Although the furor surrounding Common Core hasn’t let up, at Green Dot Public Schools the new education standards are now standard operating procedure. With a year of teaching Common Core under their belts – following a lot of focused preparations dating back to 2012 – Green Dot teachers are reporting that their students are showing more critical thinking and perseverance, both of which are essential to success in school and in life.
Shifts in Common Core and the classroom
“I think these changes have pushed students to think more critically about what they read and why they are reading it,” says Danielle Berger, an English language arts teacher at Ánimo Leadership Charter High School. “At first these changes were hard for students because it put more of the cognitive load on them. However, with teacher support and encouragement, students have met the challenge!”
To help ensure student success under Common Core, Green Dot teachers have been encouraged to shift toward “inquiry teaching,” explains Patricia Wu, Director of Mathematics and Science Programs and one of Green Dot’s professional development leaders.
“We are coaching teachers to create experiences where students can discover math and science concepts for themselves. This has changed the role of the teacher from providing examples to facilitating discussions and experiences, such as a science demo or lab. This has also pushed students to ask questions and work together in new ways.”
Those changing roles required some growth, says Thomas Lo, Math Department Chair at Ánimo Jefferson Charter Middle School. “I knew there were going to be growing pains, but I was hopeful and excited for the change,” says Lo. Under common core, Lo elicits responses in more didactic ways than before, helping better prepare students’ reasoning skills: “With Common Core curriculum, students have to justify their answers and reason through why the answers are the way they are.”
Doing so isn’t always easy, he adds, but Green Dot teachers have been focusing on developing their own skills to help students master their educational challenges.
Skills for success
“Professional Development emphasizes a deep dive into curriculum and how teachers can help students stop and think about what they’re doing,” he says. “One tactic, ‘think, write, discuss, report,’ helps students articulate their process and reason through their answers. Another tool we use in the classroom is ‘sentence frames’ and ‘sentence starters.’ Teachers equip their students with sentence starters to help them appropriately frame their answers, so they reflect the learning that has taken place in coursework. Over time, these starters become unnecessary. Green Dot educators are focusing even more on questioning and academic discourse during professional development sessions.”
The change among students is easy to see, he says. “In the past, I would see students give up. They couldn’t get through the text very easily. Now they have the tools to break down text, read through questions and they see greater success. That’s one thing that I really see changing in our students. They’re able to explain things more and have academic discussions with each other. “I think that one of the main things we’re seeing is the level of persistence has increased with our students.”
For Green Dot as an organization, the first year Common Core provided a new level of assessment used to improve teacher training and professional development, says Annette Gonzalez, Green Dot’s Chief Academic Officer.
“Assessments and analysis help to inform teacher training, Professional Development sessions, and curriculum preparation for the coming years, ultimately benefiting our students.”
Green Dot will continue to refine how it teaches and implements Common Core, both for its teachers and students, she adds.
“We are cultivating leaders to teach others about the best uses of Common Core,” Gonzalez says.
Lo knows there’s more to come, too. “Are we done? No, there’s still a lot of room to grow. Lo’s growth mindset is no surprise or an accident – it is a defining characteristic of Green Dot’s teachers and a modeled focus for our students!