By Theresa L. Gray
How do you know when a movement begins? It may be as simple as a Post-it Note.
When students in the fifth grade read “Esperanza Rising,” a novel that examines the plight of Mexican farm workers as they struggle to adapt and survive in the United States, one teacher noticed that her students were so engaged that they loaded their texts with Post-it Notes. Students then used the notes to have group discussions.
Another teacher saw students who often struggled with reading better understand a novel’s perspectives when asked to draw pictures to demonstrate comprehension. The alternative ways of demonstrating understanding as well as discussions have helped many struggling readers to be successful.
Lessons and strategies such as these are part of curriculum resources in New York State that are helping students master the Common Core state standards, which set the goal of ensuring that all students are ready for college and well prepared for the careers of tomorrow. They also have the potential to inspire students to love reading.
Most local school districts are in our second year of implementing the curricular resources on EngageNY.org for grades three to eight in English Language Arts. We knew introducing new standards and curriculum was going to be challenging, and many of us weren’t sure what these changes would look like at the classroom level. We questioned whether the material would be too hard. Can the students do this? With many examples, such as classrooms studying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and “Esperanza Rising,” students across our region are demonstrating that, yes, they can.
Together, we spent a lot of time on professional development, helping teachers understand the organization and structure of the curricular resources to effectively teach their students. Our “veteran” teachers who used them last year can now speak to the power of the modules and resources on EngageNY as well as the power of the learning that is happening.
At first glance, many criticize the teaching modules for the rigor of the text or the activities that are involved – that students won’t be able to do that work, won’t be engaged with the reading. Once teachers saw the quality of the modules and saw the changes in their classroom, they began to share their experiences at our regional forums, and that is when it went from a Post-it to the beginnings of a movement.
As someone focused on leading and supporting teachers, the last two years have been incredibly fulfilling. With the Common Core and EngageNY, we now have more meaningful professional conversations and collaboration that are helping students succeed in the classroom and, hopefully, beyond.
Theresa L. Gray is coordinator of Integrated Education Services for Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES.