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Skaneateles district teaching approach changes with new state standards

— New York state recently adopted the newly-developed “common core” education standards in English and Math, which has prompted a slight shift in the way teachers in the Skaneateles Central School District teach those subjects.

The Skaneateles Board of Education heard an explanation of these changes at a recent meeting from the district’s curriculum coordinators for those two subjects.

“These are instructional shifts, not changes in content,” Patrick Brown, K-5 Language Arts/Social Studies curriculum coordinator, told the board. “This is more about the approach teachers take.”

The content is located in the new Common Core Learning Standards documents that were adopted by the New York State Education Department last year.

In order to effectively implement these new learning standards, the instructional shifts must be fully understood by classroom teachers and district administrators, Brown said.

Brown, along with John Harmon, curriculum coordinator for humanities grades 6 through 12, said the English/Language Arts (ELA) common core shifts for all grades were comprised of six components:

  1. Balancing information texts with literary texts.
  2. Building knowledge in the disciplines: learning to read, reading to learn.
  3. Staircase of complexities. Each year reading gets more complex, and teachers must ensure their students are reading at grade level.
  4. Text-based answers. Making sure that when students read they gather evidence from the text to comprehend the reading and answer questions.
  5. Writing from sources. A focus on narrative writing based on source materials. Using essay tests versus multiple choice tests.
  6. Academic vocabulary. Three tiers of vocabulary to focus on: everyday words, academic vocabulary, and profession-specific words.

On the mathematics side, curriculum coordinators Stacey Tice, K-5 Math/Science and Margaret Culkowski, 6-12 Math/Science/Technology, laid out six components of the common core shifts:

  1. Focus. Narrow and deeper focus on skills, foundation and understanding of concepts.
  2. Coherence. The focus is deeper, extensions of prior knowledge.
  3. Fluency. Speed and accuracy in problem solving, to memorize through repetition.
  4. Deep understanding. Not just getting the right answer, but using processes and understanding how to arrive at the answer.
  5. Applications. Choosing the appropriate concept for problem solving without being told to do so. Teachers provide opportunities at all grade levels for students to apply math concepts in “real world” situations.
  6. Dual intensity. Students are practicing and understanding. Teachers create opportunities for students to participate in “drills” and make use of those skills through extended application of math concepts.
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