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Common Core requires a new style of teaching

Filed by KOSU News in Education, Feature.
August 23, 2013

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Common Core has been well covered by KOSU this week, from textbooks Monday to testing Thursday, with technology and rural issues sandwiched in there on Tuesday and Wednesday. But all of that leaves out the key piece…when a kid walks into class where Common Core is in place, what will change?


Let’s first get something clear: Common Core is a set of standards. It’s not a curriculum. Think of it as a destination, you’re driving from Oklahoma City to Stillwater… the route is the curriculum, Stillwater is the Common Core standards. Josh Flores is Director of English Language Arts for the state.

“Standards are our goals a teacher shoots for. Curriculum, that’s how we reach those goals. And that is totally up to the teacher and the districts.”

You’ve probably heard Josh throughout our series on KOSU. He’s in charge of educating teachers, principals and superintendents about the new standards, and developing strategies they can use in the classroom to meet them.

“Speaking as a teacher, yes, I don’t like teaching to the test. I think this really eliminates that. We can’t teach to the test, we have to teach them problem solving, critical thinking skills.”

But if you read the standard, how many of you would come up with this kind of question?


Teachers are still working through all the details of Common Core. I’m sitting in on a session at Westfall Elementary School in the Choctaw- Nicoma Park district, about a half hour outside downtown Oklahoma City.

Do you think this might cause problems for some of our students?


Ok, good. That makes me feel better. This might cause us some problems if we don’t know what we’re looking at.

Debbie McDonald, curriculum manager for the district, is walking fourth grade teachers through the standards.

“It’s changed a lot from just handing the students the worksheets where they just work a hundred problems and Yay you made an A on it. Now they have to explain how they got their answer, perhaps they don’t need to do a hundred of them, maybe they just need to do 25.”

Sandy Cottom was one of the teachers sitting among the group of 15 or so. She’s been up at the front of the classroom going on 34 years, and has been through countless teaching reforms.

With Common Core, teacher’s roles are changing. And Assistant Principal Shannon Shay is walking each of them through that.

“More and more the teacher is the facilitator. They say this is the objective for the day, this is what I have planned. But you then you also have to be the educator that says, ‘Johnny has a question, this is a perfect question, let’s talk about that question, let’s see where that question leads us.’”

One similarity to the past: the strategies will also vary across the subjects. English Language Arts and Math are the two major pieces to Common Core – it’s also integrated into other subjects. But now the difference…Josh Flores, one of the state’s curriculum heads, says there’s a lot more power in kids hands.

“After reading it, I would ask them to develop questions. I would have them write up questions and share that to the class, lead it to discussion, we might have a further discussion, where they argue a point whether they agree with the author or not.

“Really question the author’s of the piece we’re looking at, have to back it up. So that might extend into some extended research.”

“Teaching style for my classroom used to just be row, just over and over and over. Just pound it in them and they’ll get it. And now you have to teach it this way. And tomorrow you may have to teach it a different way because some of them didn’t understand how you did that,” said Cottom.

She’s backing off day by day. Instead of immediately looking to the teacher for help, kids are encouraged to work through the problem in their head and on the paper, in the hopes that during that process, they’ll walk away with a deeper understanding instead of simple memorization.

“They’re spending more time in the creation phase. And that’s probably the best part of learning. Because in that creation phase is when you go through that really positive struggle.”

School districts are at different points of implementing Common Core style lesson plans. There isn’t some simple switch to flip, it’s a process. Choctaw is getting close to full implementation, or as Principal Kelli Hosford puts it…

“We’re in the pond swimming quickly. We have integrated many, many strategies at James Griffith Intermediate with Common Core. On of the main things that we decided to focus on first was the writing component because that really is the difference.”

For all the questions that teachers, principals, curriculum managers, and superintendents have answered from KOSU on Common Core over the past couple weeks, it comes down to this. Gay Washington with Stillwater Public Schools.

“Even with full implementation just right around the corner, it will be an ongoing process. It’s very detailed and it’s a paradigm shift.”

One Response to “Common Core requires a new style of teaching”

  1. Christina Vickers says:

    Thanks for this article. Yes, the Common Core is NOT a curriculum. Frankly, I'd rather spend more time figuring out the HOW than the WHAT in regards to Common Core. I know what it is, as a teacher, now I want to know how to do it. These are the same concerns I had before the CC!! This is what I find so humorous about the high waves the CC debates have been causing. Read this…3 Wonderings You Have About the Shommon Shore err Common Core:

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