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Teachers use final days of this school year to prep for the next

Principal Bob Bender wanted to make sure his teachers started planning for September before they left for summer vacation. So P.S. 11 joined more than 600 schools in scrapping classes on Monday and Tuesday in favor of adding prep time for teachers.

Department of Education officials extended the option, which parents were supposed to approve, to all schools late this spring. Many schools took the time to give teachers a crash course in new learning standards known as the Common Core.

The Common Core emphasizes “deeper” thinking and problem-solving skills. Next year’s state tests will be based on the new standards.

P.S. 11 routinely earns A’s on its city progress reports, and Bender said he is not worried about its performance next year because his staff has been thinking hard about the instructional shifts they will have to make.

“It’s not going to be asking ‘What is 8 times 5?’ It’s going to be ‘I have 8 bookshelves, and 40 books, so how many books go on each shelf?'” he said. “We spend a lot of time on problem-solving, giving kids strategies to solve problems.”

This year, the city asked schools to practice with the new standards in one math unit and one literacy unit, and next year, they’ll be expected to roll out two Common Core-aligned units in each subject. But at P.S. 11, Bender asked his teachers to plan their curriculums in teams made up of teachers at each grade level — and align every one of their units to the Common Core.

“The task is monumental,” Bender said. “You can’t expect the teachers to do anything if you don’t give them the time. It’s one thing to give them professional development, but it’s another thing to give the teachers time to plan their work.”

On Tuesday, a group of seven teachers in a second-floor kindergarten classroom established that the first writing unit this fall, which used to be about narrative reading and writing, would focus instead on informational texts that the Common Core emphasizes.

In a nearby fifth-grade classroom, teachers were reviewing a rubric for students to gauge how much they know (levels of competence ranged from “novice” to “master”) and determine the best approach to learn more.

“Our goal next year is to have a lot more student ownership of what they know,” teacher Rachel Cerlen explained. “Like, ‘I know I’m a novice here, but I’m an apprentice there.”

“The goal for the end of the two days is that all of our planning is in place, so every staff member has equal access to it,” Bender said as he walked among the classrooms, where teachers were huddled around laptops, typing their curriculum plans into a software program.

Some of P.S. 11’s teachers also met for the first time this week in a new group, called the Professional Learning Committee, to plan a training session for the days before school starts in September. The session will focus on the Danielson Framework, a model for observing teachers that the city hopes will ultimately become part of the formal evaluation system.

For the first time this fall, P.S. 11 teachers will videotape their lessons and review each other’s teaching practices in groups of three. They’ll use the “low-inference” observation model, which requires classroom observers to record judgement-free information on what a teacher is doing during class and how students are responding. Each trio will also pick an area of the Danielson Framework to study and apply to their teaching based on the feedback they receive from the videos.

Ada Cordova, who heads P.S. 11’s network, Children First 206, joined Bender as he made the rounds on Tuesday. She said seven out of 10 schools she oversees opted to do professional development this week instead of hold regular classes. Meanwhile, Cordova’s network team has been meeting with school leaders to discuss their professional development plans, the Common Core, and the quality reviews that the department conducts of each school.

“You’re going to be ready to go in September,” Cordova said to Bender.

“Yep, we are,” he replied.

“The principals in many schools give an hour here, an hour there,” Cordova said. “But to have this kind of chunk of time [allows] much more in-depth work.”

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