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“Our instruction changed for the better,” teacher Cara Croonquist said. That helped the fourth grade come close to achieving the teachers’ goal of having three-quarters of the class get three-quarters of their answers correct on unit tests. “They saw much greater gains,” said Mike Lynch, the district’s executive director for teaching and learning.
Frustrated with ‘focus’
Focused instruction comes from a national movement to create common standards for what should be taught in each subject. That movement has been supported by some politicians, education advocacy groups and often by business interests. Minnesota has adopted the nationally developed standards in English, along with extra content, but sets its own standards for other subjects.
But at the teacher level in Minneapolis, some say that focused instruction needs work.
Fifth-grade teacher Chandra Meach is using it for math in her class at Hmong International Academy. She said that because many of her students are immigrants and from low-income backgrounds, it’s a struggle to cover the required topics at the pace set by the district.
“It’s not in the best interest of the kids because the kids are not understanding the concepts,” said Meach, a 16-year teacher. The growth of her students over the school year was actually worse in her first year with focused instruction than the previous year, she said.
In addition, her fellow teachers spend lots of time finding materials to fill the gaps in lessons under an approach she described as too worksheet-heavy.
For students who keep up and deserve more challenging materials, she finds the computers necessary to do that are often tied up for required testing.
At Hale, Croonquist followed the district’s lessons for math, but substituted her own material for literacy. “I have a lot of tools in my tool kit and I really enjoy using those, and they were very effective in meeting the standards,” she said.
She said she feels the district is responsive in making changes to focused instruction when teachers voice concerns.
“I personally like the idea of focused instruction in that it is aligned with the standards, and it has made me more aware of what those standards are,” she said. “I feel like I am more focused as a teacher with my students.”
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib