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AFT President Randi Weingarten Explains How She Would Teach the Common Core

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Monday, May 13, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Teachers in schools in Ohio and across the nation are changing how they teach. It's part of the switch to the Common Core, a new set of national standards for what students should know and be able to do in reading and math.

By next school year, all Ohio schools are supposed be teaching the Common Core.

But what exactly does a Common Core-style lesson look like?

When we talked with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten earlier this month, she explained how she would teach under the Common Core.

Weingarten supports the Common Core, but has been calling for a pause in using the results of new Common Core tests for purposes including evaluating teachers and sanctioning low performing schools. Weingarten said teachers have not had enough time or help understanding the new standards and how to change how they teach.

"Teachers are really supportive of it, but they want to get it done right," she said.

The Lesson

When Weingarten was in the classroom, one of her favorite lessons to teach was about the moral dilemma of dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II.

In the past, it would have been "just" a social studies lesson. But under the Common Core, the lesson would incorporate the problem-solving skills required under the new standards as well as the Common Core's focus on interpreting primary sources.

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The Old Way

Back in the day, Weingarten might have covered the topic over a day or two. Students would read a section in a textbook the night before then in class the next day they would be divided into teams to debate the question, "Was it right or wrong to bomb Hiroshima?"

The teams would plan, present, and then the class would have 20 minutes or so of classroom discussion and maybe a written assignment afterwards to sum things up.

The New Way

Under the Common Core, Weingarten said she would give students three or four days, a week even, to explore the same topic.

Students would first get a lesson in locating primary sources and other research material, or (Weingarten would put together a packet of contemporary texts from both the U.S. and Japan if time was short.)

Students would then spend a day working in teams to come up with answers to key questions about the decision to bomb Hiroshima. On the next day, they'd work again in teams to critique and refine each others' arguments. And on the next day -- finally -- the class would have a full-on oral debate.

With another day on the topic, Weingarten might have students change sides in the debate,  challenge each others' views and provide evidence for their conclusions.

The Bottom Line

The Common Core-style lesson takes more time, Weingarten said. But it teaches skills beyond regurgitating textbook passages.

"It's deeper thinking," she said. "It's a lot of skills [working] both with each other as well as individually."

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