In previous years, Kirchner would not have asked freshmen to do close reading and textual analysis on their own so early in the school year. “Common Core is more of a discovery-based model,” she says. “The big change is being comfortable letting kids mess up.”
Florida teachers are caught this year between the old way and the new one since students will be tested on the Sunshine State Standards for a final time this spring. Kirchner decided to go full bore with the Common Core, however, and spent much of the summer revamping her syllabus. She was merciless in cutting novels, replacing them with not only nonfiction, but also with short stories and plays. In an attempt to challenge students, she added Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and the play Cyrano de Bergerac to the lineup. Instead of writing two papers with citations over the course of the school year, the students will write six.
Kirchner and other English teachers say they are assigning multiple readings on similar themes so students will be prepared to make connections between different passages on the PARCC exams. The PARCC, short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is a multistate consortium designing tests aligned with the Common Core that several states will likely begin using in 2015. (Florida was an early leader of the consortium, but appears increasingly likely to drop out and develop its own Common-Core aligned assessments at Gov. Scott’s request.)
Looking for guidance
Not all Miami-area English teachers have shifted full throttle into Common Core — at least not yet. At Carol City Senior High School, Martin and her colleague Nichole Dino say they are waiting for more guidance from school and district leaders on when, and how, to start teaching the standards.
“They’ve mentioned the different standards and how they look, but there’s been no deep discussion,” said Martin during an interview in September.
Miami-Dade schools spokesman John Schuster said administrators understand that there are teachers who haven’t yet mastered teaching the new standards, something that will take time. But the district is working to train its 21,000-plus teachers: close to 3,000 took classes over the summer, and Schuster said the district has put extra focus on preparing teachers at struggling schools like Carol City.
While many of the teachers at Coral Reef Senior High attended voluntary state-run professional development sessions on the Common Core, Martin and Dino have very few colleagues who went. (Two of their fellow teachers at Carol City planned to attend a district-sponsored session on Common Core and secondary English instruction in October, however.) They hope at least some future sessions include some guidance on teaching Common Core in low-income communities.
“I hope there are experts who’ve worked in schools that look similar to ours,” said Martin. “A lot of times, the people who run PD come from affluent schools,” she said, referring to professional development.
When the teachers at Carol City dive into the Core they will face challenges that the staff at Coral Reef — a magnet school where far more of the students come from middle-class families — do not have to worry about.
At Coral Reef, Kirchner can easily make changes to her reading assignments because she knows most of the students can afford to buy the books on their own. But at Carol City, Martin and Dino know several of their students could not shoulder an additional expense; the teachers have to wait for the school to obtain the books before requiring a text (not always a quick or easy process).