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Teachers rewriting curriculum to align with state, national standards

JUSTIN SELLERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Natchez-Adams School District literacy coach Alyson Bequette works on writing the new English curriculum for the district at Central Alternative School Thursday morning.
JUSTIN SELLERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Natchez-Adams School District literacy coach Alyson Bequette works on writing the new English curriculum for the district at Central Alternative School Thursday morning.

NATCHEZ — Each keystroke on Naomi Walton’s laptop creates letters and words that all fourth-grade students in Natchez public schools will soon read.

Walton is just one of 30 volunteer teachers in the Natchez-Adams School District who is working this summer to rewrite the district’s entire curriculum.

The month-long curriculum-writing project, which began on June 10, is intended to align the district’s curriculum with both Mississippi Framework Standards and Common Core State Standards for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, director of curriculum and instruction Rhonda Prunty said.

The project involves writing curriculum for all four-subject areas — science, math, English language arts (ELA) and social studies.

“We’re really trying to make sure what’s being written is what’s gong to be taught, and what’s going to be taught is what’s going to be tested,” Prunty said. “The teachers have been working very hard, and I think we’ll see some great results once they’re finished.”

JUSTIN SELLERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Jackie Smith-Murray, left, gets some help from Ramona Batieste while writing the new English curriculum for the Natchez-Adams School District at Central Alternative School Thursday morning.
JUSTIN SELLERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Jackie Smith-Murray, left, gets some help from Ramona Batieste while writing the new English curriculum for the Natchez-Adams School District at Central Alternative School Thursday morning.

Mississippi adopted the Common Core State Standards, which are a set of nationally adopted standards, in 2010 with the goal of having them fully implemented in kindergarten through 12th grade in ELA and math by the 2014-2015 school year.

Elementary school students, specifically those in kindergarten through third grade, are already learning common-core material in Natchez schools.

The instructional changes to curriculum for ELA and math include a variety of changes to be tailored to the new standards.

In ELA, for example, students are expected to balance informational and literary texts, while also writing from sources to inform and make arguments.

In math, students are expected to have speed and accuracy with simple calculations, while also having a deep understanding of a math concept to ensure they learn the math and are not just learning the trick to get the answer right.

The writing project targets 32 content areas that are being dissected and rewritten by teams of curriculum writers, team leaders and editors.

Walton, who teaches fourth-grade social studies at McLaurin Elementary, said the project is allowing the district to create a “by teachers, for teachers” style of learning material.

“We know what kids need, and we know what teachers get frustrated by with curriculum and what they’re pleased with, so this is really tailored for Natchez-Adams schools,” Walton said. “This is better than some company coming in and doing it because it gives us a chance to create something we know students and teachers need and can work with.”

The teachers work from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day at the Central Alternative School writing lesson plans and material. Team leaders and editors can then revise or make comments on those documents.

“These are very much living documents that the teachers are getting feedback on and revising as they go,” Prunty said. “Even after the writers are done, the teachers will have the opportunity to suggest changes and feedback throughout the school year.”

Natchez High School librarian Sandra Peoples volunteered for the ELA portion of the writing project in hopes of learning more about the material teachers will soon request her assistance on in the library.

“I have learned a lot that’s going to benefit me when teachers come into the library and are working on certain projects or presentations,” Peoples said. “The Common Core standards are really about getting away from reading a textbook cover to cover and instead using different types of literature or material for their learning.

“This project really gives me a leg up on my colleagues, so I can be on the same page with them when they begin teaching this material.”