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.”