How to Help Parents Select K–5 Common Core Materials for Home

Allison Wood is like many parents. The Chapel Hill, NC, mom wants to make sure she’s giving her kids the support they need to leverage the learning they get at school and perform well on standardized tests. That means everything from helping with homework to providing additional learning opportunities and preparation, particularly as it relates to the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Math is of particular concern. “One of the things I worry about, especially with our fifth-grade son, is not conflicting with the way the teacher is teaching,” she says. “For example, he has told us that they are no longer learning traditional long division like we did — there's some other new way and they're not supposed to do long division anymore. Well, what do I do with that if long division is the only way I know?”

As a teacher, you can assist parents like Wood by helping them choose appropriate Common Core learning materials, like study guides, activity books and test prep materials, that dovetail with what you teach in the classroom. In general, counsel parents to consider the following when evaluating Common Core materials for home use:

  • Is the information presented in multiple ways, including graphically?
  • Are there multiple difficulty levels so advanced learners are challenged and struggling learners are supported?
  • Are the materials for the correct grade level and most current standards?

Answering these questions helps parents choose wisely from the huge variety of Common Core materials available. There are also specific factors to consider when selecting study aids for students in K–5. Help parents choose learning materials that:

  • Strengthen Reading: “Reading skills are absolutely foundational for academic success in nearly every subject area,” says Nicole Zdeb, senior manager of academic services at the Northwest Evaluation Association, a global not-for-profit educational services organization in Portland, OR. Remind parents to choose materials that include fiction and non-fiction passages so kids are exposed to all genres.
  • Encourage Thinking: Caution parents against choosing “bubble books” that only feature questions requiring little evaluative thinking to answer. “Help parents choose materials that ask kids to write instead of just filling in blanks,” says Marilyn Lowry, a former K–5 teacher and assistant Title 1 director for the Independence School District in Independence, MO. “Look for open-ended questions that require critical thinking and don’t necessarily have a single right answer. Something that gives them room to be creative on their own, like a math book that asks them to create their own story problems.”
  • Match Reality: You know students need exposure to the different forms assessment takes, so inform parents about the types of questions and problems students need to know. “It’s best if the material is presented in a variety of ways and offers the child different ways to respond,” Zdeb says.

As a trusted teacher, you can help ease the concerns of parents who are worried about helping their children meet the Common Core standards. “If the selected learning materials are engaging and involve the kids in reading challenging texts, including nonfiction like gross-out science stories, which capture the imaginations of many fourth- to sixth-graders; writing across all disciplines; problem solving and critical thinking, then parents can be confident that they are helping their child tackle the Common Core,” says Zdeb.

Margot Carmichael Lester is owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. The granddaughter of schoolteachers, she’s a frequent guest instructor, leading K–12 workshops on persuasive, opinion and argumentative writing. She’s a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Find her on Google+.

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