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Pleasanton Weekly

News - August 9, 2013

PUSD teachers learn new strategies at summer institute

Teachers train colleagues on Common Core State Standards

by Glenn Wohltmann

Teachers are headed back to school later this month armed with new tools.

A teacher summer institute was held in June, with more than 400 in attendance, according to Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi, who said another session is planned for later this month.

"It was all around Common Core State Standards," Ahmadi said, explaining that teacher leaders held different sessions and teachers decided which sessions to attend.

Nimarta Grewal, an eighth-grade history teacher at Pleasanton Middle School, was both an attendee and a presenter at the summer institute.

Grewal said she learned about "text-dependent questions and also a strategy called close reading, which is a very specific way of reading and interacting with text."

Common Core asks students to dig more deeply into what they're learning and requires more nonfiction reading. The standards apply across all classes, so that students will be doing more reading in science as well as history.

"Common Core is asking literacy to be shared by all teachers. It's supposed to be across all disciplines," Grewal explained adding that the standards mean moving from "the theoretical, what they're learning, and applying it in practical ways."

"It involves more critical thinking, it involves more collaboration," she said.

Wendi Sullivan teaches seventh-grade language arts and history, also at PMS, and attended the first summer institute, on June 18-19.

"I did receive a wealth of information. Some of it I had been introduced to, but going into more depth and being with teachers helps you build your knowledge," Sullivan said. "It's going to give me the tools I need to modify what I've done in the past as well as creating new ways of teaching."

That's exactly what Grewal hopes. She offered her insights to Common Core standards at two sessions of the summer institute, focusing on literacy, history and social studies for teachers in middle and high schools.

Grewal acknowledged there have been some teachers who are hesitant to change teaching methods that already work. But she said teachers don't have to rethink their entire strategies for learning; she explains that Common Core standards may be a matter of tweaking classes to incorporate deeper thinking.

"We're just kicking it up a notch," Grewal said. She's already looking forward to Aug. 21, when she'll be presenting again, this time incorporating what she's learned over the summer through the Alameda County Office of Education.

"This summer I added AVID strategies, additional Common Core interdisciplinary strategies," she said. "I'm just trying to incorporate what I've learned this summer to make the August session better."

AVID -- Advancement Via Individual Determination -- is designed to make sure students are ready for college. College readiness is the overarching idea behind Common Core, with the idea of ensuring graduates from high schools across the country are prepared to enter college by the end of their senior year, and building downward from there, so that juniors have the skills for 12th grade, and sophomores are ready for 11th, all the way down to middle and elementary school students, with specific measurements and goals along the way.

"The fact that the district dedicated two full days showed a commitment to implementing Common Core standards in our school in a comprehensive manner," Grewal said.

She said that Pleasanton is one of the few districts in the county that has offered training in the standards to teachers.

"I really appreciate how the district is embracing the idea of teachers teaching teachers. I really appreciate that," Grewal said.

Now, as they get ready for the coming school year, teachers are thinking about how to bring the standards into their classes.

"That's where my head is going right now, trying to figure out how to make these adjustments," Sullivan said. "I will be asking students to read more deeply, independently, and then asking hem to work more collaboratively to gain a deeper understanding of the material. In other words, rather than me getting up there and telling them, I'm going to ask them to read on their own and come up with ideas."

In the past, she said, "We've gotten up and done more lecturing. Now it's modeling the skill and asking the students to do it."


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