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OFA adds new English advanced placement class

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Ogdensburg Free Academy will add a seventh advanced placement class next year, which teachers say will help students adapt to the new common core standards while offering them an opportunity to attain college credits in the face of ever-increasing higher education costs.

Advanced Placement English language and composition will be added to the OFA course listing next year at the time of the roll out of Common Core testing. The course will focus on non-fiction — a unifying factor for the course and the new Common Core, English teacher Paige Billings said Friday.

“We will still cover fiction, but the main focus will be the rhetoric and language used as opposed the literary analysis,” Ms. Billings said.

The course will be offered to advanced 11th-grade students at a cost of $81 to take the AP exam. Most colleges will accept accreditation from the district with a score of three or higher on the exam.

OFA currently offers seven AP classes. Approximately 60 students are enrolled in the classes, which are offered for students in 10th through 12th grade, high school Principal Cindy Tuttle said.

“They are important to our students, especially when considering the competitiveness of the college application process,” Mrs. Tuttle said. “We want to make sure our students are offered every opportunity available.”

Adding the AP English course is just one of the ways teachers are adapting in order to prepare students for the rigor of the new Common Core assessments.

In the classroom, 11th grade and AP English literature teacher Karlyen Manke said experimenting is key when it comes to adopting the Common Core by 2015, especially since course modules have not yet been established for ninth through 12th grades.

“All we have so far is a draft of the test,” Mrs. Manke said.

Most recently, Mrs. Manke said, she has tried methods such as “Carousel Brainstorming” which yielded positive results for students. While partaking in Carousel Brainstorming, small groups of students rotate around the classroom stopping at various stations. At each station, students use their prior knowledge of a topic or concept and share their ideas with their small group.

Each group posts their ideas at each station for all groups to read.

Group work has been very effective when it comes to introducing new concepts, Ms. Billings said.

“It engages students and keeps them on topic,” she said.

Students seem to be responding positively to the changes, Mrs. Manke said.

“They seem to take it in stride and they trust us that we will best prepare them for the exam at the end of the year,” Mrs. Manke said. “We’re kind of exploring this as we go along. It is the first year that we are rolling out the curriculum here, and we try to find what best serves the kids and what are the best ways to do it.”

Mrs. Manke is also working with the history department to teach students how to compile research essays.

“The history teacher will grade them based on sources and content and we will grade them based on organization and structure,” Mrs. Manke said.

Discussions with teachers from around the county have also helped teachers come up with fresh ideas to teach the Common Core standards, Mrs. Manke said.

“It’s a relief to talk with other people to talk about strategies — what are you doing, and how they are going to roll out,” Mrs. Manke said. “It helps that we are not as isolated as we once were. That has unified the school districts.”

But for the most part, the teachers said they have not had to make drastic changes to their personal methods of teaching.

“I think teachers tend to change all the time,” said Mrs. Manke, who has been teaching for over 30 years with the district. “They go with whatever the best practices are. And they try to look at the student population and try to best address their needs and try to find new strategies and new ways to make them successful.”

“I think for all the districts, ‘adapting’ is the key word, not adopting,” Mrs. Tuttle said.

Mrs. Manke said she should be prepared for the roll out next year.

“We have a great team effort here,” she said. “Our administration has been very supportive. We’re doing the best we can with what we have been given.”

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