What's Missing in the Elementary Classroom?

04/27/2015 07:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015

I have spent the last two semesters in elementary schools observing student teachers. There's something missing. Finally, this week I had that "aha" moment as I left my last observation for the week and headed back to the university. My student teachers are teaching in classrooms where the teachers are not sitting at desks and students are not using textbooks! There it was... right in front of me.

Now that might not sound worthy of headlines on the six o'clock local news, but I believe both are signs of how teachers are changing their approach as they meet the demands of teaching young children.

Many educators are adjusting to changes in how they approach curriculum with the recent approval of Common Core (the new national standards). As an outsider looking in, I want to share the following observations:

• Current textbook adoptions don't necessarily meet those new standards, so many teachers have chosen not to use them

• There are many dedicated teachers working in grade level teams diligently and tirelessly to locate quality resources that do meet the new standards

• Students are engaged in small learning groups with more social interaction than ever before

• Teachers are asking students to think at deeper levels, and the dialog between teachers and students illustrates this is occurring on a daily basis

• Teachers do not have time to sit at desks when learning is interactive and hands-on

Many teachers will say that they have taught this way for years, and I believe that is true for some. But teaching totally without textbooks, researching and unpacking standards and asking students to think deeper about the "whys" and "hows" are certainly evident now in most classrooms where Common Core has been adopted.

The latest three "Rs" are Rigor, Relevance and Relationship -- which means learning is more likely to occur when teachers are intentional in the depth of content, when they show students how the material relates to their lives and where students are totally involved.

Teachers and schools often are criticized for what they are not doing, but I see a different perspective this school year. I want to offer kudos to the teachers who are mentoring the student teachers so they are ready to meet the demands of teaching the current curriculum. Teachers are working harder than ever, and student teachers are sponges absorbing every intimate detail. The real winners are the young children in those dedicated classrooms.

From my view, I see less sitting at desks and less use of textbooks... I think it is working.