Consultant helps Riverside staff develop new strategies

SUWANEE -- The new curriculum Gwinnett schools have adopted this year is an adjustment for everyone: students, parents and teachers.

So Riverside Elementary School on Wednesday invited Angela Schroden, an independent literacy consultant from Alexandria, Va., to give presentations to teachers so they could better learn the new Common Core Georgia Performance Standards adopted this year by Gwinnett County Public Schools. The new reading standards deviate from the age-old reading beliefs of fictional novels, and state that non-fiction reading, or informational text, is equally important.

The strategies teachers use under these new standards encourage students to ask questions, respond with their own opinion and recite what they learned.

"We're teaching them the strategies of what they should be doing when they are reading," Riverside literacy coach Cheryl Cole said. "That's a big push now."

The old way of being graded on sound has been replaced with giving information about the text, Cole said.

The Riverside Parent Teacher Association made staff development its main project for the year, and PTA vice president Amy Ward said the cost of bringing in Schroden was $3,000. The PTA did it because of how teachers responded to a spring survey about how the PTA could support the school.

"The reason we hire consultants is because the teaching strategies are continually changing," Cole said. "We don't ever want to teach the same way we taught 20 years ago, or even five years ago."

Ward called the new strategies and standards, a "cohesive approach to learning."

"They're enthusiastic about it," she said of the teachers. "A lot of them who have been teaching 30, 40 (years), a long time, this is a different way to teach."

Riverside third grade teacher Lynne Franks said the students are asked to "think as they're reading, and not just read the page." The old way of grading students was to have questions embedded in the text, and students would recite the answers. Now students are taught to be more active instead of passive readers, Franks said.

"We're not changing what we're teaching, it's how we're teaching," she said.

Schroden visits two or three schools per month, she said, and gained most of her experience in Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla. She said she hoped to help teachers become smarter about reading because they often don't have the luxury of focusing on one subject.

"That's a big part of that common core," Cole said. "She's helping us understand that reading is more than just calling words, it's about deeper thinking. They're asking themselves questions and making inferences and making connections to what they're reading in the real world."