Norwalk educators: Common Core will teach kids to beat parents in arguments

Norwalk Middle School English/Language Arts Department Head Tritty Kelly talks about Common Core State Standards.

NORWALK, Conn. – A familiar fictional children’s book will become the foundation for scientific learning and the development of critical thinking abilities in Norwalk Public Schools under Common Core State Standards, educators say.

“We will do our ‘Frog and Toad’ book just like we always did, but now we will pair it with an informational text on frogs and toads,” said Wolfpit Elementary School Assistant Principal Maureen Jones, referring to what she said is a classic series of easy reader books, “Frog and Toad.”

While Common Core State Standards are controversial on a state and national level, Norwalk educators agree it’s full steam ahead, Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons said recently.

That will mean a switch to more non-fiction books (now called informational text) in English classrooms and techniques to help students examine the differences in fiction and non-fiction, Jones and Middle School English/Language Arts Department Head Tritty Kelly said. Math students will be guided to reason and create arguments to back up their answers, District Math Specialist Craig Creller said.

“We’re not competing anymore with Tennessee or Massachusetts,” said Creller, head of the Norwalk Common Core Transition Team. “It’s Hong Kong, it’s Singapore. America wants to be globally competitive, that’s what it’s really about.”

It’s going to be 50-50 in terms of fiction and non-fiction for the English Language learners, Kelly said. But the kids will be digging deeper into the text, writing arguments and opinions, learning academic vocabulary as well as regular vocabulary, she said.

They will be asked to describe the characters in the Frog and Toad fiction books, and use examples from the text to back up their descriptions. They will also do a lot of comparing and constrasting, using non-fiction texts on frogs and toads.

In middle school, the mix will be 70 percent non-fiction and 30 percent fiction, Kelly said. The kids will be asked to compare the narrative styles in books and challenged to speculate how they would see the plot and characters differently if they were written from a different point of view. They will be asked to point out what narrative techniques make it obvious that a book is non-fiction, she said. They will be asked to write essays comparing and contrasting the use of details in narratives, she said.

“We’re going to teach your kids to write such wonderful arguments that you’re going to lose every time,” she said.

Creller stressed three words in regard to the math curriculum: focus, coherence and rigor.

Focus means “fewer topics learned at a much deeper level,” he said; while the old books had about 123 topics, the new books have about 50, he said.

Coherence means sticking with what is developmentally appropriate for children, he said.

“Instead of having to study probabilities in third grade, which we had to do for the Connecticut Master test, we don’t do that until sixth grade now because brain research says that’s when it’s developmentally appropriate,” he said.

Rigor means a rigorous education, he said. After 20 years of debate it’s been decided – children in second and third grades should not have calculators, he said. This is so they can learn to add and subtract, and form habits of mind, he said.

“We want our children to be persevering problem solvers,” he said. “We want them to reason abstractly, not just know the concept, but be able to quantitatively get the correct answer and, more importantly, construct viable arguments and critique the arguments of others.”


20 responses to “Norwalk educators: Common Core will teach kids to beat parents in arguments”

  1. Lifelong Teacher

    Good work, Maureen and Tritty! You gave a presentation that was meaningful to parents. Creller, as always, brings his expertise to the table.

    Now all we need is PD for building leaders and teachers.

  2. Admo

    I don’t know about any other school but at my school we have been doing this for years. nothing new to me !!!

  3. EastNorwalkChick

    “After 20 years of debate it’s been decided – children in second and third grades should not have calculators, he said. This is so they can learn to add and subtract, and form habits of mind, he said.”

    Thank god, they will go back to the old way of adding and subtracting, using our brain instead of a machine to tell us the answer. We have done a disservice to generations of kids that can’t even give change back without them looking at the register computer to know how much to give back.

  4. Marjorie M

    Admo, I remember workshops in Norwalk and in other schools systems using strategies like Venn Diagrams to compare and contrast fiction vs. non-fiction. Lots of strategies were taught at those workshops. Lots of non-fiction books were in the classroom because the Connecticut Mastery test focused on non-fiction texts. This is not at all new!

  5. Lifelong Teacher

    I don’t know what classrooms you were in, Marjorie M. I’m going back 20 years in Norwalk. There hasn’t been a lot in the way of non fiction text in elementary classrooms, especially system wide. And as far as the CMTs went, the DRP passages were non fiction, but the reading comprehension was at least half fiction, probably more.

  6. the donut hole

    Norwalk taxpayers are akin to the frog in a pot of slowly boiling water.

  7. Lisa Thomson

    Sorry Marg, I have to agree with Lifelong Teacher and I am only going back 10 years. Incredibly limited non-fiction texts when my kids were in elementary school from 2004-2010. Humorous Frog and Toad stories were a staple but it would have been nice to have some informational text about frogs and toads too! I have friends who had children back in elementary then and now and they say the increased emphasis of non-fiction, due to Common Core is quite substantial. That is a good thing!

  8. jlightfield

    “In middle school, the mix will be 70 percent non-fiction and 30 percent fiction, Kelly said.”

    oh dear, must we abandon literature?

