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When Betsy read the story, did she struggle sounding out the words? Was the vocabulary easy for her? Could she tell her reading group what the story was about? Could she write a paragraph about the premise?  

Those basic comprehension and literacy skills for first through eighth graders are at the heart of  the five-year-old Common Core curriculum. 

“Common Core is a deeper level. We’re talking about instead of a plot summary we’re doing an analysis of the text. That’s how Common Core has raised the rigor,” explains Kathy Schaeflein, director of Curriculum and Instruction for Homewood School District 153. The problem for teachers has been the lack of good Common Core-themed materials. 

Schaeflein said District 153’s administration didn’t want to rush into buying materials. They wanted a good fit, which is why she worked with a teachers’ committee for more than two years evaluating the teaching of English and Language Arts and the materials available to help children master skills. This past year, teachers at each grade level got to try out new materials in a pilot program. 

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Their feedback gave the board of education the assessment it needed to move forward with a nearly $260,000 budget for new English/Language Arts materials starting next school year. The materials vary by grade level. 

In the lower grades there are classroom readers for each child, as well as select materials to help teachers diagnose based on what they’re finding out about the student’s reading level. What their errors in fluency are. Is it a decoding issue? Is it a vocabulary issue?

At Millennium School, the fifth and sixth grades are moving from elementary to middle school.  Although there is a general textbook for the class, Schaeflein said teachers recognized some students still needed help so there are what’s called guided reading books, “but it’s not meant to be easy reads,” she noted. “It is preparing students to read a story independently and that program has online components.”

James Hart students will have a junior high textbook, “but they will be able to access materials with their smartphones and tablets because we’ll have online resources. They can do so much at home. They’ll have their own login,” Schaeflein explained. “They can read the individual books at home. The writing component is a lot more online.  There’s eBooks that can be notated.”

These new English and Language Arts materials include all of the online sources for the parents, students and teachers. They are replacing books that, in some cases, are more than 12 years old. 

“The beauty of our district with our grade centers is we don’t have to look for something that’s a one-size-fits-all.  So, we are adopting different materials for the different grade centers,” Schaeflein said.

Schaeflein worked with teachers committee members Jennifer Boyer, Connie Johnson, Michelle Klupchak, Nicole Danadio, Rebecca Pugh, Jessica Ryan, Sally Parker-Johnson, Carolyn Deady and Eileen Wargo who represented each grade. It was important, she said that the teachers worked cooperatively because “teachers need to know what kinds of things have been taught” from the early grades and how each advancing grade would be building on those basics.

The district will not be hiring another drama teacher when Greg Weiss retires in June, but Schaeflein said the work Weiss has done with students will be incorporated into the general curriculum. She is working with him to make certain the basics of his program are still there for students.

“…Readers’ theater, drama, poetry: it’s going to be embedded in the English and Language Arts classes. And that’s how Common Core does it, too. It’s not in isolation. It’s part of literature and writing,” she added.

The district will be searching for an extracurricular drama teacher because the annual plays “are not going to stop.  That’s so important to our kids to have that.  Somebody else will carry on that tradition,” Schaeflein said.

The science curriculum is being studied for updates in the 2016-17 school year.  Then teachers will tackle math and physical education curricula.


Contact Marilyn Thomas at [email protected]

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