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Educating for College and Career Readiness

Students in Amy Phillips’ general music classesWHAT THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS MEAN FOR OUR STUDENTS

December 7, 2012

Educational standards are a set of guidelines that outline what information and skills students need to be successful in school and beyond. New York is one of 45 states in the U.S. in the process of changing its educational standards to “provide a clear understanding of what students are expected to learn.” -

In July 2010, the New York Board of Regents adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English language arts, literacy and mathematics. The implementation of those standards is causing a revolutionary change in school curriculum. The CCSS provide a model for school districts across the nation to create a consistency in what students learn at each grade level and the best practices in how that learning should take place.


Assistant Superintendent Tammy Mangus with Home and Careers teachers Ann Carmeci, Karen Mahoney and Pam Sussman during a staff development dayThe standards are designed to be demanding and connect what is happening in the classroom to its relevance in the real world. Ideally, when properly implemented, the CCSS should provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to be college or career ready at graduation so they can find success after high school. This new focus of how students learn will help them in life by allowing them to hone the capability of critical thought and analysis. In addition, the standards require students to use evidence from independently researched sources to define or defend their points-of-view on a particular book or report from a reading list that includes more non-fiction works. This is one way to connect classroom learning to real-world people and events. No longer is it enough to give the correct answer, now you have to defend how and why it is right.

For example, by reading informational books and articles, garnering a deep understanding of what you have read, forming an opinion about a specific subject area, supporting your viewpoint with facts and research, and using academic vocabulary to express yourself may get you an A on the mid-term, but it also makes you more desirable to future employers. And in the long run, it advances us as an educated nation in the way we think and express ourselves when facing the stark reality of the increasing global competition for jobs in many industries. -


AOF instructors Nancy Swaine and Wendy Levinson work on a lesson with studentsLast year, Monticello School District teachers and administrators worked together to analyze and adjust any gaps in learning that existed between the local curriculum and state requirements. This year, the district is using the new standards for English language arts, literacy and mathematics to create and define classroom lessons. This requires certain shifts in learning and instruction to take place. The shifts are designed to create a deeper understanding of the materials being studied by having students slow down, focus and master a concept. In order for students to get the most out of the new curriculum, teachers must also adjust the way they impart the information. In many traditional classrooms, an instructor might lecture his or her students as a way of sharing knowledge and then have them memorize and restate the material. Although at certain times, a lecture may be the most appropriate information delivery method, the standards help teachers create a better balance by diversifying their styles. To comply with CCSS requirements, many educators will have to refine their instructional practices and scholastic methods to allow students to become more active learners and participants in their own education. Engaging students as a responsible party in the learning process with the expert teacher as a guide for exploration and discovery can help to create an even more exciting and motivational classroom environment and school culture.


Music teacher Amy Phillips with sixth grader Tremper Dymond This year, Tammy Mangus, Monticello’s new assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, is overseeing the district-wide implementation of the CCSS. Ms. Mangus is committed to providing her administrative and teaching colleagues with the professional development necessary to help transition fully to the new standards. This includes careful planning at each grade level, alignment of the foundational learning between grade levels and ensuring that the necessary supports are in place for teachers and students to be successful during this time of significant change. To that end, the district is focused on building essential habits that integrate the shifts into what takes place daily in the classroom. Part of that responsibility falls on the specialty subjects – art, music, library, physical education, business, foreign language, home and careers, etc. - to incorporate literacy and math whenever possible as part of their lesson design. By removing the separation among subjects, students will get much more exposure to and reinforcement of reading, writing and arithmetic – the essential basics of education.

“Learning has to be a springboard to life,” said Ms. Mangus at a recent CCSS professional development workshop for specialty subject teachers. “All subjects must support the core.”

As a way for students enrolled in Monticello High School Academy of Finance (AOF) classes, such as Marketing and Computer Applications, to incorporate more writing and critical thinking into their learning, reading from informational texts like the Wall Street Journal is now part of their regular assignments. This helps students formulate opinions while analyzing current business conditions and trends. It also gives them the opportunity to question and dissect real-world policies and practices. The information, conclusions and questions stemming from the reading are then utilized by students to stimulate and engage in classroom discussions, debates and conversations. This promotes an understanding of the language commonly used in marketing, business law and financial accounting. To be successful in an industry, it is essential to have a complete grasp of the language or academic vocabulary of that industry. In addition, having a good command of words and concepts helps people communicate more effectively in all aspects of their lives and gives them the means to express themselves intelligently, regardless of their occupation.

