“ARC has multiple benefits from a common curriculum, a database that tracks student progress, a database that houses online resources, and a live coach that supports teachers. It is a framework that helps teachers have a baseline to soar with creating common core standard lessons. The classroom libraries are amazing!” –Pharmalae Cummings
“Content building and culturally sustaining representation is important and evident in ARC Core. Intentional master scheduling, investments in professional learning and close attention to needs around explicit instruction should be addressed on the front end of implementation.” –Whitney Oakley
ARC Core delivers a research-based approach that ensures students build knowledge while developing a love for reading. The diverse assortment of books is second to none–and teachers can’t get enough of the resources! –James Hopkins
“ARC Core has allowed all of our K-5 students to be exposed to complex text that intentionally builds knowledge over time. Kids get so excited about the topics and love to read, write, and discuss what they’re learning about in class. With the whole school using ARC Core materials, we’re able to collectively share data and instructional strategies across grade levels and specialty areas.” –Taylor Milburn
As we look back on 2020, it’s hard to deny the chaos and uncertainty around our work that this global pandemic has foisted on educators. Together with an awakening about racial injustice, the pandemic has inspired necessary conversations about educational equity and access – with no easy answers.
For curriculum leaders and academic officers, we have had to face penetrating doubt about the contributions we have made to the academic progress of every student under our care. Despite our best efforts, there has been significant learning loss (and we weren’t doing all that great even before the pandemic.) Our systems and classrooms need an overhaul.
Most urgently, we must improve how we teach students to read. If you can’t read, you won’t succeed. Period. Reading is essential to success —in school and in life.
Well before the pandemic, research clearly indicated that student success in reading and growth in school was closely linked to the quality of the instructional materials used to teach them and the amount of background knowledge their curriculum exposed them to. It turns out that what we teach matters an awful lot.
Despite this knowledge, only 7% of elementary schools across the country are using high quality curricula in their classrooms, according to a 2019 RAND study. Why is this so?!!
The challenge many district leaders perceive is that, before they move forward with curriculum, they need to first build buy-in, optimize their organizational systems, and dismantle current structures that promote the status quo. But how do you do this?!
In both of our cases, our journey started with asking ourselves if we were satisfied with our current level of performance. We looked at our data and said this was not good enough – we can do better. By reading the research, we realized we were not teaching reading correctly. No wonder we were getting underwhelming results! After years of stagnant proficiency, because we were only teaching reading strategies, not building knowledge and comprehension, it became abundantly clear we had to make a change.
Engaging teachers in this exercise of self-examination was key to building support for change. Conversations with your teachers will reveal a lot. If you sit down with them and enlist their feedback on how to strengthen the curriculum (or program, if you are not following a specific curriculum), you will likely learn that they have a great sense of what’s missing and what would work. We listened to teachers, and they helped shape both our actions and our messages as we moved forward.
Our teachers told us they were spending too much time creating and curating materials. We saw that high-quality, comprehensive curriculum – based on research, and without a DIY burden for teachers – represented an opportunity to put more of what they love about teaching back into the profession. They gain time to connect deeply with students and the content, creating a more authentic and engaging classroom experience for both. Our teams quickly came to understand that high quality materials are not about replacing teacher creativity and expertise, but rather about empowering teachers to use their previous time in better ways.
Teachers in classrooms everywhere list time as the resource they need most. They spend endless hours searching various sources for lessons and content that engage students and hopefully works; in fact, the average teacher spends 12 hours per week! What our teachers came to see was that adopting a high-quality curriculum eliminates the endless endeavor of scratch planning for instruction and locating engaging content. Consequently, the time they would have spent doing that could be devoted to building relationships and knowledge of their students, using PLCs for deep analysis of student work, thinking deeply about meaningful texts and problems, and important self-care to keep them engaged and ready when the bell rings.
As academic leaders, we marvel at the teachers who arrive at dawn and work until the street lights come on, but applauding them for this work ethic may only be leading them to increased burnout and status quo results in their classrooms. Messaging our efforts around adopting a high-quality curriculum in a way that truly shows how this work supports teachers every bit as much as the students is a key first step to building buy-in.
Piloting curriculum under consideration is a great idea. Putting the materials in the hands of teachers was a game-changer for us, because it helped them see how much support was provided and also how some of the things we knew were wrong with our previous curriculum had been dealt with. Plus, the fact that the kids were so immediately engaged in the content was a big selling point. In the end, we didn’t have to worry about how we messaged the change because the results spoke for themselves.
The pandemic has left a chasm in public education, but it can also provide the opportunity for a true renaissance in classrooms across the nation – a rebirth centered around empowering teachers and students by giving them the materials they need to be successful.
We hope you will join us in a “reading revolution” brought about by a high-quality curriculum!
