Common Core: Brandman faculty members stress patience, training
Search social media sites for posts about Common Core standards and you’re likely to find a stack of posts by parents wondering what their children are learning.
During a recent Brandman University School of Education faculty meeting in Irvine, we sat down with a few key members of the faculty to discuss the often maligned topic and what Brandman does to support teachers, administrators and school districts through this major change in K-12 education.
Kathy Theuer, associate dean and director of accreditation; Lynn Larsen, associate dean and associate professor; Faith Polk, associate professor of early childhood and multiple subjects; Carla Piper, professor of multiple and single subjects; and Tamerin Capellino, assistant professor and program developer of the new M.A. in educational leadership and administration (MA-ELA), make sure the curriculum in each of Brandman’s education programs matches Common Core goals. Here’s what they had to say.
What do you think the recent test score results say about Common Core?
Theuer: That it’s harder than the prior assessments, more high level, more rigorous.
Larsen: I think anytime you implement a program that has such a wide scope and such a significant impact on how teachers teach and students learn, you’re going to have a period of time when everyone is adjusting to how to teach, how to learn and how to assess. It’s not just the teachers. It’s the students who have to learn in a significantly different way than they had to before. It’s going to take a few years for everyone to feel comfortable and for assessments to be true to what the students are able to do.
Capellino: The current test scores are really just baseline data. We don’t have year-to-year comparative data. So what do the scores tell us? We don’t know what those scores mean in terms of growth. It’s going to take a few years to have a good grasp of what those scores say and how students are progressing.
Is there a way to make people understand it will take time?
Piper: I think through parent education and parent involvement. They were comfortable seeing those statistics that said their child was above average, and they were thrilled with that. However, they (the tests) weren’t measuring anything in terms of creativity and critical thinking. In math they have to explain their thought process and their calculations. And often times those results can be open-ended. They don’t have to be a finite number. This is an adjustment for everyone, and I know parents are in a panic. But the more you can involve parents and show them what’s happening and the difference in the way their children are learning, I think the better off you’ll be. And you’ll be able to get their support.
Polk: I know along with my son’s results was a letter from the school specifically saying why the results might look different, also discussing the fact that these children have had exposure to Common Core for a very limited period of time. Whereas in the future, they’ll have had this kind of instruction over a longer period of time.
Piper: If you start getting Common Core in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, it’s not going to be such a shock as you move up through the grades. Especially at the upper grades, it’s been quite a shock.
Theuer: And districts didn’t always have a lot of time to ramp up their teachers so they would be prepared. So there was a gap there.
Capellino: A lot of districts opted to do a wait-and-see approach in terms of preparing their teachers through staff development because they didn’t think it would be funded – due to the nature of the fiscal crisis and underfunding of education in California – and that put some districts far behind in terms of implementation.
Larsen: It’s a bit of information overload for parents.
Piper: The technology has been a real challenge. School districts had to purchase and have very sophisticated networking systems. There are just a lot of little things that students are going to have to learn.
Polk: Don’t kick the power strips that are underneath the desk. That happened and it turned off everything, including the computers they were taking the tests on.
Piper: A lot of students are used to typing. They’re not used to using a mouse. They don’t know how to drag and drop. The whole drag and drop thing is new to them – even if they have iPads or phones, they’re used to flipping through. Districts have had to decide: do we give tablets or do we use computers and keyboards? So there’s been a lot of discussion with all the major companies – Apple, Google, Microsoft – they’re all concerned about what these students need, and how can we make it affordable so districts can outfit everyone to be successful. Meanwhile the teachers don’t have the training, either.
Larsen: You don’t want it to be a typing test rather than a content test. If students have to hunt and peck because they don’t have the keyboarding skills, then it’s not a true test of their knowledge. It’s a test of how quickly they can type. So I think some of the districts were caught unaware of the technological demands, the skills students would have to have to do well on the assessments.
What can teachers do to ramp themselves up and what can districts do?
Theuer: A lot of professional development for their staff.
Capellino: Differentiated professional development, because a lot of professional development out there is just one size fits all. And therefore a lot of those resources are wasted rather than addressing where teachers are at in their development.
Theuer: Professional learning communities and have instructional coaches work with them, so it’s not sit down at an in-service for five days and learn about Common Core. Implement with coaching, talk about what you’re doing with your colleagues on your professional learning communities or teams.
Capellino: Because the Common Core is so grounded in technology, the research has shown that one of the primary indicators of full technology integration at a school site, is the leader’s own ability to use technology and model it for their staff. So I would say that here at Brandman that’s something we’ve done by revamping our ed admin program (MA-ELA) and have fully integrated technology, so that our candidates come out as full 21st century technology leaders so that they can run the schools of the future and really model that technology for their teachers.
Larsen: Our student teachers and interns are seen as leaders in the districts that they serve in. We were one of the first universities to be infused with Common Core across the state, so we’re very proud of that. As we have our Memorandum of Understandings (MOU) with districts, one of the things they want from us is professional development on the Common Core and they see us as a leader in that area. They want us to come in and provide professional development for their teachers. I was kind of surprised because it has been around for a while. But this year when I sat down with the two partners that I’m working with on MOUs, top of the list was Common Core. And the things that funnel into Common Core.
