The NEW three R’s of education

Reading, writing, arithmetic become rigor, relevance, relationships
By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Oct 23, 2013
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Central Haywood High School teacher Marty Nelson helps his math students Coy Leopard and Richard McKinney with a geometry problem.

There was a time when education primarily focused on three R’s that stood for reading, writing and arithmetic. Now that the times have changed and education is constantly evolving, Haywood County Schools has upgraded its teaching methods.

Haywood classrooms are now focused on three new R’s: rigor, relevance and relationships, each of which are key components to promoting an in-depth understanding of a subject.

While the three R's have been on the minds of Haywood teachers for the past eight years or so, teachers have been applying the new methods since last year.

Bill Nolte, associate superintendent for Haywood County Schools said the new rigor courses, as they're called, came about once the Haywood school system began recognizing ways the school curriculum could improve.

He said described rigor courses as challenging with more engaged learning.

"It's a deeper learning with intentionally aligned components with clear learning outcomes," Nolte said when asked about rigor courses. "It's a much deeper understanding by the student. For years students have filled in the blanks and knew the answers to questions, but very often they didn't know why that was the answer. Now, they have the same question but they're going to have to go back and explain why."

Nolte said rigor didn't emphasize more work in the classroom, but rather a more in depth study of a subject. However, he admitted that some teachers were having to relearn their teaching strategies.

"The tough part for us is that we have had most of our teachers teaching the other way for years, and that is requiring us to do a lot professional development to help people move their practice and mindset to a different place," Nolte said. "And that takes time."

The new "three R's" curriculum is being implemented systemwide in every classroom. It is part of the new core curriculum standards which are a state-driven effort to provide a uniform education across the nation. North Carolina is one of 42 states that has adopted the new standards.

In the classroom

Marty Nelson, a teacher a Central Haywood High School, said the rigor changes in his math classes had been an adjustment for both him and his students.

"It’s a lot harder course of study in my opinion for the kids," Nelson said. "There’s so much information to get through and not enough time. They’re really pushing this new investigative method, where teachers guide and let the students work together get the answer. That's something we'll basically have to train the kids to do."

Nelson said his math classes had become more intense now that they incorporated more math concepts, such as combining algebra, geometry and statistics in one semester course.

"They've blended a lot of courses together," Nelson said. "Now students are not taking one class, they're taking a little bit everything and it advances on each year."

A rigor update

Haywood County teachers Cecilia Ruth Marcus, Meg Reeves, Trevor Putnam, Sally Hundley, Amy Boswell and Ron Moss each gave a presentation about rigor courses available in Haywood during the Oct. 14 school board meeting.

The meeting began as a packed house of community members, but the room quickly emptied after an hour-long closed session was called halfway through the meeting.

Marcus stood up first to explain the rigor that was being implemented at the high school level. Her presentation discussed the criteria involved with honors and advanced placement courses available to high school students.

"Academic rigor is a key component to student success," Marcus said.

Trevor Putnam, principal of Waynesville Middle School, presented on the English I Pilot program, which is offered to middle schoolers.

"We realized a systematic approach was needed for English/language arts, so we looked at some research," Putnam began.

He said according to EVAAS data, the gifted students in sixth and seventh-grades were not progressing as much as they should.

In response to the data, Reeves explained that a screening process was now taking place for sixth and seventh-graders to determine their appropriate level of study.

"We screened all students in language arts and math and that told us what level they needed to be in," Reeves said. "We're pulling out the higher math students. We wanted to have a progressive, fluid approach with both subjects."

Hundley explained her academic rigor course called STEM, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Hundley said her STEM course embodied three concepts, which made the classroom successful: to focus on student engagement, to allow students to have productive frustration and to give the students real-life challenges.

"It's very important that we simply don't do more work and call it rigor — we have to find real challenges for them," Hundley said.

Boswell went over math compacting and the advanced English/language arts programs at Canton Middle School.

Boswell said the EVAAS data indicated that the growth of academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) students was lacking. She said Canton Middle has now hired an AIG teacher full-time to teach sixth and seventh-grade advanced classes as a core class rather than an elective.

"Now we are able to reach more of the higher students," Boswell said.

Moss was the last to present, and gave an overview of rigor courses at elementary schools.

"People think rigor means harder, more difficult classes, and it's not that," Moss said, adding that it was a more focused, coherent and appropriately challenging curriculum.

Nolte said the rigor update was to show how Haywood schools were working toward improvement.

“Our goal is overall student success,” Nolte said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re doing very well, and we certainly want to do better.”

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