“Wit & Wisdom has such a strong writing component that has really helped our teachers become better “teachers of writing.” Our teachers often comment on their lack of preparation for writing instruction in teacher prep programs. The backward design of the materials help teachers really understand the writing process in general. Student writing tasks are authentic and relevant to knowledge they are building. There is a very strong vertical alignment between K-8 for deep knowledge building across multiple content domains. Amazing texts that cover a range of genres including multimedia. Also, the repetitive and predictable content and craft stages provide entry levels and scaffolds for all students regardless of reading ability.” – Jennifer Jordan
“Wit and Wisdom has these red threads that connect learning in a masterful way. One builds knowledge around meaningful questions. A second sets strategies and routines that build readers and writers. The third develops learning around complex text. Tie in the potential for decodable readers that align phonics practice and you have a braided rope that supports and accelerates student learning.” – Shiryl McAdams
“What is especially unique about this curriculum to me, is the way is builds upon itself. Last year was our first year of using Wit and Wisdom and I must admit I wasn’t completely sold on it initially. However, as we continued to work through the arcs and entire modules, I was able to see the connection as well the enthusiasm, interest, and success in my students. Through the Socratic Seminars they were able to express their thoughts on the content with each other. The conversations they were having, and the information they were providing made me very proud as a teacher to know they truly understood the content and were mastering standards being taught. All of my students at all ability levels were contributing meaningful information to the conversation as well as asking clarifying questions.” – Valencia Smith
“The extraordinary concept of the curriculum is connectedness between all the novels, the relevance , cross curricular connections, and world connections with real life connection (relatable).” – Cedric Stewart
It’s curriculum adoption season, and like clockwork, we have begun to get inquiry emails. As early adopters of high-quality instructional materials, we are frequently asked for our insights about our curricula, which we are happy to share.
Knowing that many district are seeking more info, we decided to hold a series of ‘Meet the Curriculum’ nights – an opportunity to hear straight talk from educators about the ELA curricula used in our districts. In these webinars, we’ll highlight the distinguishing aspects of each curriculum, share key experiences, and save lots of time for Q&A.
Educators across the country are rightfully concerned about addressing racism in our school systems. What does this work mean for our reading instruction?
Please join Nakia Hardy and Alfred Tatum for a discussion about antiracist instruction in English Language Arts, including an open conversation about this work in districts across the country. Which instructional practices can help us advance literacy for Black and brown students?
You can watch a recording of their conversation below.
How are districts adapting curricula to respond to the need for more culturally-responsive materials?
Three of our colleagues have been very focused on this question in recent years, and they have common goals yet distinct journeys. For example, in Guilford County, a central group of teacher leaders led the work, while school-based teams have pioneered changes in Lighthouse schools.
Our speakers shared their district’s journey in a webinar on January 11, 2021. You can catch a recording below, and hear more from Joy Cantey in her recent blog.
Each year, we get loads of questions about curriculum selection and implementation. This year, we decided to answer those questions publicly.
On January 7th, three of our colleagues – who use three different high-quality curricula in their districts – will discuss today’s ELA curriculum landscape in a webinar. What are the hallmarks of high-quality curricula? Where should districts start in considering a move to high-quality curriculum? How can districts approach needs assessment, and what third party tools and reviews can be used in the process?
Our speakers have all gone through curriculum selection and implementation in recent years, and they shared their insights in a webinar on January 7th, 2021. You can watch a recording below.
Please stay tuned for our upcoming ‘Meet the Curriculum’ series, when our colleagues will host Q&A nights for the curricula that are most-used across our districts – an opportunity for straight talk about these materials from teachers and school leaders across districts.
Accordingly, questions from our webinar attendees followed a pattern: requests for advice on how to make the case for changing curriculum. We happily shared our best advice in the webinar.
Here, we want to expand a few points, based on our experience with schools making the shift.
Teachers might be less wedded to Reading Workshop than you think.
In Aldine ISD, district leaders worried that teachers might resist a new curriculum. Yet, surprisingly, most of them didn’t push back when district leaders introduced new materials. In fact, when Matt announced that the new CKLA curriculum incorporated daily, systematic phonics, some actually applauded!
Aldine saw most of the reluctance at the district leader level. A few of Matt’s ELA and Spanish Language Arts colleagues were strong Reading Workshop devotees and they chose to opt for new roles when the curriculum change was announced. In the end, these transitions left Aldine with a team very committed to the new direction.
When teachers were hesitant about the change, their primary concern was maintaining choice and voice in reading. By showing teachers that Aldine’s new materials, CKLA and Wit and Wisdom, both actively promote student discourse – even including Socratic Seminars! – and by reassuring teachers that independent reading would still enable choice, the concerns diminished.
Hamilton County Schools had a similar experience. District leaders decided to introduce the new curriculum to a small group of schools before the district wide adoption and pilot teachers quickly embraced the change. They had long realized something was missing – and that the new materials provided more resources and support than they had enjoyed in the past. Teachers went from creating everything from scratch to learning how to deeply build on a foundation of strong resources.
In fact, teachers chose EL Education in Hamilton County Schools, based on the pilot! They recognized that this curriculum is a heavy lift when it comes to implementation. Still, they overwhelmingly opted for the success of their students, even if it meant learning something new and different. The choice became obvious when they saw what the students could do with the new materials!
Generally, fears of teacher resistance to a change may be overblown – or overcome as part of a good adoption process.
Disaggregate your data to see essential gaps.
