Beginning next year, all schools in Colorado will begin using the new Colorado Academic Standards as their guide to what instruction is provided in the classroom. The standards indicate to teachers the general content that is to be taught at the specific grade level.
The new standards, in some cases, make significant changes in the grade level that content is taught, and marks a large shift in thinking at the state level. The new Colorado Academic Standards are written around concept-based learning rather than dictating specific facts to be learned.
Garfield Re-2 Director of Curriculum Larry Brady explained that concept-based standards and instruction will look different in the classroom.
"For example," said Brady, "previously students may have studied specific facts about the life of Martin Luther King Jr., but by using concept-based instruction, information about Martin Luther King Jr. may be presented as part of the concept of leadership.
"Students would then be able to understand different styles of leadership, compare and contrast different leaders and different styles and develop deeper understanding of not only the concept of leadership, but of the leaders themselves," Brady said.
As part of the shift in the standards, the Colorado Department of Education realized that smaller districts do not have the resources to retool their entire curriculum. To support Colorado school districts, CDE asked for volunteers to create unit templates that teachers and administrators can use to modify their existing lessons and help ensure that the Colorado Academic Standards are being taught.
Garfield Re-2 has four staff members participating in this process. Brady, Elk Creek Elementary Academic Coach Kim Frees, Elk Creek music teacher Rachel Monarch and Coal Ridge High School Assistant Principal Scott Zevin are playing various roles in the transition.
Brady and Zevin are facilitating teachers' creation of the units, Frees helped develop the elementary math units, and Monarch helped develop the elementary music units.
"I'm excited about the changes," said Frees. "I am so glad I was able to participate in the process so that I have a better understanding and knowledge of the Colorado Academic Standard implementation. I feel like I'm in a better position to help implement the changes in our district."
At the elementary level, said Monarch, an example of a concept-based unit is patterns. Students will learn how patterns are used in math through shapes and numbers, in science through weather, leaves or crystals, and in music through rhythm and sounds.
"If the focus is on a unit like patterns, a child will be able to relate to something they have learned in another class and wonder how it the concept applies in an area like music. When they make the connection on their own now, it is so wonderful to see. Their eyes get big, their smiles get wide, and they see that their learning is so much bigger than one subject and one classroom," she said.
Monarch added that this process for educators is not a start-over process, but a modification process, because the concept-based units are to be used as frameworks for the lessons. The way a teacher delivers the instruction and the specific resources will remain within the teacher's control.
"We all teach so differently, but if we can all have the same framework top-down, the kids will benefit from the same knowledge," Monarch said.
Zevin facilitated science teachers in the creation of units in early November. Prior to the experience, he too felt that the new standards and the process that CDE was taking to support districts and teachers was positive.
"This has created more thinking and discussion among teachers. We want kids thinking and reflecting more about the information and not just recalling facts. As we know, skills and core knowledge is important, but ultimately, we want them making connections across classes and across disciplines," said Zevin. "This is just the next step to help teachers do this day-to-day throughout their instruction."
Brady added that the implementation of the new standards is just one of the legislative changes that school districts have to adapt to. In addition, the Educator Effectiveness Act will change the ways that teachers and administrators are evaluated. New student assessments in science and social studies are coming next year and literacy and math assessments are coming in 2014-15.
"It's all interconnected though," Brady concludes. "In the end, it's still about teaching the right stuff, using effective instruction, and measuring whether or not students are learning. New initiatives aside, it is still about teaching and learning."
For information about Colorado Academic Standards or the Garfield Re-2 School District, contact Theresa Hamilton at 665-7621.
Theresa Hamilton is the director of district-wide services for the Garfield Re-2 School District, serving Rifle, Silt and New Castle. Contact her at 665-7621.