Schools gear up for curriculum change to Common Core New format stresses critical thinking instead of memorization by students

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Critical thinking and analysis are the buzzwords associated with the state’s new curriculum, Common Core Standards, that will be implemented statewide for the 2014-2015 school year.

On Monday parents and guardians of students at Warren Central Junior High School and Vicksburg Junior High School met at VJHS to learn more about Common Core Standards, then Tuesday, a similar meeting was held at Vicksburg and Warren Central high schools.

The meetings were the third and fourth in the district aimed at introducing parents to the differences between older curricula and Common Core.

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For Kimberly Winters, whose daughter Victoria is an eighth-grader at VJHS, the reason for attending the Common Core forums was simple.

“I want my child to be a successful student,” Winters said.

Developed in collaboration with administrators, teachers and education experts, Common Core Standards have become the benchmark for statewide curricula.

The standards provide a consistent framework, which is based heavily on college requirements and expectations, emphasizing high-order thinking skills.

With the Mississippi Department of Education adopting Common Core in the fall of 2014, the standards are a departure from previous frameworks that often varied from district to district.

Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Swinford emphasized that the district’s success will be tied to parental involvement.

“The main goal would be more for parents to understand we can’t do it alone,” Swinford said. “If the parents are not involved, the kids are not going to pass. It’s drill and practice. Thinking skills don’t always come naturally.”

Swinford praised the district’s curriculum department as well as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Paula Johnson.

“We’ve worked really hard with the curriculum department,” Swinford said. “She makes that vision happen beautifully and is exceeding in that direction.”

Johnson said the challenges of moving from the old Mississippi frameworks to Common Core were how the curricula was approached. Under the old curriculum, teachers were only required to discuss certain subjects. With Common Core, student testing will be the main valuation for whether or not a teacher is following the curriculum.

“One of the greatest challenges for us is changing from an expectation of what teachers teach to what the students learn,” Johnson said. “It is focused on the level of growth and academic achievement with each student.”

Since the switch to Common Core was announced, Johnson has helped create professional development sessions, particularly with the elementary teachers. Johnson said that, along with inviting educational professionals in to train teachers in Common Core, the district will emphasize model teachers who will eventually be filmed and used as additional training.

Tilden Young, a fourth-grade teacher at A.W. Watson Elementary, hosted his students’ parents for two Common Core training sessions.

“The students are accustomed to the style we previously had,” Young said. “We had to retool our approach that we have as teachers to the students.”

Young said today, most parents are unfamiliar with Common Core’s methods and requirements.

“In their day, they used the direct knowledge method,” Young said. “It’s as if the parents’ help is obsolete. I want them to come in so I can give them the message I use to teach. A lot of parents are very receptive to it.”

The final forum for parents of students at Dana Road Elementary, Vicksburg Intermediate, Warrenton Intermediate and Bowmar Avenue Elementary will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Dana Road.