Kristen McQuillan’s advice to districts with the appearance of “strong” literacy performance was succinct: “disaggregate your data.” In an affluent district, where parents can afford the costs of tutors for struggling readers, overall outcomes can look quite good – yet outcomes for subgroups tell a different story.
It’s not a surprise to see significantly lower proficiency outcomes for English Learners and economically disadvantaged students in this school; Reading Workshop received poor reviews from literacy experts for its ELL supports and its ability to help build background knowledge necessary for reading comprehension.
Proof of such shortcomings can be found in the disaggregated outcomes, which can be immensely helpful in making a case for change.
In our experience, you can trust the process.
The mantra in our PLN is “Trust the process.” It has become one of the emblems of high-quality curriculum work, because across our network, we have each seen teachers turn from curriculum skeptics to curriculum fans once they’ve actually had a chance to use excellent materials, supported by strong PD.
The mantra works for transitioning away from Reading Workshop, too. When teachers make the shift to high-quality curricula, they say what we hear elsewhere about that process:
When lessons are centered around excellent, engaging (often beloved) whole texts, teachers become excited about how the students respond.
When writing activities are connected to the reading, it’s actually a lot easier for students to write effectively. Teachers see this firsthand once students begin writing from more text-centered writing prompts.
Below-benchmark students grow more quickly, and participate more, when they are working with the same challenging texts as peers. Naturally, teachers respond to that!
Literacy instruction is stronger when it supports the acquisition of background knowledge. Teachers see how much the background knowledge and newly-acquired vocabulary impacts reading comprehension.
We’ll close with a quote from one of Yvette’s teachers, because it drives home the point. Just months into work with a new curriculum, teachers really do talk like this:
“This year my students have had conversations around texts (both fiction & non-fiction) like I’ve never experienced. This curriculum seamlessly integrates vocabulary, conversation protocols, research skills, and provides background knowledge which are all essential for student success and keeping students engaged in their learning. My students have much better comprehension skills, as well as their speaking and listening skills. I have never seen a curriculum hit the speaking and listening standards so hard! The assessment with this curriculum is built in, ongoing and purposeful. We are able to tell quickly what parts need to be retaught or reviewed, and where to go next with our teaching.”
Change is never easy, but our move away from Reading Workshop was both easier and more rewarding than we could have imagined. May our experiences reassure school and district leaders following in our footsteps!
It’s no exaggeration to say that we’ve been gobsmacked by the Aldine ISD team this year!
We were delighted to add one of its leaders to our ranks: Matt Warford, the Executive Director of Teaching and Learning – who hit the ground running with his first webinar.
We had to share some of the exemplary Aldine work that has caught our eye this year. Here’s what makes this district one to watch:
Hosting its own literacy conference
Aldine is hosting a free, open-invitation Literacy Matters conference in January, with speakers from our PLN, including Robin McClellan and Janise Lane, as well as literacy luminaries like Natalie Wexler.
The best part? Aldine’s motivation for the conference is to help neighboring districts! As Matt shared, “In Texas, we really are the first big public district to make this shift, so we wanted to see if any of the neighboring districts would like more information while also giving our internal staff members some meaningful training. Then we figured, since it’s virtual, the more the merrier.”
This event is a first of its kind in the Curriculum Matters community and we hope it’s not the last!
Making literacy a key pillar of its anti-racism plan
In June, Aldine’s superintendent Dr. Goffney sent a powerful letter to families in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, detailing the district’s plans to address systemic racism. It was authentic and rich with actions that spanned many parts of the district’s work. One distinguishing factor: literacy was front and center. When it comes to reading outcomes, “the statistics related to Black males are shameful,” wrote Dr. Goffney when she introduced the district’s “new approach” to families.
Every district equity plan should make instructional equity a key pillar! Aldine is a model for keeping academics at the heart of equity work.
Successful implementation in a pandemic year
No one would choose a global pandemic as the time to roll out new curriculum, but knowing the stakes, Aldine didn’t hesitate to proceed with its planned ELA adoption of two new curricula.
For a smooth launch amidst all of the other complications, they have earned our respect!
Aldine’s implementation got a boost from the Texas Reading Academies, a new state program to train K–3 teachers and building leaders on the science of reading, which Matt describes as a “nice complement” to their own curriculum-aligned PD.
We look forward to hearing more about each of these initiatives and so much more in the months and years to come!
Brian Kingsley, Janise Lane, and Robin McClellan were spotlighted in a recent report by the Carnegie Corporation of New York on high-quality professional learning, and we think it makes an excellent conversation-starter!
It invites readers to consider a model for “inquiry-based teaching” that has teachers examine their craft in the same way students are asked to tackle new academic standards – by challenging prior ways of doing things, actively embracing new instructional practices, and deepening content knowledge.
Our PLN regularly touches on these Elements – curriculum, equity, beliefs, leadership, coherence, collective participation – in our blogs and events. We look forward to a conversation with the broader community about how this approach enables better teaching & learning – in real and lasting ways.
We held an open conversation on December 9th; you can watch the recording below.
Carnegie’s website has some nice overviews and even an animation, for additional reading.
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