September/October 2013 - Testing/Assessments and Learning Standards
September 13, 2013

Putting new Common Core Learning Standards into action

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
common core palumbo
Caption: Andy Palumbo of Jamesville-DeWitt Faculty Association offers a Common Core lesson plan during a workshop at AFT Teach. Photo by Michael Campbell.

When asked to develop lessons around the Common Core Learning Standards, NYSUT's Subject Area Committee members took on the challenge, engaging in a project that applied their expertise and put learning into action.

The results are part of a new Web page, www.nysut.org/commoncore, featuring anchor lesson plans that show Common Core Learning Standards in action - complete with line-by-line lesson planning, templates, classroom videos and, perhaps most importantly, teachers' candid reflections on what they learned along the way.

"What makes this project so unique is that our members are sharing more than their exemplary lessons. They're sharing their reflections, lessons learned, and a first-hand look at how they use their knowledge and practice to engage students in the standards," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, whose office led the initiative. "This clearly sets the project apart from other resources that do not include the voice of the practitioner." 

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Committee members presented the new Web resource to educators from around the country at the American Federation of Teachers' TEACH Conference this summer.

Andy Palumbo, a Jamesville-Dewitt kindergarten teacher, showed a detailed look at what a "close read" looks like with a class of 4- and 5-year-olds.

Jennifer Allard, a New Lebanon social studies teacher, detailed how a three-day thematic lesson on Upton Sinclair's The Jungle evolved and dramatically improved her students' success on last June's U.S. History Regents exam.

Katie Kurjakovic, an ESL teacher in New York City, led participants in a read-aloud of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Paul Revere's Ride as part of a lesson for a fourth grade class that includes English language learners and students with special needs. The lesson dovetails with New York state's required instruction on the American Revolution.

Jumping on the popularity of reality TV bridal shows, Shenendehowa foreign language teacher Linda Zusman's lively lesson focuses on family weddings. Middle school foreign language students create invitations, share family traditions and learn about other cultures through videos, first-person accounts and online sites.

All four teachers said developing the lesson plans to meet new Common Core standards proved to be more time-consuming than they expected. Having time for reflection, revision and collaborating with colleagues proved to be crucial, they said, and suggested tapping into the expertise of others, such as the library media specialist or an English language arts teacher on writing.

"It was a rigorous process, but I found honing in on one lesson plan to be like a service learning project for me," Kurjakovic said.

"The close questioning of the text is an incredibly valuable teaching tool. Close questioning makes students' thoughts transparent to me as the lesson moves along, rather than waiting until the end with a culminating activity."

Palumbo said the new emphasis on close text-based questioning and academic vocabulary gets easier with practice. "At first it was tough, but I became more fluent in asking those questions," he said.

"The research is clear that students remember what they say in class better than what we say," Kurjakovic said. "It's important to get them talking."

"It's a sea change for many of us, but I saw how Common Core does work," Allard said. "You have to invest in it and get kids on board."

Colleagues at the national conference called the new website extremely helpful, serving as a practical "how-to" on shifting instruction.

"The project allowed members to align their practice to the Common Core and learn how their lessons were adaptable," Neira said. "Educators are not going to give up exercising their professional judgment or expertise."