Common Core State Standards in the Classroom
Ms. Sally Booth
Ms. Sally Booth teaches seventh grade language arts-resource room and in-class support for special education students at Somerville Middle School. She has taught English language arts and social studies in public, private and charter schools, and through these experiences, believes that Common Core State Standards provide a framework to ensure students in all settings will be college- and career-ready. Ms. Booth began working as an educator after a career in communications and involvement with education policy with the Junior League. She received a Masters in Education from the College of St. Elizabeth with a concentration in special education and is a member of the New Jersey Teacher Advisory Panel.
Ms. Booth has embraced the instructional shifts that the Common Core asks educators to make in the classroom, particularly the focus on nonfiction work, close reading and building academic vocabulary. She collaborates closely with Ms. Courtney Ball, her colleague at Somerville Middle School, who teaches seventh grade general education English language arts. Together, Ms. Booth and Ms. Ball have created vocabulary roadmaps for each unit that focus on root word and prefix meanings. They teach students to "word attack" unfamiliar terms and to unpeel words using their knowledge of roots and context clues. This practice empowers students to take the time to understand each word. They have also worked together to create lesson plans that use nonfictiontexts, such as the "Gettysburg Address" and the Declaration of Independence, in combination with literature to teach students how literary themes connect to historical events across time, including present-day current events.
In her own words…
What excites you as an educator about the Common Core in your classroom?
The Common Core has provided me with more academic freedom. My classroom is no longer a place of "getting through the content" but is now an incubator for unique ideas and connections. The biggest change is the focus on acquiring thinking skills that transcend content.
The new standards allow development of rigorous lesson plans that challenge each and every one of my students and require processing difficult concepts in order to reach a deeper understanding. This interaction not only gives students a sense of accomplishment but it also makes them smarter. As a special education language arts teacher, this is particularly exciting. I say to my students every day, "smart is not something you are. Smart is something you become." (L.S. Vygotsky).
How has the Common Core encouraged collaboration in your school and classroom?
What has been most helpful with the Common Core is the fact that now all teachers are speaking the same language. We are all focusing on making our students better readers and writers through searching for evidence and dissecting words. I am working more closely with the social studies and science teachers to develop interdisciplinary units. With social studies, my students worked on a World War II research paper while reading a historical fiction novel of their choice. The synergy between the two subject areas created connections that would not have been made previously.
What is the biggest challenge in transition to the Common Core and how did you address it?
A challenge I have had in transitioning to the Common Core is letting go of the traditional classroom model and allowing the students to direct the classroom experience. I also found that initially the students were reluctant to struggle through a difficult text, but with time and scaffolding, they are learning to persevere and find meaning in complex prose.
How would you explain the importance of the Common Core to one of your students' parents?
I have said to many parents: "The Common Core sets rigorous standards and requires students to develop critical thinking skills. Don't worry, be happy that your child is being challenged! While it may be difficult now, the end result is well worth the struggle. It is essential that we give our students ample opportunities to stretch their skills in this increasingly competitive world."
Ms. Booth with colleague and collaborator Ms. Courtney Ball, who teaches 7th Grade English language arts at Somerville Middle School.