Lake Bluff teachers perfecting application of new Common Core Standards

The hallways are empty, the classrooms dark, but a trio of reading specialists at Lake Bluff District 65 spent time last week sorting through cartons of material to decide what to use in the upcoming school year.

“This book is worth something, but the rest of the books in here are just sales materials,” Denise Salit told her coworkers, as the team consolidated several large boxes of items into what they agreed will best serve the teachers and students to align with Common Core standards this school year.

Along with Salit, reading specialists Peggy Coutre and Ana Dunn met throughout the summer with Kellie Bae, the district’s curriculum coordinator, to create word-study pieces to help teachers build consistency across grade levels through such subjects as vocabulary instruction and writing.

The teams have spent much of their time huddled around a large conference table in the Lake Bluff Elementary School administrative office. The material sorting on a sunny Friday afternoon was a hands-on component of that summer-long effort.

The language arts team is just one of several that Bae has worked with during the long break from daily classes to gear up for the coming school year.

“If we can give teachers time over the summer, when they can really focus and reflect on what went well last year and what we need to change from our first year aligning to Common Core, they can focus on how we can move forward to better our practices,” Bae said.

The Common Core State Standards is the national educational initiative that defines what students should know in English language arts and math at the end of each grade. The standards went into effect last year.

Other teams that have met over the past several weeks include the English Language Learner teachers, math teachers, physical education and wellness teachers, fine arts and middle school language arts.

A big emphasis this summer was placed on writing and how the district can improve its practices, including developing opportunities for more writing throughout the school day.

“Research says that the more time students spend writing, the better they’re going to be all around and really making that connection between reading and writing,” Bae said.

For math, another key area of Common Core, teachers met during the summer vacation to familiarize themselves with changes in the new editions of the textbooks and generally get a jump on the upcoming school year.

“The direct impact on students is that teachers have had time where there’s a little less pressure over the summer to really look at the curriculum, what they had done in the past, make tweaks and to better it for the following year,” she said.

District 65 parents can expect more communication connected to Common Core, including information sent home or available on the schools’ websites.

“We’re going to build in some conversations and language for parents to help build their understanding of the standards so that they can help their students,” Bae said.

The summer work sessions also have had a heavy emphasis on the importance of critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving.

“We worked to align to Common Core last year and this year, I think, it’s just going to get even better as we work to meet the needs of all learners,” she said.

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