My latest article for ASCD on the Common Core State Standards. Go here to sign up for ASCD’s Common Core-focused newsletter.
Each day, it seems, new products and services come to market that aim to help teachers with the Common Core State Standards, and those products and services that seem the most effective are built from the ground up, with the classroom teacher in mind. They are created directly from requests from the trenches, where teachers and school administrators are persevering to ensure that they are prepared for the standards and the changes that will come to classrooms and school buildings.
That in-the-trenches mentality is at the heart of the development of the Common Core State Standards Video Series from the Southeast Comprehensive Center (SECC) at SEDL , a nonprofit education research, development, and dissemination organization. Part of the country’s federal system of education-related assistance centers, the SECC works closely with the states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina to provide access to information, models, and materials that facilitate implementation of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The SECC also works with state education agencies to help build their capacity to implement programs and initiatives aligned to the priorities of the U.S. Department of Education, and it is in this role that the video series was developed.
“We respond to the requests of our states,” says Camille Chapman , a program associate with SEDL’s Improving School Performance program, which encompasses the SECC. Chapman and her colleague, Dr. Como Molina, believed that the Common Core State Standards, particularly the new mathematics standards, were going to challenge teachers as they prepared to teach them, for there was a great deal of new content that elementary and middle school teachers had not seen before. In addition, some elementary and middle school standards are written from a an abstract algebraic perspective, using language that may be difficult to interpret.
“Many K–8 teachers lack certain content knowledge for math,” continues Chapman. “We wanted to give teachers something to raise their own level of expertise.”
They also wondered if online video might be the most effective way to present this new material, allowing for asynchronous viewing and repeated study, even with colleagues. Chapman and Molina reached out to their member states, asking mathematics personnel in the state departments of education to identify standards that they felt—and had heard from teachers—would present challenges for the teaching corps of each state. Mississippi and Georgia each responded with a list of standards, and Chapman and Molina went back to their colleagues in Georgia and asked them to narrow the list down to one standard per grade level.
“We thought about one video per grade level,” says Chapman,” but it’s been a little over a year since we started, and we have over 30 videos, at multiple grade levels, nearly exhausting that original list.” The videos are created based on requests from states in the SECC region and were originally provided only to those states involved in selecting the standards to be addressed. However, they were made available publicly based on requests from the U.S. Department of Education and other regional comprehensive centers looking for Common Core State Standards resources that could be shared with other states implementing the standards.
“Viewers can also download the videos of their choice,” adds Molina, “so that they can be conveniently viewed even in situations where there’s no Internet access.”
Each video highlights one mathematics standard, runs between 10 and 20 minutes, and shows viewers a whiteboard presentation narrated by Molina, whom Chapman calls the “brainchild” of these resources. Thoughtful, good-humored, and thoroughly knowledgeable, Molina leads viewers through the critical ideas and key foundations of each standard, with a review, examples, and the vocabulary that teachers and students need to be successful.
“We want our primary audience to be teachers but also wanted the videos to be useful for parents, who are helping their children with homework at night,” said Chapman.
Teachers in Georgia have been voracious users of the videos, confirmed by both the SECC’s tracking of hits to the videos and by Sandi Woodall, Mathematics Coordinator at Georgia’s department of education. “Our folks are using these video vignettes at a tremendous rate,” says Woodall.
What is most important about the video series for Woodall is the conceptual knowledge that each promotes. “I wanted a teacher resource that did not have to do with pedagogy and instructional strategies,” she says, “but one that had to do with what I thought to be an obstacle for teachers, which was conceptual understanding.” It was this deep dive into the conceptual knowledge of each standard that “resonated” with Woodall.
The SECC videos have become an integral part of the training of Georgia teachers on the Common Core State Standards, with the videos available for teachers at the same online portal from which teachers access teaching materials and data about their students. With its goal of full implementation of the standards this year, Georgia has leapt further into providing new training tools for teachers, with state-level personnel, for example, providing monthly webinars to school and district personnel on Common Core–focused units.
“And we have partnered with Georgia Public Broadcasting,” stated Woodall, “to develop and broadcast two-hour-long, grade-by-grade overviews.”
For school districts, the SECC and state are providing a wealth of resources, and Dr. Kelly Price, the curriculum coordinator at Forsyth County Schools in Cumming, Georgia, sees her role as a “conduit to the teachers.”
“We provide them with an extensive set of resources,” she says, “and our conversation with teachers is not only that they have plenty of resources, but also that they have the time to weed through them all to look at quality.” She and her colleagues at the district office assist with that process, building playlists of materials for each unit, and when she and her colleagues train at the district’s school, they use the SECC-developed video material , which, she says, “expands the conceptual understanding” of the teachers.
In fact, Georgia is not shy about offering its wealth of resources to other states. As a Race to the Top state, it has had the funding to create resources that many other states have been unable to, and Woodall says that “close to 25 states have contacted the state department about using our resources. And so we have put more and more resources on the public website, not on the private teacher portal, and that is our pay-it-forward.”
And it looks as if, on that website, there will be more SECC videos, for all teachers implementing the Common Core State Standards, not just those teachers in Georgia. The SECC’s Camille Chapman finished by saying that she and her colleagues will begin to develop videos around the language arts standards, and teachers and other users of the videos can visit the SECC website to get on an e-mail list so that they get notification when new videos are posted.
For the language arts standards, Chapman imagines a video of a teacher talking directly to the viewers, sharing a story with them, as if with 1st grade students, and then stepping out of that role to discuss what’s going on behind the reading and teaching of that story.
“Our videos [will continue to be] well received,” she concludes, “as long as we do them on the pieces that are most problematic for teachers.”
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