The Common Core Standards are still very new to me, so trying out [these new tools] made me pretty nervous at first. I was thinking, “How am I going to teach my entire science curriculum and also add this in, especially since we get tested in eighth grade for PSSA science tests?” But I want my students to be well-equipped for whatever they do. I learned that a lot of college (and even high school) teachers complain that students don’t know how to read science texts or how to take notes. I’m thinking, “Wow, I’ve never spent time teaching that.” As a science teacher, I just figured they knew how to do it. All this time I’m just expecting it—but I need to teach it. That was a big revelation for me.
It has required more time, and I’m a little behind in my curriculum now; when you teach something for the first time, it always takes longer than if you’re an expert at it. But next year will be a lot easier. And I think it’s very beneficial for the students—especially when they see their work at the end, things I don’t think they thought that they could do. I have a mix of students, and I have seen every different type of student be successful with this.
For example, the Common Core Standards say students should be able to write a multi-paragraph [science] essay. I’ve always had students write—but never essays. It seemed like a huge task. And when I found out that the students should cite evidence within their writing, I thought, “How am I going to do this?” I felt inadequate. But someone from our intermediate unit who had already taught this module showed us the materials that she used with students. So I kind of mimicked my work off of that. The reading specialist here has helped me tremendously. She teaches certain skills to my first class of the day, and then I model that the rest of the day for my other classes. There are template tasks written for you, and you just fill in the words. They actually have different levels you can take it to.
I think these [LDC] tools have changed the way I teach. Because when you’re teaching for 21 years—I can’t believe when I say that—you get sort of set in what you want done. Even your expectations. And I think this approach has allowed me to raise expectations of students—and I’ve seen them meet those expectations. You know, because did I think that they could write good multi-paragraph essays? Probably not. So I shortchanged them. Teachers sometimes tend to think, “Well, I don’t think they can do that,” instead of pushing students, and it’s shown me that they can do it.
Quotes from Holly Particelli’s Students
“At first I thought it was strange to do so much writing in science, but then I decided it was cool. I had never written anything argumentative before but we had to take a stand on the subject of cryobiology, or preserving tissues for future use. We read four or five articles on both sides of the argument and took notes from them, then developed a thesis and wrote five paragraphs on it. I learned the topic a lot better than if I had just used the textbook because we first had to do the research and take notes, then think about what we learned. Then we wrote about it and did a rewrite, so I did lots of review of the information. This definitely prepared me for high school because I know there will be more of this kind of writing in my classes there.
Muzahidul “Muzzy” Islam
“The reading we did on cryobiology was the most I have ever done on just one topic. Reading the articles was a lot more fun than working from a textbook because we had to compare ideas and think about what was important, which we don’t do with a textbook. Last year we didn’t write any essays in science. We just had a prompt and wrote short answers to it. I know that I learned to write a lot better this year, like being able to use descriptions and transitions. I came here from Bangladesh about five years ago not knowing any English, and I have not always enjoyed writing in my classes, but I am getting a lot of help, and now I think it is much more fun. I have used this Internet program (Oasis) that tells me what level I am at in reading and writing, and I have found out that I am prepared for high school work. I plan to study technology, and I know that being able to do research and use good writing skills will help me when I need to prepare reports and such.”