Music teacher Mike Mingo with the middle school band.“We need to flood the curriculum with this type of learning so our future graduates are prepared for the world they will enter,” said AOF Director Wendy Levinson. “This support and focus is a more comprehensive way of learning.”

The AOF already connects parts of its classroom learning to the real world through internships and the annual VITA Tax Service - which offers community members free income tax preparation by students every spring.


The art classroom is a place where cross curriculum support has always been a natural fit. Now students throughout the district are expanding their learning with more reading, writing, history, critical analysis and creative problem solving as they hone their artistic skills.

To incorporate math principles while in physical education class, students are using counting, measurements, angles and statistics from various sports activities and exercises in which they engage. Students also get supplemental support and learning about fractions in Mike Mingo’s band class while they discover the dotted rhythms they can create with quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes.

Lauren Edwards and Ashley Mancroni practice the recorder.Students who want to learn blues-style guitar from David Chidsey are required to research the civil rights movement and Black History Month from informational texts and newspaper articles. This type of learning is designed to provide young minds with a full-circle view and understanding that includes how historical knowledge and musical genres connect to current practices and politics.


Although there is no actual implementation requirement at this time, Monticello music teachers were anxious to expand cross curriculum exploration. Under the direction of head music teacher Ann Trombley, teachers have been privy to the policy creation process of which Ms. Trombley is an instrumental part. Sitting at the table where statewide educators convene to share ideas has allowed Monticello to have an important impact on how to incorporate future requirements.

“Essentially, we have been implementing common core-type learning in music classes for the past 20 years,” said Ms.Trombley, who is a member of the New York State School Music Association curriculum committee. “We are now basically formalizing what we already do and exploring new ideas and ways to support core learning and concepts. To be a successful artist it takes more than just talent and practice, you need to understand music history and how to promote yourself. You have to be articulate and able to educate your audience and connect with them on multiple levels.”


Students in Timothy Buckley’s music class are required to write essays and study historyTimothy Buckley created a “do now” project for his grade 7 general music class that explored the Romantic Era of music while combining writing, reading, listening and vocabulary skills. Students had to read a brief biography about either Tchaikovsky or Brahms, both of whom are famous composers. Students then discussed and compared details of each man’s life with their classroom partner. After listening to works by both musicians, students were required touse academic vocabulary to analyze and explain what they heard, such as the rhythm, timbre and dynamics of the piece. This led to a group discussion that allowed students to express their opinions about how the music made them feel emotionally.

In Amy Phillips’ grade 6 music class, students are cross walking (the newly coined phrase for cross curriculum learning) their musical experience with essay writing and research. Through literary means, students are required to support the creation of a musical work they produced, including why and how they chose the rhythm and time signature and how they might troubleshoot possible problems in structure they may encounter.

Ms. Phillips begins every music class with ELA. One lesson for example requires that the students correct the grammar and spelling in each sentence that is projected on the front board. This helps reinforce and teach literacy and academic language while building a solid foundation and knowledge about musical elements and concepts. Students then work on their computer skills or team activities which include playing the recorder.

Middle school student Ashley Mancroni expressed that although she understands the importance of Lauren Edwards and Ashley Mancroni practice the recorder. In addition to music, they also study grammar and composition during class. connecting music to math, science and ELA, she does wish she had more class time to practice her instruments. Ashley not only plays the recorder she also sings and plays the clarinet, piano and guitar. She hopes to one day be a professional musician and a veterinarian.


Students in Amy Phillips’ general music classes use cross curriculum lessons to connect learning to ELA, computers and math.

Professional development days are built into the school year to give teachers and administrators time to collaborate and share ideas on the CCSS. From left are Assistant Superintendent Tammy Mangus with Home and Careers teachers Ann Carmeci, Karen Mahoney and Pam Sussman.

Academy of Finance instructors Nancy Swaine and Wendy Levinson work on a lesson about contracts with students in the Business Law class.

Music teacher Amy Phillips with sixth-grader Tremper Dymond as he plays an original rhythmic composition.

Music teacher Mike Mingo with the middle school band.

Lauren Edwards and Ashley Mancroni practice the recorder. In addition to music, they also study grammar and composition during class.

Students in Timothy Buckley’s music class are required to write essays and study history as part of the course.

Related Stories

In Common Core, Teachers See Interdisciplinary Opportunities (3/13/13 - Education Week)

A new look at classroom activities and methods (2/22/13 - Miami Republic)

Revamping the “Core” of education: New CC standards focus on critical thinking over memorization (2/25/13 - San Diego UT)

MORE about the Common Core State Standards (MCSD Academic section of this website)