Reopening: Moving Toward More Equitable Schools
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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 42

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    EL Education

Do you have questions about teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum? We've got answers!

Come back the first Tuesday of each month for the latest from the Curriculum Q & A Blog

Question: How does the EL Education K-5 Language Arts curriculum elevate student achievement beyond just test scores? 

The Dimensions of Student Achievement

We have chosen to define student achievement more expansively than most, recognizing the fullness of what it means to succeed in school and in life, and we have built our curriculum to reflect this more expansive definition. We promote a three-dimensional view of student achievement—mastery of knowledge and skills, high-quality work, and character—that offers a vision for education we would want for every child and provides a “north star” for all of our work. To learn more about our multidimensional approach, check out the  Dimensions of Student Achievement overview and these two case study videos featuring Hollis Innovation Academy and Conway Elementary  (whose work we’ll also celebrate in this post!). 

In this week’s post, we celebrate stories from schools and districts across the country who are using the EL Education K-5 Language Arts Curriculum and where students have shown evidence of achievement in one or more of the dimensions during the 2018-2019 school year. We hope you’ll enjoy their inspiring work!

Mastery of Knowledge and Skills

Conway Elementary: Escondido, California

Conway, a K-6 school, is methodically tracking student progress on college- and career-ready standards. One focus is on how Language Dives affect student outcomes. In this sample tracker from Grade 2, you can see how the mighty instructional team at Conway selects a “focus standard” based on the needs they identify in student data, in this case L.2.4a: Use sentence-level context as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase. They design Language Dives to support students in meeting that standard, and then they administer a Common Formative Assessment (CFA) to gauge student knowledge. 

Across the two CFAs and several connected Language Dives in November and February, students demonstrated  substantial growth, moving from nearly 20% exceeding the standard to more than 60%. In addition, 4% moved out of below-standard performance, just within those three months.

Conway consistently invests in their students and teachers through continuous improvement, including professional development, coaching, data culture, and enviable growth mindset. About 50% of the students are officially designated as English language learners (ELL), but the school believes that closer to 85% of students are in the beginning to advanced levels of English language proficiency. About 85% of students are Latinx or Hispanic, and more than 80% are economically disadvantaged.

West Buffalo Charter School: Buffalo, New York

West Buffalo just finished its first year implementing the curriculum in grades 3-5 (they’ll take on K-2 next year). Erin Clifford, ELA Coach at the school, reports:

“Our 3rd-5th grade classrooms launched the 2nd edition EL Education curriculum this year. The students have amazed us with their engagement and excitement throughout daily lessons. Through conversation and exploration, we’ve seen a major increase in students’ abilities to critically analyze texts, respectfully discuss their differing perspectives, and actively participate in deeper conversations about complex ideas. With a high English as Native Language (ENL) population, we embraced the chance to have students talk and explore together, while having opportunities to share their own learning through multiple modalities. We are beyond excited to expand this curriculum to our K-2 classrooms, in order to allow all of our students to engage in such motivating and meaningful work on a daily basis.”

West Buffalo fifth-grade students participate in the Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up discussion protocol in their study of natural disasters.

High-Quality Student Work

St. George School: Tenants Harbor, Maine

Beautiful work abounds at St. George School, a small, rural school on the edge of the Maine coast. As part of 1st grade, Module 3, students create Bird Riddle Cards for the culminating performance task. Students can then use the cards in a matching game. 

1st grade teacher Meghan Smith reports, “Students were excited to research their bird to become an expert on how their bodies help them survive and apply their knowledge to their scientific drawings and mystery riddle. Students persevered through multiple drafts, first focusing on the outline of the bird, and later completing the details and finishing with color. Students were proud to see their hard work turned into a finished product of a matching game.”

A first-grader in Meghan Smith’s class showcases her learning about a hummingbird’s body through the creation of this informational riddle and scientific drawing.

“Our advice for other teachers using the curriculum would be to review expectations for high-quality work daily with students and be open to completing more drafts. We watched the Austin’s Butterfly video numerous times to create a culture for feedback and revision.”

Teachers at St. George were a bit reluctant to embrace the curriculum a couple of years ago and now they can’t get enough of it, they love it so much. Their enthusiasm has led the K and 3-5 teachers to implement next year, and their NWEA growth scores skyrocketed this year!

Discovery Charter: Rochester, New York 

Third grade students at Discovery Charter created podcasts to teach others about challenges to access water. Their work was inspired by the performance task for 3rd grade, Module 4: Water Around the World. 

