Skip to main content

Closing the Content Knowledge Gap

By Elisha Burns, RAFT Fellow

Let me be one of the first to say there is an elephant in the room of education and it is called content knowledge.  As a teacher that has spent a few years teaching I can honestly say that the new Common Core curriculum has really opened my eyes to some of my own educational weaknesses. Have you seen some the questions that our students are being asked in the new curriculum? I consider myself an educated person (I do have my Master's degree in Elementary Education), but some of the questions being presented to my students really makes me question my level of content knowledge. It's not that I can't solve the problems, but I find myself spending quite a bit of time working out the problems so that I can teach my students how to tackle them.

In the era of Common Core comes the new problem of teacher knowledge, especially in high needs areas. Gone are the days of catchy rhymes and memorizing factoids, the new standards require students and teachers to dig deeper into the content. But how can a teacher ask a student to dig deeper into a topic they only have a surface level of knowledge in? And how are high need communities, that cannot keep experienced teachers expected to provide the appropriate level of content knowledge?

The reality is the level of content knowledge necessary to secure a teaching credential is less than the amount of content knowledge being required to succeed using the Common Core curriculum. That knowledge gap will decrease overtime as credentialing programs adapt, but time is not of the essence in the Common Core era. We need ways to bridge the content gap because it is no longer enough to just have a general knowledge of a concept. Teachers are being challenged to teach at a higher level because our students are expected to conceptualize and justify their ideas at a higher level.

Common Core standards expects students to not only know their content facts in isolation, but to have the higher order thinking skills necessary to apply their knowledge in practical applications. Once students apply these skills they are expected to be able to communicate and justify the thinking process they used clearly using academic English. Obviously this is not the elementary education that most educators experienced, yet we are expected to successfully implement it.

Now a motivated veteran teacher may have a slight advantage when it comes to implementation. They will seek out learning opportunities, like the courses offered at RAFT, to fill in any content gaps. In addition, they have the advantage of years of teaching the same subject, familiarity with the student misconceptions, and continuing education to help adapt to the rigor necessary to successfully implement the new curriculum. So what happens when you have a new teacher or a less motivated veteran teacher asked to do the same job? How do the students in those communities gain the knowledge necessary to meet Common Core standards? Based on the most recent California Common Core test results, the students just don't get the knowledge.

This disparity is obvious when you look at the neighborhoods that had the lowest performance on the first round of Common Core testing in California. Teachers in these high need areas tend to be the most novice or least motivated veteran teachers. The veteran teachers may have lost their motivation due to the stress and challenge of teaching in a high needs area. Teaching in a high needs area brings several hidden stresses and challenges that can defeat even a teacher with the best of intentions, but I will save that story for another time. All to often new teachers are hired to work in these high needs areas because motivated veteran teachers have decided to leave for greener pastures. Remember motivated veteran teachers are in demand and why would you stay in a high needs area if you can utilize your skills in a less stressful environment? Unfortunately the result of this trend is the highest need students are being taught by educators with the least amount of content knowledge.

The bottom line is teachers need more opportunities to deepen their content knowledge to prepare students for the new standards.


Popular posts from this blog

Are you ready for Pi?

Time to get ready fer Pi Day at RAFT me hearties!  Set yer compasses an’ sails fer FREE Pi Day activities on March 8thbetween 3:30 to 5:30 on th’ main poop deck (aye-aye in th’ “Kit Area”) at SJ RAFT!
RAFT’s very own notorious wench, Jeanne Lazzarini (RAFT Math Master Educator), prepared a boatload of Pi Day activities to share with yer classes fer Pi Day (celebrated on March 14th every year)! Pi, (also written as π; th’ ratio of th’ circumference of a circle to its diameter) be an irrational number that goes on forever without any repeating digits, starting with 3.14159… π is illustriously celebrated over land an’ high seas March 14th (get it? On 3.14…!).    Discover great “make-an’-take” Pi day activities that prepare ye fer real Pi day!  Here’s a RAFT idea sheet fer Pi Day you can use now: Pi Day Pin. Make sure X marks th’ spot on ye calendars this March 8th, or walk th’ plank me scallywags!   Shiver me timbers an’ yo-ho-ho!  ‘Tis a RAFTy life fer me, Bucko!!!  Arrrgggghhhhh!

CUSD Shares Possible STEAM Projects by Grade

Twelve STEAM Innovation Leaders from the Campbell Unified School District (CUSD) came to RAFT earlier this month to create new motivational activities for the start of the school year!  They met in grade-level teams with our RAFT Education staff to generate new ideas using RAFT materials that will motivate, challenge, and inspire their students. Each team was given a RAFT Makerspace-in-a-Box containing a wide variety of upcycled materials. They were asked to create a Design Challenge that directed students to solve the instructor’s challenge with the materials from the box. The Design Challenges addressed an engineering standard appropriate for each grade level and could include standards from other subjects. Here are some of their exciting back-to-school ideas:
************************************************************************************* Grades TK – 2 Engineering Standard: K-2-ETS1-1:  Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to chan…

¡Olé! Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

¡Olémis amigos! Holy Guacamole! It’s once again time to celebrate Cinco De Mayo—the 5th of May! Instead of all the controversy around Mexico in the past year, this may be an excellent opportunity to educate your students and allow them to ask questions about what they hear on the news. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day from Spain (which is September 16th)! “¡Ay, caramba!”as Bart Simpson would say….

This is “la verdad” (the truth): when the French invaded Mexico in 1862, Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza’s force of 4,000 soldiers defeated 8,000 French soldiers in the Battle of Puebla on May 5th. The Mexicans’ courage inspired Mexican Americans (Chicanos) to celebrate the victory even though the French occupation continued four more years. Later in the 1960’s and 70’s, Chicanos involved in the civil rights movement associated Cinco de Mayo with their quest for respect in the U.S. They identified with the Native Mexican and Mestizo (people of mixed Native Mexican and European de…