Theuer: We’ve been asked to be partners on two department training grants for two different districts. Our faculty is going out and doing professional development. We’ll reach out to folks to get the grants together and work with them on whatever the needs might be.
Capellino: The role of the leader at the site has really shifted. They are the ones who are supposed to be the provider of professional development and serve as instructional leaders. For example in our old educational administration program, there was a little smidgen of professional development included in the coursework. In our new program, we have an entire course on professional learning and growth, so that emphasis is there to support the transformational change created by Common Core so our principals can truly be instructional leaders in that area. This is where Brandman faculty can fit in and help model effective professional development practices to districts around the state, using the model of train the trainer. We have to prepare principals to lead professional development at their sites.
Larsen: I think one piece that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is the student piece. Last year, when my students were seniors in high school, it was the pilot year of the assessment. They knew it wasn’t going to count for anything. They were in a large public high school, and I can tell you that many of the students that took it blew it off because it didn’t matter. But there also wasn’t much information to them about what they were trying to do and what Common Core is. I think for our older students in middle and high school, who half their academic career was learning one way and now you’re expecting them to completely shift gears, provide them some information about Common Core and how their learning is going to be different. I think they need to know that.
Polk: I think that is happening at some level but it’s such a mind shift for them that they don’t have the background knowledge of skills or the academic vocabulary to understand what’s being expected of them. So they’ve been regurgitating for years, but now they’re getting worksheets that aren’t regurgitation, so they don’t even know where to begin.
Larsen: And that’s a culture shift. And culture shifts have to be in place from the top down.
What do you think is not being talked about that should be when it comes to Common Core and testing.
Theuer: Do you mean the general public? Right now there’s bashing of Common Core and people pulling out of the tests in other states. I think what’s not being addressed out of that is why the Common Core is going to help prepare our students for the future. The critical thinking components and the writing and the problem solving they need to do as part of this is what we need moving forward as a nation and for students to be college and career ready. So, the positives (are not being talked about). It’s the negatives that make the headlines.
Larsen: And really when you look at the skill sets students need in the workforce today and college … having twins that just started college this fall, I can tell you that a lot of the work that they’re doing is Common Core. It’s problem solving, it’s creative thinking. They’re doing fine because we provided them with opportunities do those things over the years with science fairs and Odyssey of the Mind and things like that. But there are a lot of students who are coming into college not really having that skill set. So it’s not just content, it’s how to learn college content. It’s a double whammy and they see some of their classmates struggling. What Common Core prepares them for is that critical thinking piece, the problem solving, the higher demand for written output and technological skills. They’re going to be better prepared to be successful in college and the workplace as well. You see the technological demands for so many jobs now are so significant that those skills are going to translate into careers whether they go to college or not.
Polk: And we’re preparing them for careers that don’t exist today. So if you are a critical thinker and you are a problem solver and you’re a team player, that creates flexibility in thinking and navigating the world and without those skills … I can go Google all that knowledge but I can’t Google critical thinking skills.
Larsen: We’re a much more collaborative society than we were before so the workplace is much more collaborative and colleges and courses are much more collaborative than they used to be, unlike back in the day, you would go to your lecture, you would go home and do your assignment, you would take a test. Now there are group projects in every one of their classes. So being able to work with others is a skill. You don’t just walk in and know how. You have to learn to work together, how to share your ideas appropriately, how to write your thoughts and produce a product that demonstrates what your group has talked about. So I think Common Core is preparing students to be able to do all those kinds of things.
Piper: We have the 21st century skills framework that we’ve been talking about ever since we hit the 21st century. But I think maybe parents need to be more aware of those skills and skill sets that their own children will need.
What does Brandman have to offer?
Capellino: We’re preparing the principals of the future.
Theuer: And we have credential programs for preparing teachers that use Common Core.
Larsen: In our master degree programs, we have an emphasis area in 21st century learner pedagogy (teaching methods) and andragogy (adult-learner teaching methods).
Capellino: So veteran teachers who want to come back for a master’s, we can help them.
Larsen: And all of our courses, credential and master’s programs are fully infused Common Core as appropriate.
Polk: And for those just beginning their college career, we have a B.A. in early childhood which creates a great foundation for any credential program or to be an early childhood teacher or administrator, where it all starts.
Piper: We work with county offices of education, where we do induction programs.
Polk: We also do free workshops at our campuses.
Piper: California has a lot of creative teachers. They didn’t all come from us but a lot of them did. It’s exciting. They’re definitely doing Common Core coaching.
In addition to the degree and credentialing programs, Brandman University Extended Education offers the following Independent Study course:
- EDIU 9008 Teaching to the Core: Common Core Standards Demystified
- EDIU 9000 Integrating Career Exploration into any Curriculum
- EDIU 9007 Digging Deeper: Earn professional development units for in-services, trainings, and workshops you attend to deepen your Common Core skills.
- EDIU 9308 Integrating Conference Content into Your Curriculum: Earn professional development units for in-services, trainings, and workshops you attend to deepen your Common Core skills.
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