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La. teachers learn material to help with education changes

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Vidalia High School English teachers Ollie King, from left, Linda McMurtry and Patricia West and Ferriday High School English teacher Casey Paul work together on an activity as part of a workshop Friday afternoon for 30 English teachers from Concordia and Tensas parishes. The activity was about the three levels of reading and symbolism within a story, and the teachers can later use the activity in their own classrooms.

VIDALIA — Thirty teachers from Concordia and Tensas parishes became students Friday while attending a training session to help prepare for the upcoming changes to Louisiana’s educational system.

The two-day training sessions covered a variety of English-Language Arts topics for grades six through 12.

Through the Common Core State Standards, English-language arts and mathematics curriculum will be changed in Louisiana and 47 other states with the goal of setting clear educational standards that states can share and adopt.

The Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, an independent, non-profit organization, donated $25,000 to provide a year’s worth of materials, training and support for the Concordia and Tensas Parish school districts.

Keith Courville, director of professional development and university programs with A+PEL, said the changes to Louisiana’s education system don’t include the necessary resources for the states’ teachers to prepare their students.

“These teachers are all excellent teachers, but they just don’t have the resources or material they need to survive the changes, and that’s no one’s fault,”Courville said. “We took it upon ourselves to provide the material, and it’s a worthwhile investment because it’s going to have an impact on how the teachers teach and how the students learn.”

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — teachers Megan Geter, center, Brenda McIntosh, right, and Fabienne Bennett work together to analyze a story during the second day of a training workshop.

Laying the Foundation, a national math and science initiative, provided workbooks, digital material, online resources and several presentations by Julie Stephenson, a teacher at Ruston High School who was named the 2011 Louisiana teacher of the year.

Apart from covering a variety of topics including grammar and composition, Stephenson said the presentations put the teachers into the student’s shoes and allowed them to work through the same things they will see in the classroom.

“Since they’re doing all the activities their students will do, they can see the potential pitfalls and struggles one of their students might come across,” Stephenson said. “They get to see the material in a different light this way.”

Jodee Trant, an eighth-grade ELA teacher at Monterey School, said being placed in a student’s role during the training sessions helped her see the different ways she can present the material to her students.

“If they struggle with this material or need any additional support, we’ll know exactly what to do because we’ve all had to go through and learn this in the sessions,” Trant said. “It helps to become a student sometimes because you’re more empathetic to the student’s struggles with the material.”

Patricia West, a 12th-grade British literature teacher at Vidalia High School, said the sessions helped her realize the importance of allowing students to reach the same answer through different methods.

“What we stress in 12th grade is that they have to justify whatever answer they get to, but there’s not always one definite answer in literature,” West said. “This way, they can dig deeper, look at different perspectives and apply it to different situations before reaching their conclusion.

“All of this material is a new tool that is extremely valuable to help prepare our students for the changes to the curriculum.”

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