Why Tennessee Should Be the National Model for Literacy

Tennessee has been in the news this year for our reading progress – well-deserved recognition for a smart strategy, well-executed. As states look for ways to improve reading outcomes, I believe the Tennessee model should be the Go To approach. Here’s why. 

Tennessee hasn’t just trained teachers, we’ve given them the right tools: curriculum.

Teacher training has become increasingly-popular as a means to bring the Science of Reading into classrooms, for good reason. Tennessee didn’t forget this; our Reading360 initiative trained 30,000 Tennessee teachers over the last two summers, and our teachers have raved about the experience.

However, training isn’t enough. If you simply tell teachers what needs to change without giving them the tools to do it, you become that coach that yells, “Run” or “Tackle” on the sidelines, without providing the plays and the playbook required for success.

By 2019, the “Best for All” initiative ensured that all districts now use high-quality ELA curriculum.  This has been a game-changer. Curriculum enables the changes we’ve asked teachers to make to be tangible and feasible. It is the proverbial playbook.

This is the cornerstone of our improvement, and the backbone for everything else that follows.

This curriculum focus stands in marked contrast to other states who’ve made a ‘Science of Reading’ investment; Mississippi has been rightfully cheered for its teacher training successes, but recent reporting reminds us that they are still catching up on bringing high-quality, knowledge-building curriculum to schools, to address the other aspects of the Science of Reading. Tennessee leads on literacy by investing in the Both-And of curriculum and training.

We are doing “curriculum-aligned professional learning” at statewide scale.

The Reading360 training was especially impactful because teachers had curriculum in hand during the training. The professional learning incorporated study of, and practice with, either the district-adopted foundational skills curriculum or the Tennessee Foundational Skills Curriculum Supplement – free, excellent materials developed by the state. Educators worked from the playbook, while learning why those plays were strategically essential. They weren’t just learning about why foundational skills matter, they were practicing classroom implementation. We can’t underestimate how much this makes the concepts more “real” to our teachers.

Education leaders talk about the need for professional learning to be curriculum-aligned, so that teachers have the playbook in hand as they are learning the concepts of the game. I consider #Reading360 training to be a proof of concept. Fortunately, this idea is getting traction nationally, and resources like Rivet Education’s Professional Learning Partner Guide have made it easier for districts to find partners for curriculum-based professional learning.  

We aren’t just focused on foundational skills.

Foundational skills are critical, as we have seen firsthand in Sumner. So many of our kids were guessing at words, and we didn’t know it until we started using more rigorous curriculum and it exposed our foundational skills shortcomings.

Still, we knew that we had issues beyond the early grades. Our test results were OK in the lower elementary grades, but when our kids got into upper grades, things started trailing off. 

But, since our shift to knowledge-building curriculum, we are seeing improvements that cross grades – something that is also reflected in Tennessee’s statewide testing results.  Tennessee districts saw gains across K–12, with the strongest gains actually happening in high school. That’s an important proof-point for the knowledge-building approach, which really shines when cumulative learning is assessed.    

Foundational skills are the easy (and important!) win; knowledge-building is harder Other states need to take note of Tennessee’s success.

We didn’t forget our secondary teachers.

When I taught high school history and English literature, I had students with so many reading needs, but no toolkit for dealing with them.  I’m proud to be in a state that brought Science of Reading training to teachers in upper grades and across the content areas. This summer, Secondary Literacy training was unsurprisingly hailed by our teachers as incredibly beneficial. “I have felt pretty helpless until now,” said one 7th grade teacher, and boy could I relate.

Our investments in knowledge-building ELA curricula also gave essential tools to our upper grades teachers. Investing in the Science of Reading means more than success with decoding in K–2.

We didn’t just support teachers, we nurtured leaders.

Tennessee also supported Literacy Implementation Networks, in which districts across the state using common ELA curriculum are working with high-quality professional learning organizations to support implementation.  Districts with mature implementations are partnered up with those that have newly adopted.  These networks have been phenomenally successful, and the added benefit is that they’ve helped to create a collaborative culture, and shared experience, across the state around our literacy initiatives.  

