Iowa’s Teacher of the Year supports Iowa Core
It’s an average day in Jane Schmidt’s eighth-grade literacy classroom. Well, as average as you can get in a classroom headed by the 2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year.
“Let’s examine today’s standards, or expectations,” Schmidt tells students as soon as they are seated. They cast their eyes to the wall bearing the standards. On tap today are two standards: citing textual evidence to support analysis and inference in their readings, and engaging in collaborative discussions. “Questions?”
The Maquoketa Middle School students quickly assemble into small groups to discuss today’s work. Discussion is brisk. They are comparing two different texts on a story about a 4-year-old Pakistani child sold to make rugs. Facts are compared, the tone of writing is analyzed. How does this style portray the story? Does the other story change the meaning or understanding?
Collaborative conversations, analytical thinking, inferences. Welcome to the 21st century classroom. Welcome to the Iowa Core, the statewide standards that this Teacher of the Year swears by. The Iowa Core isn’t the flavor of the day, Schmidt says, but something that truly revolutionizes education.
The Iowa Core “makes us look at our units in a different way,” she said. “It takes learning to a much deeper level. The emphasis is on higher-level thinking – such as analysis, critical-thinking – that you get through textual evidence.”
Schmidt says the Iowa Core is a departure from the past.
“No Child Left Behind required us to teach students skills, but not really to think,” she said. “The Iowa Core makes them evaluate, discern.”
The Iowa Core is the state’s roadmap for what students are expected to learn from kindergarten through 12th grade in mathematics, English/language arts, science and social studies. Iowa was the last state in the nation to adopt statewide standards in 2008; state legislators led this shift away from locally determined standards, which had caused inconsistent expectations in schools across the state.
The Iowa Core sets high expectations but doesn’t dictate how to teach. The standards give students, parents, and teachers a clear, common understanding of what students need to learn at every grade level. It’s up to the teaching professionals and their local school boards to determine how students learn the standards.
The Iowa Core enables teachers to take learning to a deeper level, Schmidt says. The standards enhance her work and student outcomes.
“The advent of Iowa Core emphasizes that literacy instruction is everyone's job and not just the job of a literacy teacher,” she said. “A great deal of the higher-level comprehension skills provided within the Iowa Core standards can also be emphasized within courses like social studies and science as we all collaborate toward developing students who are critical readers and writers.”
Before the Iowa Core, Schmidt said, teachers would merely ask students what they learned from a reading assignment. By incorporating the standards, teachers create lesson plans that go further – asking students to apply critical-thinking skills to make inferences and analysis based upon what they read.
“Sure, it is hard for our students because we’re asking them to think,” she said. “It will take a while for them to get used to it because it’s more challenging. It’s not rote memorization. I think we haven’t asked enough of our kids. We haven’t challenged them enough. And why wouldn’t we?”