluation the two are responsible for, students must work out problems on paper, while the English assessment is a conversation the instructors have with the students to see what level they are on in comparison to their peers.
Avery expressed that her goal through the new curriculum is to teach children to become thinkers, and to understand the material, not just learn it and forget it after proving they know the information on a test.
The duo, along with the rest of county teachers, also took crash courses in science and social studies, to brush up on those subjects for future assessments as well.
As they unpack boxes, dust off the shelves and get ready for their new students, they will also continue to attend workshops this week. Though tiring and at-times strenuous, the teachers are taking pride in engaging their students through in-depth discussions and project-based learning. They enjoy talking with parents about the new skills their children have, and notice how surprised they are at how much information their children are able to absorb.
As the two-teacher team strives to take the fear of getting to the answer the wrong way out of the classroom, they enjoy getting to spend more time making sure the students are comprehending lessons and have welcomes the more rigorous regimen.