To my knowledge, Tennessee is the first state to truly scale curriculum-centered design for literacy. Keep an eye on our state in the years to come. With these investments taking root, I believe they will continue to bear fruit.

Curriculum Chatter: Lower Rates of Learning Disabilities, Rich Writing in Science Class, and More

Sometimes, a tweet can stop you in your tracks. We had a number of those moments in recent weeks – and we want to make sure that our friends beyond Twitter have a chance to see the special stories coming out of classrooms using high-quality curriculum.

Student outcomes move us every time! Jonathan Criswell shared that the number of students identified as having learning disabilities has dropped since the use of high-quality curriculum, and we can’t think of a better outcome:

Rich writing isn’t just for ELA! This stellar writing in a Grand Island science classroom using a high-quality science program knocked our socks off:

We could listen to math discourse all day, so we loved Kelly Carvajal Hageman’s share from a Seaford math class:

Is there anything more delightful than students becoming so engaged in their learning that they can’t stop talking during breaks? In Aldine ISD: 

In an era of curriculum myths, Abby Boruff was mythbusing, and we are here for it:

A Twitter thread can speak a thousand words, and Katie Scotti has been prolific! Check out her thread on knowledge-building, which really shows literacy acceleration in action:

Also, Katie’s thread on shared reading, and its role in fluency development:

Did we mention that Katie also wrote a superb column, Knowledge-building IS social-emotional learning, and it’s a must-read?

Please keep the posts coming, and use #CurriculumMatters in Twitter and Instagram so that we can see your shares! You can also follow our Facebook page or join our Curriculum Matters group.

Curriculum Chatter at the Close of October, 2022

It’s too hard to see into classrooms using high-quality curriculum, something we know all too well, because of all of the requests we get to host visitors! Social media can offer an excellent way to glimpse work with high-quality materials, so we have collected some nice illustrations from Twitter in the week-ending October 30th.

We are a sucker for evidence of student gains, so our Post of the Week was this kindergarten reading data from the Milton Terrace teachers in Ballston Spa, NY:

Other posts we adored:

Kyair Butts sharing that they are “using fluency as a driver for excellence” in Baltimore, MD:

April Imperio talking about positive math identities in Birmingham, MI:

Kelly Carvajal Hageman reminding us that “Everyone gets what they need in core instruction” in Seaford, DE:

Gorgeous student work in Aldine, TX:

Proud students showing off their knowledge in Pentucket, MA:

Please keep the posts coming, and use #CurriculumMatters in Twitter and Instagram so that we can see your shares!

You can also follow our Facebook page or join our Curriculum Matters group.

The Shift from Fountas & Pinnell to Research-Aligned Reading Instruction

In the wake of the troubling EdReports reviews of Fountas & Pinnell and Reading Workshop, many districts are considering a switch away from balanced literacy programs, to materials that better align to reading research.

Given the popularity of these programs, many districts worry that this will be a difficult shift to make. Previously, we hosted a webinar on the shift from Reading Workshop, in which our colleagues shared their stories from their first year of making this transition, and the conversation seemed valuable to the field.

In this event, we hear about the experiences of educators who’ve made the shift from F&P: 

  • What concerns about F&P – or about balanced literacy generally – prompted the change?
  • What did school teams experience when shifting to high-quality curricula?
  • How did school and district leaders build support for the change? How did they support educators in making the shift?

On Wednesday, February 16, Jennifer Hogan led a conversation with education leaders who have seen these shifts firsthand. You can watch a recording of their conversation below and download the presentation.


  • Moderator: Jennifer Hogan, Pentucket Schools
  • Victoria Thompson, Principal, UP Academy Holland
  • Elizabeth Wolfson, Reading Specialist/Instructional Coach, UP Academy Holland
  • Mandy Hollister, ESL Teacher/Coordinator/Instructional Coach, UP Academy Holland
  • Michael Paff, School Psychologist

Watch a Recording

Download the Presentation