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The Most Promising Path to CCRS Success
November 7, 2013 | Categories: Success Stories | Comments
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In an April post at Edutopia (the wonderful site supported by the George Lucas Educational Foundation), education thought leaders Ken Kay and Bob Lenz described two paths they saw emerging – and diverging – as schools across the United States implement new and more challenging standards for learning. Here's an excerpt:
 
The first path treats the Common Core as just another set of standards to implement and assess. Educators jump straight to the grade-level requirements and map them to their curricula in a compliance-driven exercise. It starts to look a lot like what we've been doing with the No Child Left Behind Act for the last 10 years – a narrowed curriculum focused more on test scores than on college and career readiness. 
 
The second path leverages the strengths of the Common Core to transform teaching and learning. It entails educators taking the time to understand what is visionary about these new standards and how they can help drive college and career success for students. 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... (Robert Frost)

 
(You can read the entire Edutopia post here.)
 
We had the chance to re-read this article recently and thought we'd ask several school-based instructional coaches participating in the Instructional Partners Pilot project to reflect on it and consider which path their school is following and why, as Alabama implements College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) that are rooted in the Common Core.
 
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Courtney J. Horton is the Instructional Partner for Liberty Middle School in Madison City Schools.
 
In Madison City, we have chosen the second path. Although it has not always been the path of least resistance, it is most definitely the path of growth and change.
 
This year, the Instructional Partners in our school system have collaborated with AMSTI to deepen our understanding of the eight Standards of Mathematical Practice found in the Alabama CCRS and the Common Core. As a district, we are learning as IP's, with our principals, and alongside our teachers. Our purpose is to help create mathematical THINKERS - students who are pushed beyond rote memorization and factual recall.
 
The mathematical practice standards (MPS) help develop higher order thinking skills while reinforcing reading, writing, listening and speaking.  As a teacher with a language arts background, this shift to integrating literacy concepts into subjects like math and science has been challenging for me. I am attending training through AMSTI, which has been incredibly helpful. Also, I have been able to work with our secondary school IPs to brainstorm, collaborate, and get into classrooms to actually see the MPS at work.
 
Recently, my principal and I visited every one of our math teachers' classrooms to learn about the MPS in action. We took a list of examples of each of the standards with us to document what we saw. After each cluster of classrooms (it took us a few days to do this), we would discuss what we saw and how it applied to one of the standards.
 
This was an incredible learning experience for both of us. Not only were we so proud of our teachers, but we were able to really apply what we are learning in training. I highly recommend this process!  Participating in this training has not only helped me to grow and stretch beyond my comfort level, but it reinforces the fact that I, too, am still constantly learning with my teachers, administrative team, and district. We are on the right path.
 
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Hope Belle-Payne has served as Instructional Partner for George Hall Elementary School in Mobile County. She has just been assigned to nearby Mae Eanes Middle School in the same role.
 
Hall Elementary is definitely traveling on the second path. Here is one tangible example from our work with the new literacy standards.
 
As we started our professional learning about the Common Core and Alabama's College and Career Ready Standards, we realized the impact that these standards could have on our students’ ability to read and comprehend; specifically, complex text. We understood that with the adoption of the new standards it was imperative to expose our students to more challenging written materials, especially informational text.
 
One strategy that we are using to assist our students in reading and comprehending complex text is close reading. We strategically planned the steps we would take to prepare our teachers and students to understand and apply the close reading strategy.
 
We started with professional development with our teachers, exploring what close reading is and why it is important in implementing the CCRS. The training sessions included article readings, discussions, dialogue, modeling, and reflection on our learning. We had an "aha moment" during one of our discussions where we realized that it was important to reiterate to our students that re-reading is not a punishment, but a deliberate strategy to gain an advantage – something that helps both students and adults better understand what has been read.
 
As teachers gained a deeper understanding of the purpose and practice of close reading, we developed a strategic plan to assist the students in implementing this learning technique. We created codes, procedures, and discussion prompts for students to use as they interacted with more complex text.
 
Initially, each week the teachers focused on one specific part of the procedure. For example, we spent time on modeling with the students, showing them how to chunk and annotate the text to monitor their thoughts as they read. Using the close reading codes, we led students through the 3-part process of annotating words and phrases that were confusing, interesting, important, and mentally visual. This served as a gateway to explaining how to use our annotations and the discussion prompts to foster class or peer-to-peer discussions.
 
As time progressed, we noticed our students closely reading, not only while doing assigned tasks but during their independent reading, and we heard them discussing their reading with their peers and the teachers.
 
It was refreshing to realize that the close reading strategy is giving our students the tools and techniques they need to interact with any type of text at any time. Seeing them enjoy reading both fiction and informational text and saying things like, “The author said….” or “According to the text…….”, has served as validation to our teachers that we are on the right path toward preparing our students. 
 
By truly adopting the philosophy "go slow to go fast," we are grooming students who not only closely read and comprehend complex text, but are able to cite and communicate what they have read to others at unprecedented levels. This was all done because the teachers adopted the mindset that implementing the new standards is not ANOTHER THING, but is THE THING that will transform our students into College and Career Ready graduates.

Photo credit: Ryan B Schultz (Creative Commons)
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Childersburg High School: Helping Students Take Ownership of Learning
February 5, 2013 | Category: Success Stories | Comments
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Childersburg High School is part of the Talladega County Public Schools system and is located just north of the city of Sylacauga. The school's 45-member faculty serves 465 students in grades 9-12. Of the 58% African American and 42% Caucasian students, 71% qualify for free or reduced lunch status.  Principal Jay Hooks describes the school's mission, in part, as to provide students "with a rigorous curriculum that prepares them for the 21st Century world." Teacher leader Jennifer Barnett shares... [continue reading]
 
 
Talladega County's Transformational Journey (Part 2)
November 18, 2011 | Category: Success Stories | Comments
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In the second part of our interview with Talladega County Superintendent Suzanne Lacey by  ABPC consultant John Norton, Dr. Lacey describes Talladega's vision for a new instructional model and the steps she and her leadership team are taking to spread PBL across all the district's schools. You can read the first installment of the interview by clicking here.  Norton: You've said that a lot of Talladega County's success in developing a new instructional model can be traced back to your partnershi... [continue reading]
 
 
Talladega County's Transformational Journey (Part 1)
November 11, 2011 | Category: Success Stories | Comments
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By Cathy Gassenheimer  Talladega Learning: A Great Partnership!   There is more to Talladega than the speedway. Much more! Educators in Talladega County are hard at work retooling their schools so all of their students will be well-prepared for the future -- whether that future is second grade, high school, college, or career.   Developing teachers and future administrators is critically important to Talladega's success, as it is for all school systems. More than 10 years ago, a former superinte... [continue reading]
 
 
Mobile Area School Wins Prestigious National Education Award
October 31, 2011 | Category: Success Stories | Comments
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CONTACT: Lauren Stephenslstephens@edtrust.org 202-293-1217 x.373Calcedeaver Elementary School is one of just four schools nationwide to be honored this year by The Education Trust for success in educating low-income and minority students to high levelsWASHINGTON (October 31, 2011) Today, Calcedeaver Elementary School was named one of four winners of the Dispelling the Myth Award, presented by The Education Trust. The annual award, now in its ninth year, is presented to public schools through... [continue reading]
 
 
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