Thursday, October 4, 2012

CCSS Take a Village, Too

I am so happy to be posting on Common Core Classrooms!  Since this is my very first post here, I want to take just a moment to introduce myself to you.  My name is Stephanie and I have been teaching English Language Arts in the middle school setting for the past 14 years. I've taught 6th, 7th and 8th graders...and I have not only lived to tell about it, but I can honestly say that I've enjoyed it! I hold a Bachelor's Degree in English and Secondary English Education  as well as a Master's in Education in Reading and am a certified Reading Specialist K-12.

This year I am embarking on a new adventure as the 1st time mother of a 1st time Kindergartner.  I'm looking forward to assisting our son in his all-important transition to public school, all the while fostering in him a love of learning that will hopefully guide him through his education.  It is, in fact, from the perspective of "parent" that I write today.  You see, as a teacher - like you - I have been to the meetings.  I have started the training.  I have read the latest journal articles and blog posts.  As a teacher, I am understanding and working with the Common Core as part of my life everyday.  Yet, it is in this new role as a parent of a school-aged child, and in talking to friends and family members who are parents, that I'm quickly learning perhaps the most important piece of the CCSS puzzle - cooperation between school and home.  You see, only by really working together in a partnership can successful implementation of CCSS really be possible.  This, in my opinion, holds the most true for our middle school children.

Over the past year, as the Common Core has been working it's way into our classrooms - in conjunction with changes in assessments and APPR requirements - I've been watching my students and am concerned about the rate at which many of them are becoming frustrated.  I have listened as family members and friends have voiced their concerns about their children, many of whom loved school only a year or two ago, and are now struggling and losing confidence.  While taking all of this in I have, of course, been ever-aware that I have a 5 year old boy at home who is just starting Kindergarten.  I have been so afraid that he may never experience the pure happiness that I felt in school.  My love of learning, of teaching, is the direct result of the success and support that I had as a student.  For him to not know the simple joy of "getting it" is heart breaking.

Fast-forward to today, as my son is just completing his first month of school and loving every second of it, and I am seeing things a little differently.  Although I know that the "increased rigor" (buzz words that we as teachers have heard...often ) will require more from all of us - teachers, students and parents - the children who are starting out right in the beginning with these expectations are going to be prepared.  It's the students who have been in school and for whom "the rules" seem to be changing that support at school AND at home will be the most important.  In turn, it is the parents of these older students caught in the middle of this transition in education that will need the most support.  As their children come home, frustrated or confused, it is they who need to know how to comfort them, how to guide them in advocating for themselves to get help at school, and how to support their growth and learning at home. we have the question, "How can we, as teachers, help?"

I have a few suggestions that may be useful in starting to create the necessary "we - the village - are all in this together" scenario that will not only be helpful for parents, but crucial for our students' success:
  • Keep parents informed. - Aside from the updates on projects and major assignments that we may have always given to parents of our middle school students, it may also help to give parents a preview of standards being focused on and key terms that students need to know.  Starting last year in my school district, teachers created 10-week blueprints of what we planned to be teaching and materials that we would be using.  We then sent those home to parents.  This proactive communication helped with conversations when parents had concerns or questions.
  • Express to parents the importance of reading nonfiction. - Tell parents the Common Core has a heavy focus on nonfiction.  Reading for the purpose of navigating meaning through informational text requires a set of skills different from those for reading literature.  This we know.  We also know that a majority of our students enjoy reading fiction much more than nonfiction.  Explaining to parents that reading nonfiction texts will not only assist with meeting ELA standards, but literacy across all content areas, is a great way to help.  The more opportunities children have to practice with this type of reading, the better.  And maybe, given the right topic or current event, they might actually like it!
  • Guide parents to help their children to read closely.  - David Coleman, one of the lead authors of the Common Core, has described the key to helping children be successful with the CCSS as teaching them to "read like detectives and write like investigative reporters."  I love this image!  Share this with parents.  Put the type of reading and writing that is necessary for success in a context that provides parents with a mental picture of scouring through a text for evidence from the author's own words to support a child's answer to a question.  Help parents to see that when interacting with their children about what they are reading, writing or even watching, for that matter, they should encourage them to make a habit of explaining "how they know." 
  • Remind parents that they are not alone. -  Encourage parents to ask for help.  Better yet, encourage parents to empower their children to ask for assistance.  Every year we remind our students to ask questions - to not be afraid to look for help.  Students undoubtedly hear the words, "If you don't understand, chances are others don't understand, too."  Yet, for many it's not an easy thing to do.  More formative assessment on our part will help, but let's be honest.  More often then not, our class sizes are growing larger and larger.  The sooner our students advocate for themselves, the more effective and efficient our interventions can be.  Again, cooperation is key, and parents can help to encourage their children to do their part.
In addition to these suggestions, I have found several online resources that may help inform parents as well: -  I love MiddleWeb as a resource for all things middle school related!  This link takes you right to the CCSS information and suggestions for teachers and parents.  It includes additional links to the national PTA site and Parent Roadmaps to the Common Core (Fantastic resource in and of itself!) -  This video, created and shared by The Teaching Channel, gives great explanations of how middle school classrooms are adapting to meet the challenges of the CCSS.  This is great for both teachers and parents, too!

These suggestions are just a start in answering the big question of how to help our students' parents to feel comfortable enough with the Common Core to support their children at home.  What are some steps that you may have taken already this school year to communicate to parents and provide information about the changes taking place in our classrooms and curricula?  Are there steps you are planning to take in the future?  Are there things that, as a parent, you feel would be helpful for teachers and school districts to do to provide support for parents?  Please consider sharing your insight in the comments below.

Please be sure to come visit me at Middle School Matters Blog for ideas and resources pertaining to all that matters in middle school!  Hope to see you there!


Melissa O'Bryan said...

Great post Stephanie. I agree with the emphasis on nonfiction. At fifth grade we are starting the shift toward 50% narrative 50% nonfiction and it's a big change!

Stephanie said...

Thank you, Melissa! The increased emphasis on nonfiction is surely one of the challenges presented by the CCSS. Finding topics of interest and that may connect to fictional texts that our students already enjoy can help.

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