Teachers receive more training on Common Core standards

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafourche Parish Elementary School teachers Stephanie Lee, left, and Angela Wunstell take part in a education seminar on Thursday at the Lafayette Convention Center in Lafayette.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafourche Parish Elementary School teachers Stephanie Lee, left, and Angela Wunstell take part in a education seminar on Thursday at the Lafayette Convention Center in Lafayette.

Teachers charged with training colleagues on how to implement new and more rigorous curriculum standards have another audience for their outreach — parents.

More nonfiction reading and more of an analytical focus on English and math homework will be sent home in students’ backpacks, Laurie Carlton, curriculum coordinator in Plaquemines Parish, said Thursday.

“It’s a completely different shift from how students are learning now,” Carlton said.

Rather than an instructional model where students regurgitate facts or answers, the Common Core State Standards — which Louisiana and 44 other states have adopted to ensure instructional rigor — focus more on critical thinking, research and problem solving to discover answers, Carlton said.

“Rather than parents asking their children: ‘What did you learn today?’, Carlton said the better question is: “ ‘How did you learn it?’ ”

Even literature will be taught differently. An elementary student’s reading of “Charlotte’s Web” won’t focus so much on literary elements, but on the life cycle of a spider and word choice. Students also will have to explain answers to math problems and find more than one way to solve them.

“We’re teaching them how to ask better questions, rather than expecting certain answers,” Carlton said.

Carlton and Amy Deslattes, an Iberia Parish educator led a training session on communication strategies for teachers to use when explaining the Common Core, standardized instructional benchmarks for what students should learn and know, to teachers and parents.

The curriculum changes takes effect in the upcoming school year that starts in August for most parishes.

The session was one from a menu of options offered Wednesday and Thursday as part of the Louisiana Department of Education’s training of about 2,000 “teacher leaders” on how to implement the curriculum. The leaders were selected by their districts and will help implement the changes in their schools and districts.

State education officials estimated cost for the “teacher leader” trainings this week and in April is about $400 per teacher. Grant funding will cover some of the expenses, which also includes travel, lodging and meals for participants but final expenses won’t be available until districts submit travel reimbursement requests.

In Lafayette Parish, the district is still working out a schedule for districtwide and school-level training, said Kelly Gonzales, the district’s English language arts specialist.

“They’ve modeled how we can take a unit and roll it out into our schools,” Gonzales said. “The standards set rigor but no particular order. It’s not scripted content.”

Teachers will be able to adapt the standards to their own students’ needs, Gonzales said.

Empowerment was the buzz word of the training, some teachers said.

There’s no manual or state mandates tied to how to implement Common Core in a district or a classroom; those decisions are in the hands of districts and schools, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday after an informal question-and-answer session with about 120 teachers.

During the informal session, White fielded questions for about an hour on topics related and unrelated to the Common Core, such as special education students being required to take the ACT, a college readiness exam, test security and tougher accountability for grades kindergarten through eight relative to the high number of overage students.

At least one educator said that while the training has empowered her to tailor her instruction using the Common Core, her home district says it will mandate its own curriculum tied to the new standards.

“There are differing views about this,” White told the teacher. “Our view is...principals should run their school buildings and teachers should run (classrooms).”

Later, White said districts have received the same message of empowering teachers to facilitate training and the implementation of the Common Core in their classrooms, however, “we can’t enforce it, but we can demonstrate it and hope people follow it.”

The state has provided resource materials on the new curriculum standards, White said, and later this summer will make available sample unit lessons for each grade level for math and English language arts.