Last updated: August 26. 2013 7:44PM - 168 Views

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Bailey Hutler presented the first draft of her report to Parkview Elementary School teacher Stephanie Hoffa, who asked the first-grader, “What do you need after ‘Mexico?’ ”

Bailey pondered the question, but didn’t have the answer.

“Listen to where your voice stops,” Hoffa urged, showing her student that a period was needed to complete the sentence.

Hoffa’s students are learning about winter holidays that are celebrated around the world, but at the same time, they are drilling deep into Common Core Assessment standards — which are transforming education at every level.

School districts won’t shift from the Missouri Assessment Program to Common Core testing until the 2013-14 school year, but the Sedalia district is getting a head start to ensure students at every grade level are prepared.

Parkview first-graders are in the middle of their winter holidays unit which centers on writing informational reports. Hoffa said first-graders did such reports before, but she didn’t spend as much time on them as she is now. They also weren’t as complex.

“These are more in-depth,” she said. “(Students) have to have a topic sentence and a closing sentence, and they have to provide three facts.”

Despite the added rigor, “They are adapting well. They enjoy it,” Hoffa said.

Jamie Sparks, Parkview’s instructional coach, said she and other teachers have been pleasantly surprised by students’ performance on the more demanding material.

“The first-graders like writing. They don’t want to stop,” she said. “They are eating it up right now.”

Earlier in the week, Hoffa’s students studied Israel and Hanukkah; next week, they will cover Africa and Kwanzaa, as well as Christmas. On Thursday, they were focused on Mexico and Las Posadas, a nine-night celebration that marks the journey of Mary and Joseph. Hoffa shared facts about the festivity and the students were directed to create a paper replica of a donkey piñata, which they decorated with colored tissue paper.

After their piñata was done and glued to their information sheet, the students worked from a “graphic organizer” — a worksheet on which they wrote facts and key vocabulary words about Las Posadas — to craft a first draft of a report, built around the topic sentence “Las Posadas is celebrated in Mexico.”

Student Alex Herrick brought his donkey, decked out in red and green blocks of tissue paper, to Hoffa and said, “Look what I did!”

After returning to his desk, he said of Las Posadas: “There’s a parade in Mexico. They celebrate with a piñata — that’s what we are doing, making a piñata.”

He then started working on his report.

Kendall Lane was writing diligently, trying to squeeze letters in at the right edge of her sheet of paper. She was prepared with her trio of supporting facts:

• Mary and Joseph searched for lodging in Bethlehem.

• Children get sweets and fruit the nine days of Las Posadas.

• People hold candles in the parade.

Hoffa said the Common Core standard for the lesson calls for a topic sentence and three facts, but she accepts less than that from some students because “they’re not there yet.”

The main points she stressed were proper capitalization and punctuation.

Hoffa urged the students to edit and revise their work before writing a final version on a formatted page.

Common Core is about getting students ready for college and careers, Sparks said. The standards are focused on skills that will apply to a person’s day-to-day life and ability to secure employment.

“Having to review, edit and change your writing — to think that kids 6 years old are doing this, it is pretty amazing,” she said.

First-graders are required to incorporate a topic sentence and closure in their reports, “and each grade level, we build on that,” Sparks said.

By the time students reach fourth grade, they will be expected to use headings, captions, quotations, linking words and exhibit an expanded vocabulary.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Sparks said of incorporating the Common Core mandates. “We are learning how to do it every day.”

Hoffa’s students recently created reports on the rain forest, which she said generated a lot of interest.

“If they get into it, that helps,” she said.

Hoffa surveyed her classroom, with students busy decorating their piñatas and writing their reports.

“It is exciting when they put this much work into it,” she said.

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