The Common Core in Albuquerque, NM

Hi, everyone! Diane is away this week, so I thought it would be a good time to highlight a new resource from Education Week, as well as some of our Common Core resources on Colorín Colorado.

Education Week Report

Earlier in November, Education Week launched a new report entitled "Rethinking Literacy: Reading in the Common-Core Era." This report focuses on changes in literacy instruction that will be necessary to help students meet the new standards. In the report introduction, Catherine Gewertz writes, "Whether the standards are shining a bright new light on reading or casting an ominous shadow over it remains a point of debate. But without a doubt, the shifts in literacy instruction envisioned by the common core are among the biggest in recent decades."

Common Core in the Classroom

One of the articles in the report, "N.M. School Builds Bridge to Standards for ELLs" by Education Week's Lesli Maxwell, includes an interview with a first-grade dual-language teacher involved in our Common Core in the Classroom project in Albuquerque, NM. (The project, supported by the American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund, is a partnership between the Albuquerque Teachers Federation and Colorín Colorado. Lesli wrote about this project in an earlier post.)

Through the project, teachers worked with Dr. Diane August to create language arts lesson plans that are aligned to the standards and scaffolded for ELLs in grades 1, 4, and 8. We just returned from filming the lesson plans in Albuquerque, and I'm happy to report that they were a big success! The kids responded enthusiastically to the activities across the grades, showing levels of engagement and comprehension that inspired the teachers, Dr. August, and our crew.

Project Highlights

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Emerson Elementary school, also featured in Lesli's article. She writes that Emerson is a long-struggling school that has shifted its focus to "effectively teaching the common-core standards to English-language learners."

While at Emerson, we visited teacher Clara Gonzales-Espinosa and her upper elementary classroom, where many of her students are ELLs. At the beginning of the year, reports Clara, students frequently came late to school, and she learned that they hadn't studied science or social studies in earlier grades. Instead, they were scheduled into double blocks of reading and math. Slowly and surely, Clara, a true master of the craft, has been teaching them how to be good students, what a successful classroom looks and feels like, and how to meet the high expectations that she has for them - and it's working!

One of the most interesting moments came when the students, in discussing Barbara McClintock's version of Cinderella, began to ask questions about the nature of the magic used in the story. Why was it introduced in the middle of the story and not the beginning, asked one student? And why didn’t the glass slipper turn back into anything at the stroke of midnight, asked another?

The discussion showed the level of engagement and critical thinking I imagine the authors of the Common Core had in mind when writing the standards. For these students, however, that success was only possible after Clara closely monitored the students' comprehension of the story as well as their understanding of the vocabulary. The close reading they did together was essential to the success of the lesson.

Professional Development Resources

Fortunately, you'll be able to see Clara and her kids in action soon in order to get some ideas! The videos of these lesson plans, along with the lessons themselves, will be available early next year, and we'll be sure to let you know when they're online.

In the meantime, you can learn more about the lesson planning process that the teachers went through with Dr. August in these professional development videos about the collaboration, and you can find out what the teachers are thinking about the new standards through their video interviews and journals.

In addition, ATF union president Ellen Bernstein shares her perspective on the implementation of the standards at the district level, as well as the importance of the including the teachers' voices in the planning from the beginning.

Before signing off, we'll leave you with some thoughts from Albuquerque teacher Dorian Shiver:

"My advice for teachers who are looking at the Common Core Standards for the first time is to remember that this is an opportunity. Not to see it as this scary challenge. Not to see it as this new set of impossible obstacles. I've already heard a lot of the teachers at my school kind of dreadfully groaning, 'Oh, no. Here comes a new set of arbitrary requirements that we're going to be asked to fulfill without any funding or training or support or good curricular resources.'

And I want to just kind of take them by the shoulders and say, 'No. This is your opportunity to start teaching'...It's putting the expertise back in the hands of the teachers."

Lydia Breiseth is the Manager of Colorín Colorado.

Share My Lesson. For teachers, by teachers.

National Education Association. How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners.

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