    To be, or not to be, that is the question—
    Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
    The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
    Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—
    No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
    The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
    That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
    To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
    For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
    When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
    Must give us pause. There’s the respect
    That makes Calamity of so long life:
    For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
    The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
    The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
    The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
    That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his Quietus make
    With a bare Bodkin? Who would these Fardels bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
    No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
    Than fly to others that we know not of.
    Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
    And thus the Native hue of Resolution
    Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
    And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
    With this regard their Currents turn awry,
    And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
    The fair Ophelia. Nymph, in all thy Orisons
    Be thou all my sins remembered.

  9. Inquiring Mind

    Nice quote. How about this one?
    Enter the KING

    WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
    But one ten thousand of those men in England
    That do no work to-day!

    KING. What’s he that wishes so?
    My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
    If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
    To do our country loss; and if to live,
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
    God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
    By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
    Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
    It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
    Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
    But if it be a sin to covet honour,
    I am the most offending soul alive.
    No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
    God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
    As one man more methinks would share from me
    For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
    Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
    That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
    Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
    And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
    We would not die in that man’s company
    That fears his fellowship to die with us.
    This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
    But he’ll remember, with advantages,
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
    Familiar in his mouth as household words-
    Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
    This story shall the good man teach his son;
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remembered-
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition;
    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

  10. John Hamlin

    Great if they can read the Bard. But frankly, I am glad to see them reading anything at all !! Now if we can just introduce evaluations and accountability for teachers !!

  11. TG

    All of this has been done in the past. Has no one heard of multidisciplinary units? I can only speak for the middle grades, but for years, much of the non-fiction reading was supposed to have been accomplished in science, social studies, even related arts. Additionally, the students had two periods of language arts a day. Reading informational texts was a part of that. We will be cheating them out of literature by going 70/30. Additionally, creating critical thinkers was really sort of a goal in my classroom, as well as in those of my colleagues. My verdict is out on whether this system will actually help achieve those goals better. And honestly – I can’t believe anyone thought it was a good idea to give calculators to 2nd and 3rd graders anyway.

  12. Marjorie M

    Lisa Thomson, you were never a teacher in Norwalk. How could you possibly know what was purchased for the elementary grades? Dr. Fitzgerald, the Language Arts Supervisor back then purchased a substantial amount of non-fiction for the elementary schools. There were many Big Books for science, for example. Yes, there were fiction texts too, but she recognized the need for non-fiction and emphasized it.

  13. jlightfield

    @Inquiring Mind, always thought the histories were a harder read if one wasn’t familiar with the British empire.
    It is always interesting to watch the generation that couldn’t master the blinking 12:00 on the VCR come up with new curriculum solutions to education problems for a generation that is digital native.

  14. David

    This is great, and kudos to everyone in Norwalk involved in making this happen. Top to bottom, Teachers, Parents, Administrators and Elected representatives. Norwalk is ahead of the curve on implementing Common Core and everyone involved in making that happen should be applauded for that. My kids are doing this right now and I tell you, it’s not easy, but then again, nothing worthwhile is!

  15. Marjorie M

    Point of view was taught using Chris Van Allsburg’s book, THE BAD ANTS. Want more examples of non-fiction? Middle school teachers taught a book on the Titanic. There was a social studies book on King George in the elementary school. There were (whole class read books) on the Holocaust. There were many Big Books on insects, frogs, means of transportation, colors, numbers. What about all those informative books about the Magic School Bus? …..too many to remember. What short memories so many people have!

    Persuasive writing was also taught because the writing test for the CMT required it. Did you all lose your memory? This is not new.

  16. anonymous

    Marjorim good books but Magic School Bus as non-fiction, really now.

  17. Lifelong Teacher

    Marjorie M, it is new. Children will now be given several passages on a topic. They will have to answer questions, and then synthesize information from those passages to write their own paper including research facts from each. And this will start in grade 3. Totally different from the old persuasive writing formulaic prompts with the CMTs.

    And almost all of the non fiction books you reference were for teacher use, especially the big books. A social studies book on King George in elementary school, are you kidding me? I couldn’t think of much less relevant to our kids. And I’ve never seen anything like it.

    I don’t know where you are getting your information, or how old it is. Our elementary classes haven’t been supplied with much non fiction material. Some schools have been able to purchase their own, and many teachers spend their own money to outfit classroom libraries.

    This is a move in the right direction. I hope it’s enough.

  18. Marjorie M

    So, the content and expectations are more rigorous, you are saying. Does that mean those who fall into the gap will be even further behind? The only way I see this working is if we have homogeneous grouping. And that’s not going to happen! I am in favor of rigor, just can’t imagine what is going to happen with those who enter school with almost no vocabulary skills. I believe I am the voice of realistic thinking here. Sounds good, but prove that it will work.

  19. Chris

    “We don’t need no, education”
    “Just another brick in the wall”

    I don’t need no arms around me
    And I dont need no drugs to calm me.
    I have seen the writing on the wall.
    Don’t think I need anything at all.
    No! Don’t think I’ll need anything at all.
    All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.
    All in all you were all just bricks in the wall.

  20. Marj, its aleady been proven to work. The studies on CKLA have been posted several times on NON. Suggest you give them a look.

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