Common Core Already Shaping Lesson Plans

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State legislators are considering a proposal that would withdraw Indiana from the Common Core, a set of nationally-crafted academic standards adopted in 46 states. The Common Core is designed to increase the number of students prepared for college and career, but some parents and teachers say the new English and math standards aren’t as strong as what Indiana had before. StateImpact Indiana’s Elle Moxley visited kindergarten and first grade classrooms already using the new standards to see how the Common Core stacks up.


Lisa Coughanowr is reading a book to her kindergarten class about a snow day. She peppers the story with questions to check the kids’ understanding.

What’s Mom bringing out? Hot chocolate! Remember everything we can learn from the illustrations …

Most teachers won’t make the switch to Common Core until 2014. But the new standards are already shaping instruction for Indiana’s youngest students. Coughanowr still uses many of the same activities she taught under the old state standards. But now her lesson plans are aligned to the Common Core.

That’s what drives our instruction. Everything that we plan, we plan around the standards. So maybe there’s not as much fluff as there used to be.”

 Think of standards like a model skeleton. It’s up to teachers to assemble the bones and flesh them out. One of the kindergarten standards is to demonstrate a command of standard English capitalization and punctuation. Coughanowr points to a sentence in the book she’s reading aloud.

This is one sentence. Can someone tell me what a sentence always, always starts with?

Hannah Reinoehl teaches in the classroom next to Coughanowr’s at East Side Elementary in Brazil. Prior to last year, the two kindergarten teachers used themes like transportation or food to help students learn shapes, sounds, numbers and colors. They pulled lessons from a textbook.

 If the standards fit, then that was good, and if they didn’t, we taught the theme.

Indiana had good academic standards before. But proponents of Common Core adoption say teachers weren’t always teaching to Indiana standards and student performance on internationally benchmarked standardized tests lagged as a result. Reinoehl and Coughanowr say the new standards are more demanding and force them to drill into the topics they teach.

Looking at the different parts of reading and the different parts of math, how much more they can do with reading, how much better readers they’re becoming, how much better writers they are because we’re more focused on that.” “Yeah, I think you could even go as far to say as it’s made us better teachers.” “Absolutely.” “It’s made us understand the learning process a lot better.”

Schools across the state are implementing the Common Core in kindergarten and first grade. But not all teachers like the new standards. Audrey Fetters teaches at Flint Springs Elementary in Huntington. She reads the old Indiana standard for phonemic awareness.

One. The big idea. What phonemic awareness. Recognize name, capital lower case letters of the alphabet, phonemes — you know, orally stated words — and manipulate and blend sounds to make new words.

Now Fetters reads the Common Core standards. She says the new kindergarten standards are confusing — and not as strong as the old Indiana standards.

Now it’s — you know, let’s see — identify orally upper case, identify orally lower case, identify if words rhyme when given a spoken prompt, state rhyming words in response to an oral prompt, recognize the concept of a syllable, count and state the number of syllables in a word, blend syllables together to form a word when given an oral prompt, segment words into syllables orally when given a prompt …

Fetters used to teach phonemes with arts and crafts, activities she says were developmentally appropriate for kindergarteners. She wanted to know if she could still incorporate those lessons into the Common Core’s 90-minute literacy block.

So what about this — If I’m blending, having them paint or cut or do this kind of thing, cut paper and make pictures that relate to letter sounds and word patterns? I was told I wouldn’t even get the paint out.

So Fetters dropped the crafts. She says teachers are told all the time not to teach to the test. But the state is developing a new assessment based on the Common Core, and Fetters points out teachers are evaluated on their students’ test scores.

In the last five year it’s gotten crazy. I think technology gave us the ability to obsess over data.

Republican lawmaker Scott Schneider has introduced a proposal to withdraw Indiana from the Common Core. Fetters would like to see that gain traction in the statehouse. She likes State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s suggestion — pause, and take a year to review Indiana’s old standards against the Common Core.

For StateImpact Indiana, I’m Elle Moxley.

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