Helping Your Child Thrive Under Common Core

Helping Your Child Thrive Under Common Core

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – Ask Vietnamese American parents in the Bay Area if they have heard about the Common Core and many will offer up a shrug. Even among those who have heard of the new standards now in place across California schools, many are still unsure of what they are and what they mean for students.

And that is a problem, say teachers, who stress that now more than ever support at home will be critical to academic success.

California joined states across the nation when it adopted the Common Core in 2010. Since then schools have been working at getting them in place through, among other things, teacher trainings and curricular development. The standards, currently for English Language Arts and math, put greater emphasis on analysis and critical thinking, requiring students to come up with multiple solutions and to explain their own reasoning.

The shift marks a major departure from the old “sage on the stage” approach to classroom learning where the teacher lectures and students are expected to absorb the information. With the Common Core students are expected to be more actively engaged in the leaning process, employing both a greater mastery of verbal and written communication skills.

For Vietnamese Americans students, and especially English learners, that poses something of a challenge.

Tranh Nu Tran teaches biology at Overfelt High School in East San Jose. The school is predominantly Latino and serves a high number of low-income and English learner students.

Projects involving a lot of group work and in-class presentations are a big part of her class, says Tran, especially since Common Core. She notes, however, that a lot of her Vietnamese students, in particular, tend to struggle with this. Many are “either shy or unused to speaking in public.”
Tran tries to help these students overcome this by spending more time one-on-one with them, encouraging them to be more vocal in their ideas and more participatory in groups. And while she’s seen progress, she admits it’s a “step-by-step process.”

But the question that Tran and other teachers grapple with under the new and more rigorous standards is just how to get the parents to be more supportive at home.

I spoke with English teacher Lynn Ha about this one recent afternoon at Overfelt. Young and enthusiastic, Ha agreed with Tran that despite their diligence and focus, Vietnamese Americans tend to fade into the back when it comes to group work or in-class presentations. Many also hesitate to ask for help, something she says hampers their progress.

And while language issues might present one obstacle, Ha says it’s also about a question of culture.
Traditionally, Vietnamese youth are taught to respect parents and teachers to a degree that individual expression is often frowned upon. But both Ha and Tran agree that Vietnamese American parents need to strike a balance between these traditional values and the very real demands now placed on their children if they are to thrive in school.

One step, they say, would be to encourage more open and frank conversations at home, thereby getting their kids more used to verbal communication and public speaking. Both say they’d also like to see more engagement from parents in their kids’ homework, though they acknowledge this is an area where language likely will pose some problems.

According to Ha, whether or not one or both parents can speak English, they should be actively encouraging their kids to read more deeply, looking up new words whenever they come up and building on their vocabularies.

As importantly, she says, parents need to pull back from focusing almost exclusively on their child’s scores, which experts say could drop once the new Common Core-aligned assessments begin in the spring.

Ha says that while important, scores are only “a part in the whole process of learning, researching and reasoning under the Common Core.”

This story was produced as part of the Informed Communities Education Reporting Fellowship, a partnership between New America Media and the Silicon Valley Foundation.