My View: Preparing students to do more than they think possible
An editorial by Scott Hartl, president and CEO of Expeditionary Learning, appeared on May 9th, 2014 in the Times Herald-Record, which serves communities in the Hudson Valley/Catskills area in New York.
The Common Core sets the criteria for learning to ensure that students are well prepared when they go to college and choose a career. Yes, the standards are hard, but they are clear about how we want students to be better thinkers, readers and writers. Erin Daly, a fifth-grade teacher at P.S. 36 in the South Bronx is seeing results in working with the curricular resources on EngageNY.org. "All of my students have moved at least two reading levels so far this year, and some as many as four."
Expeditionary Learning (EL) created the English Language Arts curriculum for grades 3-8 that is available to all teachers on EngageNY.org. More than 60 teachers and over 100 classroom educators came together to write the EL curriculum. It is being used by more than a thousand schools across New York and by schools in 25 states.
In Pauline Liu's column, "They Still Don't Get the Common Core," (April 14, 2014), a parent questioned why his fifth-grade son was memorizing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) before he studied the U.S. Constitution. There is no requirement to memorize the UDHR. Students read the articles closely with teacher and peer support.
The UDHR unit is aligned to the state's fifth-grade social studies standards. It enables students to think critically, analyze text, and develop comprehension skills. Students read 11 articles from the UDHR because they are relevant to fifth graders, accessible, and rich in vocabulary that will help students understand important social studies concepts and empower them when they read other texts. This text is worthy of close reading, both in terms of what it offers and what it demands.
Teachers using our curriculum describe, often with pleasant surprise in their voices, how their students rise to the challenge of this curriculum. One teacher noted: "I am a fifth-grade teacher who has taught the UDHR unit for the last two years. Students in my class(es) read the articles of th UDHR to understand the fundamental, basic, human rights that all human beings should have. They sketch, they act out, they read about the articles until they — in their words - can describe what those rights are. Then they use that understanding of what should be our basic rights and freedoms to identify situations in other places, locally and globally, where those rights have been challenged and upheld. Months later my students still make connections between something we've read or something they've seen on TV to our learning about our human rights."
The EL curriculum has been downloaded from the EngageNY website 1.67 million times in New York state and across the nation. The Common Core is encouraging schools, teachers, students and families to reach further and work harder. These are the kinds of challenges that will prepare our students to be successful beyond the walls of their classrooms. With our curriculum, we believe the Common Core provides an opportunity to create learning experiences where teachers and students can do more than they think is possible.