I teach second grade on a military base where every year a large number of my students have come from another state or even another country. I have seen the effects varying educational standards have had on many of my students. While their education in their previous school might have been on track with that state’s standards, the education they received was not on track with Idaho’s standards. Once successful, confident students suddenly find themselves struggling to cope with the material I am teaching while I find myself struggling to fill in the gaps in their education. Last year, my students were writing stories with beginning, middle, and ending paragraphs and I had a student join my class midway through the year who didn’t have the skills to write a complete sentence. I had to go back to basics with this student and teach him to write a complete sentence with a subject and predicate, with a capital letter at the beginning and a period at the end, and then show him how to write a paragraph and join paragraphs to make a story.
I have seen situations like this repeated over and over with my students. It is very difficult for the student who is unsure about being in a new school to suddenly be faced with a curriculum they don’t understand. I have seen students lose their confidence and self-worth and feeling of security in the classroom as they struggle to understand unfamiliar concepts and perform tasks they have no skills for. I am so afraid they will just simply shut down and give up. It is also equally difficult to try to explain to frustrated parents that their child, whom they thought was a successful student, is now a struggling student because the curriculum and standards at the previous school were not the same as what we have in Idaho.
As I go through our curriculums and match the lessons to the standards, I am pleased to see that most of what I have been doing is right on track. When I look at a specific standard I find that I am teaching lessons that meet that standard several times throughout the year. Looking at the new Core Standards has helped me to focus my teaching on specific skills and to better assess my students’ progress. I can include many mini-lessons within a lesson review skills and concepts previously taught, fill gaps, and deepen students’ understanding. When teaching descriptive writing last week, I also reviewed capitalization and punctuation; nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and contractions; subject and verb agreement; and paragraph structure. I enjoy releasing responsibility for learning to my students as their skills grow and understanding develops. It is thrilling to see my students get excited about learning when I let them make choices and they are actively involved in procedures, products, and discussions. It is also thrilling to see them extend and apply something we learned to another subject or task. For example, I had a student practice spelling words by writing them to create the shapes we worked with in math and before long, several students were doing it.
I am excited that Idaho joined the majority of states in adopting the Common Core Standards. With so many states adopting these standards, a lot of struggles and deficits I see in my students should diminish within a few years. Learning will be more engaging and exciting for students as they develop skills and gain knowledge necessary for higher education and living and working in the 21st century.