OXFORD, Miss. – Two large trunks packed with binders and hand-crafted games may seem like an unlikely donation, but at least two teachers at Oxford Elementary School couldn’t be happier about the delivery.
University of Mississippi doctoral student Jessica Simpson, of Oxford, and UM School of Education faculty members Denise Soares and Susan McClelland recently donated more than 150 new teaching tools, or “centers,” developed by UM education students to help third-grade teachers directly address Common Core State Standards in reading, grammar and writing. The donation on Feb. 19 was a gesture of appreciation for the Oxford school, which supports field experiences for UM teacher candidates.
“As a grade school teacher in Tennessee, I experienced the shift in lesson plan alignment with Common Core State Standards,” said Simpson, a graduate instructor and Ph.D. student in teacher education who spearheaded the project. “I thought gearing this project toward making that transition easier for a few Oxford teachers would be a great thing. We have partnerships with schools and it’s important that we find ways to support each other.”
Common Core State Standards are exactly as they sound. In each grade and subject area, Mississippi has adopted national benchmarks. For example, by the end of third grade, students should be able to “determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language,” according to corestandards.org. Teachers throughout the state are working to align their lessons to help students meet the standards.
“The centers were designed perfectly to help the students dig deeper into their own understanding of the subject matter,” said Chasity Arbuckle, third-grade teacher at OES and the 2014 district teacher of the year. “Several students have asked if they can just do ‘this’ all day. When children willingly share what they’ve learned by doing a center, I know they are worth their weight in gold to me as the teacher.”
Each center donated to the Oxford teachers was designed to directly address one specific third-grade standard and comes with instructions and a rubric, or answer key, allowing instructors and students to evaluate performance. The project also allowed UM students the opportunity to gain a better understanding of Common Core Standards.
“This project began as a service internship project but quickly blossomed into a connection between our undergraduates, graduate students and community schools,” said Soares, an assistant professor and program coordinator at UM. “Jessica did a fabulous job anticipating a need in the third-grade classrooms and planned a project to meet those needs.”
With the success of the project, UM faculty members are planning to create similar resources for other partner schools.
“The centers are great deal of help in that they are a supplement for worksheets,” said Jacqueline Leopard, third-grade teacher at OES. “The money and time I will save because of these centers is unimaginable. It is a blessing to have them at an arm’s reach. As a classroom teacher today, we have so many irons in the fire that the small things like having the time to create a center sometimes fall to the side.”
Many of the tools are also adjustable in scope, allowing teachers to change the learning activity to meet the student’s achievement level. Each one was developed by students under supervision by Simpson.
“Once I started a conversation with these teachers, we identified areas where there was a need and an opportunity for us to help,” said Simpson, who taught eight years in Shelby County Schools. “I think the project turned out better than I anticipated.”