Professional Learning Communities Help EKU Align Core Academic Standards

file photo of Keen Johnson Bldg.

Seven interlocked Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are at the heart of an effort at Eastern Kentucky University to align key general education and teacher preparation courses to Kentucky Core Academic Standards.

Last fall, EKU established the Curriculum Alignment for Retention and Transition (CARTE) as a response, in part, to Kentucky Senate Bill 1, which deals with college preparedness at the secondary level and retention and graduation rates at the college/university level. Because CARTE is a faculty-driven campus-wide initiative, the decision was made to house the initiative in the university’s Teaching and Learning Center.

An Executive Professional Learning Community includes the two directors of EKU’s Teaching and Learning Center, Dr. Hal Blythe and Dr. Charlie Sweet; and two prominent faculty from the College of Education, Dr. Dorie Combs, chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Dr. Ginni Fair, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and director of EKU’s Thinking and Communicating across the Curriculum Program. That quartet is joined by one representative each from five areas: Teacher Preparation, English/Reading, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences. Each area representative facilitates a 12-member faculty PLC from his or her academic discipline.

“As faculty, we have a responsibility to help our students succeed,” Combs said. “Faculty are looking at what they are doing and how it helps students to be successful – in those courses and in what comes next.

“Faculty are analyzing the standards to gain a better understanding of how they teach them,” Combs said. “We want to make sure our students are prepared on the rigorous standards they are going to teach, that they have the (Kentucky Core Academic Standards) content knowledge and that they have the skills to teach it.”

The Executive PLC has identified key syllabi in the courses most students take as well as those necessitated by teacher preparation students. By December, Combs said, the five PLCs will have aligned 53 percent of the targeted courses. The realignment might be expanded to include all General Education and Teacher Preparation courses, as well as Eastern’s developmental courses in reading, mathematics and English.

Universities statewide are in the process of aligning relevant courses to the common core standards, Combs said, “but each is going about it differently. I don’t know of any other university that is using the PLC model to the extent that we are at EKU.”

The PLC model was chosen, Combs explained, “because for the past five years EKU has developed a campus-wide PLC culture,” as was noted in a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education that featured EKU as a “Great Place to Work.”

“The Executive Committee believes that if faculty members are part of the process of course alignment, they ‘own’ the process,” Combs said. “Redesigning faculty syllabi aligned to the Kentucky Core Academic Standards produced a scholarly and pedagogical environment that maximized participation.”

The “PLC culture” is an outgrowth of a history of cooperation between the Colleges of Education and Arts and Sciences that undergirds such an ambitious undertaking. “We have so many good collaborations going on,” Combs noted.

Other colleges and universities have taken notice of EKU’s PLC approach. EKU officials already have been asked to make several presentations on the initiative.

As an added bonus, Combs said EKU faculty are frequently finding that the realigned courses mesh well with EKU’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which calls for the university to develop informed, critical and creative thinkers who communicate effectively.

CARTE is just one of many initiatives at Eastern designed to enhance college readiness. Others include:

·         EKU Middle College, the first such collaboration in Kentucky involving a local school district and a four-year college or university.

·         EKU Now! dual credit program for high school juniors and seniors to jump-start their college education.

·         mathematics and English transition courses in high schools region-wide to reduce the need for remediation courses at the college level.

·         the nationally innovative Educational Extension Agents program, in which seven agents serve 214 schools and 50,000 students.

Published on November 11, 2011