Silver Lake Elementary School teacher Melissa Bowser did her best this week to present a typical third-grade English lesson to some very atypical students.
“Like usual, I’m differentiating my instruction to make sure all my students get what they need,” she said. “But to be honest, I’m used to third-graders who are a little shorter.”
Bowser’s students on Tuesday evening included Gov. Jack Markell, Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, a handful of state legislators, as well as state and local education officials
The dignitaries visited Silver Lake to take part in demonstrations being held throughout the state this week on the Common Core Standards, which set a baseline for what students are expected to know at a given grade level.
Since 2010, 45 states – including Delaware – have adopted the Common Core curriculum, which currently set standards in only math and English Language Arts.
Critics of the standards describe them as a federally-backed, top-down approach, claiming they hampers local control and limit teachers’ ability to creatively adjust their lessons to students.
Markell, who co-chaired the National Governors Association committee that helped to develop the standards, said the opposite is true.
“This is not a federal initiative and we’re not telling schools or districts how to teach to the standard,” he said. “Those decisions are left to the local schools and the local districts, which I think is how it should be.”
To help show how the Common Core is being applied in local classrooms, the education and legislative leaders who visited Silver Lake Elementary School on Tuesday were given a third-grade reading lesson and a fifth-grade math lesson during which teachers detailed how the instruction relates to the standard.
Silver Lake teachers Laurie Silverstein and Amanda Stark, for instance, led guests through lessons about number sets and multiplication that encouraged student collaboration to come up with different methods for solving the same problem.
“I can see how lessons like this can translate into a 21st century workplace by fostering teamwork,” said Shelly Rouser, the director of K-12 initiatives and educator engagement for the state department of education. “When the students talk to each other about the different methods they use, they can see that it may not be my answer, but it’s still a valid answer.”
Bowers and fellow third-grade teacher Sherry Frangia explained to the guests how lessons on identifying captions and keywords relates to future grades.
“Before the Common Core, teachers at each grade level might have said, ‘Oh yeah, we teach that,’ but we didn’t really have a clear idea how what came before or after,” Frangia said. “Now, we have a much better understanding of how each lesson fits into a progression and not just in the next grade, but all the way to high school.”
Page 2 of 2 - Appoquinimink School District Superintendent Matthew Burrows said Tuesday’s back-to-school night provided guests with an invaluable opportunity to experience the Common Core Standards first hand.
“You hear about the governor, the secretary of education or myself speak about it, but to sit in a classroom and actually experience it is important for people to see,” he said. “We implemented the Common Core going on three years now, and we believe it is rigors for all of our students and the competitive advantage for all of them as they move forward in the global economy.”
Fourth-grader Timmy Eddinger, one of about two dozen Silver Lake students led the guests through the hallways Tuesday, said he was excited people take an interest in his school, even if he wasn’t quite sure what all the talk about Common Core Standards meant.
“They just told us a bunch of people from the government and stuff were coming in to get a lesson on ELA and math and they wanted us to greet them and give them refreshing drinks,” he said. “It was fun. I got to tell them about the Seven Habits (of Highly Effective Kids) and even got my picture taken with the governor.”