Curriculum Guide Stresses Classroom Quality


Local teachers are using a new book to teach Payson's youngest students their ABCs and their 123s.

Earlier this year, Payson school officials shipped a copy of the district's first standardized curriculum handbook to every K-3 teacher in the district.

Teachers collaborated with parents and administrators to develop the handbook, which is designed to make sure every K-3 student in the district's three elementary schools has a chance to receive the same quality education.

The K-3 curriculum, which was adopted by the school board late last year, focuses on reading, writing and math, and it spells out what students should know at certain benchmarks in their learning careers.

The new guidelines are specifically tailored to help students meet the state's tough new education standards and conquer national academic tests such as the Stanford 9.

"The core of this curriculum was already being taught in the district but in an unorganized way," Bill Lawson, Payson's curriculum director, said. "What we have now is not really new, but it's put together in a way that can be standardized throughout the district."

The handbook gives teachers specific teaching goals, but it also gives them flexibility to use their own teaching styles, he said. Their students must learn specific skills by predetermined deadlines, but the methods teachers use is largely up to them.

"We hire professional educators," he said. "They're the ones who know how to do this, and, quite frankly, teaching is not an exact science."

With that in mind, school officials have asked every K-3 teacher in the district to document their most successful teaching strategies by May. Those strategies will be copied and added to every handbook in the district to serve as a districtwide teaching reference.

"We were striving for two things with this document," Lawson said. "First, we wanted to make sure every student has the opportunity to learn the material they will be evaluated on (through national testing).

"And, secondly, we wanted to create a document that wouldn't go on the shelf and never be used again. We wanted to create a document that was usable for the classroom teacher -- a document that tells new and established teachers exactly what's expected of them when they're working with our kids."

Last month, a group of teachers began hammering out a standardized curriculum for grades four through six, and that handbook is set to be ready for school board adoption by July.

Another teachers' committee will begin drafting a standardized curriculum for grades six through eight in the fall, and a high school committee is already hard at work developing a standardized curriculum that will prepare students for the state's new AIMS test. AIMS, Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, is a comprehensive test that high school seniors will have to pass to graduate starting in the year 2001.

"You never quit working on curriculum," Lawson said. "If you're not always assessing and seeing where you are, you just become stagnant."

Curriculum standards
According to the district's newly adopted curriculum standards, students will be expected to master a variety of reading, writing and mathematics skills by the time they graduate third grade. The following is a sampling:

• Identify irregular spelling patterns such as ph, gh, ght, tion.

  • Identify the main idea of a reading passage.
  • Derive meaning and make inferences from a written selection.
  • Identify cause and effect relationships.
  • Describe literary elements in fiction and non-fiction: topic main idea, details, identify facts.v
  • Recognize cultural perspectives in literature.
  • Fill out a variety of forms.
    • Compare plots: fiction/non-fiction.
  • Comprehend newspaper ads.
    • Recognize historical perspectives of literary selection.

• Write a personal narrative including title, beginning, middle and end; develop ideas, advance, characters, plot and setting.

  • Identify nouns and pronouns in a sentence.
  • Writes a book report using time-order sentences: first, next, then, later, finally.
  • Write a story that includes setting, character and plot.
  • Gather, organize and sequentially report information from personal observations.
  • Dictionary reference -- organizing information.
  • Participate in the steps of the writing process: prewriting, writing, editing, revising and publishing.
  • Recognize and uses synonyms and compound words.
  • Uses descriptive words to develop ideas, advance the characters and advance the plot and setting.
  • Complete writing tasks: spelling, capitalization, grammar, word use, penmanship.

• Read and write four-digit numbers.

  • Use four-step problem solving process: locate facts, identify questions, select operation, solve and label solutions.
  • Identify, label and draw squares, circles, triangles, rectangles, pentagons, hexagons and octagons.
  • Predict and measure the likelihood of events.
  • Understand meaning and application of multiplication and division.
  • Add and subtract common fractions.
  • Use clocks and calendars to solve problems and sequence events.
  • Compare money amounts, estimate, make change and use money values to solve problems.
  • Higher thinking: draw inductive and deductive conclusions about math.
  • Use discrete math models for graphs to represent everyday situations.

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