BY CHERYL SLAVIN
Teachers and administrators from the tri-state area attended a one day Common Core Academy last Monday, presented by Discovery Education, a subsidiary of Discovery Communications, better known as the parent to the Discovery Channel. The free workshop, which offered tips for using digital media and other educational technologies to help implement the standards, took place at the Dolce Conference Center in Palisades.
Discovery Education’s professional development staff created these academies in response to the overwhelming calls for transition assistance from teachers and administrators over the past few years as Common Core has been adopted. The academies are available in the areas of English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Leadership. They are always offered for free, although throughout the day the facilitator will also direct participants to products and services that Discovery Education offers for a fee. The workshop offered Monday was the second one in Rockland County; in the near future there will be academies offered in New Jersey and upstate New York as well.
Given that Discovery Education itself focuses on digital educational media and tools, it was no surprise that the day long activities heavily emphasized those aspects of common core and its implementation. However, in addition to guiding the attendees through a myriad of on line resources, Johnna Weller, Discovery Education’s Director of Professional Development, also directed the participants through a series of hands-on exercises geared toward increasing familiarity and comfort level with the standards.
“The goals of graduating students who are college and career ready, who can think critically and analytically, who are competent in the basic requirements of math and science, are really not anything new,” Weller explains. “The difference now is that we live in a digital and media driven world. Students need to be skilled at navigating the limitless resources available through the internet, as well as possess the critical discernment necessary to be successful.”
Discovery Education takes a five part approach to incorporating the common core standards into the classroom: digital integration, evidence-based reading, writing and thinking, purposeful assessment of learning, texts and tasks with rigor and complexity, and higher, clearer learning targets. Addressing the hot button issue of “purposeful assessment,” Weller emphasized that her company does not endorse any one type of testing, but rather works with local educators to competently prepare themselves and their students for statewide tests, as well as develop meaningful local assessment tools. She is optimistic about the ultimate benefits of assessments that gauge not only students’ knowledge but their critical thinking skills as well. At the same time she acknowledges that many students, especially those in the upper grades who are not accustomed to the new type of teaching, might have difficulty adapting to tests that rely less on factual proficiency and more on close reading and analysis.
“It is not the standards themselves that people seem to object to so much,” she has found, “as it is the way in which educators and parents feel that the standards have been imposed upon them, and the lack of preparation and support.” People are also resistant to change, she noted, especially when facing something as complex as two categories of over 30 standards each, organized into several different subdivisions, with 12 different grade-level expectations for each standard.
However, Weller also notes that almost anything an educator needs to learn about Common Core can be found on line, much of it for free. Lack of funds alone ought not to prevent a school district from accessing the information and support it needs to understand and implement the standards.
“Parents and educators must keep in mind,” she continues, “that common core sets out standards, not curriculum. States and local districts are still in charge of what the students learn.” The goal is for students to become “self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital materials.”
In addition to the academies already scheduled, Discovery Education will provide common core academies or customized professional development to individual schools or districts. Interested educators can go to discoveryeducation.com/common-core-academies or corporate.discovery.com (choose “common core support” from the administrators drop down menu).