Third-grade teacher Ciomarda Diaz shares, “This year I thought about altering the task a bit to reach a different audience so my students could see first-hand the impact of their expertise.”  (Read more about adapting performance tasks in this blog post). 

Based on the popularity of podcasts, Diaz thought to herself, “Most of my students have a cellphone or access to the internet. So why not make one?!”

Third-grade students at Discovery Charter are all smiles after creating their first podcast script.

“To ensure we were meeting the standards laid out in the module, my wonderful team and I developed an open script that required students to answer the module guiding questions as well as more specific questions contained in module lessons. Students used module texts to support their claims and provide additional evidence. We practiced using conversation cues on how to agree and disagree with each other. Students were the writers of their scripts!” 

In one week students learned they have 50 followers! They were blown away that people were actually listening. After each episode they kept pushing themselves to reach more listeners. As of today Discovery Kids has listeners in 20 states and 3 countries. They couldn’t be happier and I couldn’t be more proud!”


Elgin Math and Science Academy, Elgin, Illinois

Elgin Math and Science Academy (EMSA) is a year one EL Education network school that has implemented the curriculum with strong teacher and student growth. 

Jaqueline Willer, Dean of Culture, tells us “Students at EMSA have pushed themselves in rigorous learning and producing their best work within the EL curriculum. One student in particular came into 3rd grade reading at the kindergarten level, and struggled to believe that he was capable of the work in the ELA modules. He quickly realized that old coping strategies such as putting his head down or disruptive behaviors were not going to deter teachers from helping him reach his highest potential. In one short year, this student applied himself intently, and actively sought out assistance instead of shying away from the work. Throughout the modules he had honed his leadership skills and has reflected, making sure he puts himself in situations that have a positive effect on him, so that he can continue to grow.”

“In a team meeting with the student’s teacher, teacher assistant, and student support team, his mom stated that she “felt so fortunate that [her son] was at a school where no one is going to give up on him.” She also noted that at EMSA ‘the teachers understand that when [her son] shows signs of what may look like a lack of motivation, he is really just showing that he needs help’ and ‘everyone is always there to help him.’ The student, after having a pep-talk with our principal about his module 3 assessment, ‘She really believes in me. She really thinks that I can do this.’”

Detroit Public Schools

Less than a year after a Federal District Court judge in Michigan decided that Detroit students did not have a constitutional right to literacy, students presented their handmade “little libraries,” filled with thousands of books from their book drives, to community organizations. The day was part of their ongoing study of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, part of a 5th grade module.

Students in Detroit create their "little libraries" on Better World Day 2019

Bringing it all Together

Joe Shoemaker Elementary: Denver, Colorado

At Joe Shoemaker Elementary in Denver, kindergarten tree experts showed mastery of all three dimensions through their work and learning in Modules 3 and 4. K/1 teacher Annie Holyfield recently reflected on how the design of these learning experiences propelled her students’ learning, character and quality work. 

“The thing that was so great about a study of trees is that the kids were engaged in learning from start to finish because of the topic (we know that young children thrive in the natural world!). Students created beautiful art to showcase the trees they had grown to love and they learned to use their voices to teach their community about why we should appreciate these trees.” 

“All of that is amazing—but what is even better—is the significant student learning due to the artfully crafted, very intentional focus around the 3 dimensions of student achievement.  Embedded in this module, is, of course, an abundance of informational learning. Students excelled in the area of mastery of knowledge and skills, because they read complex texts, researched, and learned the genre of informational writing.  Kids became arborists and learned to appreciate trees so they can take care of them in the future (another shout-out to the characteristics of primary learners!) and to do this they had to focus on character-building skills and understanding about how to create high-quality work. They had to learn the importance of craftsmanship, what makes something high quality, and then learn the skills and patience to revise to make something better, for a purpose. Any curriculum could give the information and supports to merely learn about trees, but EL’s modules give kids access to so much more. They have the opportunity to learn how and why their work matters, create beautiful performance tasks, and most importantly, are given the passion to create work that makes the world a better place. This is all due to the deliberate focus on the 3 dimensions of student achievement within the curriculum.”

Welcome, New Partners

We are grateful for the teachers, leaders, and EL staff and coaches who support implementation in our current school partners and districts. We also extend a warm welcome our new partners for the upcoming school year, including our newest district partner Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

In the meantime, enjoy your well-deserved summer break!  Stay tuned for our next post on August 6th. 

For more general information about our curriculum, check out our website or book Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K-5 Language Arts Curriculum