January 2013 Issue
December 18, 2012

SRPs explore their roles in Common Core

Author: Leslie Duncan Fottrell
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: From left, SRPs Mary Ellen Cook, Pine Bush SRP Association; Kim Christensen, Chenango Valley Support Staff Association; Greg Roberts, Association of Vestal School Paraprofessionals; and Jamye Smith, Buffalo Educational Support Team, review Common Core Standards during a workshop at NYSUT’s SRP Leadership Conference. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

As school districts transition to the Common Core Standards, School-Related Professionals are gaining insight and devising strategies about the roles they will play in helping students succeed.

The standards "define the knowledge and skills students should develop during their K-12 education so they will graduate from high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs," said NYSUT ELT instructor Donna Christmas, who led a workshop on the topic during a recent SRP Leadership Conference. The standards, adopted by New York state in 2010, will be fully implemented in the 2013-14 school year.

The standards shift the focus from rote learning and memorization to honing students’ critical thinking skills. Teaching assistants will need to embrace new strategies that encourage student learning.

"SRPs will be a critical asset in assuring our students become college and career ready," said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, whose office oversees SRP issues for the union. "Facilitating higher-level thinking is an important component of the standards."

Teaching assistants provide instruction, working under the general supervision of a teacher, and teacher aides provide non-instructional support under the direct supervision of a teacher.

Because SRPs work one on one with students or in small groups, they have an excellent understanding of how to help students achieve the goals the teacher has defined, Christmas said.

"The challenge is for the teaching assistant to ask more open-ended or higher-level questions and to facilitate critical thinking," said Christmas.

The standards are comprehensive, however, curriculum implementation decisions are left up to individual districts. "They simply tell you what the outcome must be for whatever curriculum you choose," said Christmas.

Districts are still deciding what curricula, strategies and approaches to use as they transition to full implementation. For SRPs, understanding the standards is the first step in creating and implementing strategies to ensure student success and working collaboratively with classroom teachers.

"The burden for literacy is no longer on ELA teachers alone," said Christmas, explaining other important changes the standards require. "Literacy is a component of every subject area."

Using brief outlines of teacher lesson plans in math and ELA for multiple grade levels, and based on their newly acquired knowledge of the standards, workshop participants worked to define specific activities SRPs can use to support student learning during these lessons.

Ideas discussed included pulling struggling students out for one-on-one help, utilizing differential and multiple interpretation strategies and peer modeling.