Oct 232013

By Julie Wiessner
Schools across Arizona are continuing the transition to Common Core Standards. The new standards, along with their accompanying assessment, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, are slated to be the standards and assessment tool used during the 2014-15 school year. On Sept. 20, the name was changed to Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.
Holbrook High School Principal Lance Phaturos is excited about the transition. “The critical reading, writing and thinking skills that Common Core Standards facilitates need to become ‘core’ learning for ‘common’ people in the 21st century and not just in Arizona, but across our nation,” he noted.
“I would encourage you to explore the educational gains Finland has made in the last 30 years vis-à-vis the Common Core-type related changes they have made to their educational system, which once graduated 10 percent of its population and is now ranked by international think tanks as the third leading country in innovation and competitiveness. In fact, it is ranked No. 2 by ITIF (Information Technology and Innovation Foundation) in the amount of venture capital pouring into their country, which reinforces the nexus between education and where capital will be invested and, hence, economic growth.”
Phaturos relayed that at this time, the focus of Common Core at HHS is on the critical thinking, reading and writing instructional way of doing things in classrooms. “In order to support the critical thinking and literacy goals of Common Core Standards, our curriculum content may have to be pared down. There are too many standards that cannot realistically be addressed in the amount of time in the school year,” he explained.
There are several key instructional concepts of Common Core. One of them is application of knowledge to real world situations.
“This could be something as simple as asking geometry students to point out a trapezoid on the ice rink of a National Hockey League game, or as complex as a history teacher having students interpret the World War II Policy of Appeasement argument that President (George H.W.) Bush used as a casus belli (case for war) for the first Persian Gulf War,
he said.
“When we teach like this, we not only make students smarter human beings by fostering holistic ‘big picture’ understanding, but we make them more interested in learning.”
Another key instructional concept is horizontal thinking, or connecting the dots where they weren’t connected before.
“In a way it is ‘generalizing,’ but I like to think of it as ‘applied generalization,’” said Phaturos. “…if you think about it, in a knowledge based global economy like the 21st century, innovation occurs from people ‘connecting dots’ that were previously thought of as ‘unconnected.’ Take the Internet, for example, it fused the telephone with the computer and I’m sure there were people who thought of these items as two disparate objects.
“Horizontal thinking teaches kids, more specifically, trains their minds, to not look at subject matters and content as isolated phenomena, but encourages them to synthesize existing information in order to create something new.”
The Internet, social media, cell phones and the entire Internet related array of gadgets are allowing people to become more connected all over the world.
“(I)n today’s interconnected world, events that happen in one part of the globe, don’t solely impact that part of the globe, but have an impact on other peoples around the world as well,” he continued. “Thus, it is not just global economic pressures that are requiring us to be able to think horizontally, but American and global citizenship realities as well.”
Phaturos also noted that both fiction and expository prose will be encouraged under Common Core.
“Our entire Reading Counts program is centered on ‘reading for enjoyment.’ The Common Core at the elementary level, and in junior high school and high school English classes encourage a 50-50 split,” he said. “Naturally, in social studies and science, the reading will be more expository. However, if I’m teaching World War I, the historic fiction novel All Quiet on the Western Front could and should be interacted with as well.
“It comes down to creativity and our teachers fostering student creativity by exhibiting creativity themselves, specifically in the realm of innovative lesson planning. In our English classes, if our teachers are engaging students in a fictional novel, we encourage them to bring in real life expository articles that pertain to the story in order to help strike a creative fictional-expository balance.
“I once read that innovation is ‘applied imagination,’ meaning, useful imaginative minds just don’t daydream all day like Walter Mitty, but put thoughts into action. Teachers who creatively intermix fiction and expository reading will help produce student innovators, which is in high demand in the 21st century global economy,” he concluded.
For more information on approaches teachers are taking with their students in order to implement Common Core critical thinking and literacy goals, contact your school district.