Back to the Classroom to Teach 4th Grade

For the last four years, I have been introducing myself as a Teacher On Special Assignment working for Washoe’s Curriculum & Instruction Department. That changes in a few weeks when the new academic year begins and I officially become one of the 4th grade teachers at Huffaker Elementary. It’s a move I am quite excited about but simultaneously, I will miss being able to direct most of my energy to the Core Task Project.

In 2011, my colleagues Torrey Palmer, Cathy Schmidt and I started the Core Task Project (CTP) as a means of accessing the K-6 ELA Common Core State Standards and answering the question, what does it mean to do Common Core. In 2011, there were no shortage of answers from national consultants encouraging teachers to deconstruct the standards, to states creating crosswalks and translation guides, to publishers doing alignment studies affirming the use of their programs. Interestingly, this council was hard to reconcile with what we were learning from the authors of the Common Core and its work and validation team members. Consequently, we brought 18 teachers together to help co-construct an answer to our question.

What was interesting about the work is that it put teachers at the center of our district’s Common Core implementation. Everything was effectively field-tested by practicing teachers and if a pedagogical move or instructional resource failed in a classroom, it was no longer used and promoted. Conversely, if it was successful, we would share these in future sessions of the Core Task Project and teachers would pass these on in staff meetings, grade level PLCs, or trainings they created. Moreover, because we were only using free resources, anyone could opt into the CTP, making the successful outcomes scalable.

Keeping teachers at the center of any district reform is challenging—doing it with Common Core is especially difficult. We have become deeply paternalistic in education; that is, we invite consultants to districts to tell teachers what to do or we send people to conferences with the expectation that they will become expert on something—and then tell teachers what to do. The CTP flipped the script and brought the conferences and research to teachers directly. In short, the CTP cut out the middleman. Instead of hearing from a conference attendee or consultant, we learned as a community and became the experts. We would watch video on YouTube and Vimeo (e.g. Dr. P. David Pearson, Dr. Dan Willingham, Dr. Freddy Hiebert, Dr. Louisa Moats, Dr. Tim Shanahan, and dozens of others), find resources well-matched to the learning, and then breath life into the aforementioned through Social Emotional Learning, engagement strategies, and evidence-based instructional moves. This was all taken through the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle and classroom teachers were able to match academic theory with practice.

The basic construct of CTP, that states and districts would share the evidence that informed the Common Core in an “unfiltered” way, use vetted, scalable and free resources, and trust the expertise of teachers would seem to be quite intuitive. Instead, what I have discovered from educators throughout the country who have used the materials at www.coretaskproject.com and www.63000resources.com and have emailed with questions, is that this orientation to the work is the exception not the rule. Too often, interpretations of the Common Core are passed down to the classroom and teachers are expected to navigate myriad different (and sometimes contradictory) efforts. This should not be the case but with money returning to the system after a long recession, I suspect that districts will be inclined to return to the habit of sending people to conferences and hiring consultants rather than sharing information directly with those working with children on a day-to-day basis.

The Core Task Project is by no means over. This site will remain a place where training resources, annotated video, vetted materials, and teacher narratives are posted. Likewise, www.63000resources.com will continue to be maintained and resources added. In fact, classroom teachers are currently finding and creating items for the site and these will be posted throughout the summer. Moreover, I have created a new space for my classroom where you can view how I am taking the principles of the CTP into www.roomd4.com.

The last four years have been an extraordinary professional and personal experience. It is not often that your mom calls and says, “I just heard you on NPR!” I am thankful to the hundreds of educators who took part in the CTP and who reminded us that when teachers are equipped with great information, exceptional things happen in classrooms.

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About Aaron Grossman

I am a 5th grade teacher at Roy Gomm Elementary in Reno, Nevada. I started working with elementary students as part of the Montana Reads program and AmeriCorps. In 2001, after graduating from the University of Montana and moving to Reno, Nevada, I student taught at Rita Cannan Elementary before receiving a 6th grade position at Veterans Elementary. I moved out of the classroom to be a Literacy Coordinator, then an Instructional Coach, and finally a School Improvement Program Coordinator. In 2011, I began working on the Nevada Academic Content Standards in the district’s Curriculum & Instruction Department. I returned to the classroom for the 2015-2016 school year to teach 4th grade at Huffaker Elementary. Before returning to the classroom, I helped develop the Core Task Project that has been featured by National Public Radio, the Gates Foundation, American Radio Works, Eduwonk, the Fordham Institute, Vox, and the Center for American Progress. In 2014, I received the Leader to Learn From Award for my teacher-centered initiative and work to bring college, career, and civics ready outcomes into Northern Nevada classrooms (here). In 2015, I was appointed by Governor Sandoval serve on the Statewide RPDP Council. The same year, Nevada’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Canavero placed me on the state’s State Improvement Team. This year I will be part of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Advisory Group. I am Google Certified Educator and a Nevada Teacher Ambassador. I believe strongly that teaching content is teaching reading and I make sure my students have ample opportunities to work with social studies, history, science and art outcomes. I do what I can to blend the learning for my students and this blog is part of that effort. You can contact me at coretaskproject@gmail.com
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3 Responses to Back to the Classroom to Teach 4th Grade

  1. karinryan says:

    Great work Aaron! It has been a pleasure to learn from the work your district has been doing. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Arlene Dulaney says:

    aaron, your “parting” words communicate well your experience and are a tribute to those with whom you worked. i am so proud of your accomplishments and am grateful that the 4th graders at huffaker elementary will be gifted with a knowledgeable, dynamic and caring person for their teacher. well done. and thanks for the honorable mention. m >

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