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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 43

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    Sarah Norris

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 Do I Focus On What Matters in Planning?

First things first: Happy August to all of you!

We know the start of the school year varies from “practically tomorrow” to “still a month away.”  This buzzy moment when kids aren’t yet back--but teachers’ minds are turning towards what classroom life will look like-- is a good time to do a little long-range planning and some up-close planning. 

As you know or will quickly learn once you get going, teaching this curriculum well requires deep knowledge of its design. Knowing where you are headed over the long term allows you to make more informed decisions in the short term. If you are not sure what’s coming tomorrow, next week, or even next month, you may find yourself feeling unsure of how to make informed decisions to best support your students’ learning today. This can sometimes lead to an overreliance on the exact words on the page of any given lesson, as if it were a script. 

On the other hand, if you have looked ahead and understand how standards spiral in and out of lessons over days and weeks, and you have analyzed the assessments and the ways in which students prepare for those assessments, you’ll be able to use your wisdom and experience as a teacher to be responsive to the needs of your students within your fast-paced, always changing classroom environment. 

To be clear, we love “the words on the page”--we wrote them! We also know that part of putting the curriculum into service of your students means being able to quickly figure out which words matter most for you and your students today. When you know what’s coming, you can do this more quickly, and with more discerning eyes, leading to lessons that feel better to you and have more impact on your students.

After many years now of working alongside teachers as they gear up for a year, a module, a unit, or a lesson, we’ve come to some understandings about how to prepare well. We’ve baked those understandings into some Task Cards for unpacking various components of the curriculum, at relevant times of the year.

Each curriculum map includes a grid indicating which standards are assessed in a unit-level assessment in a given module (marked with "X," as well as any standards assessed in an ongoing manner with a checklist throughout a module (marked with a check).

Long-Range Look: Before School Starts (and again as needed!)

Your life will be easier and your kids will learn more if you have a strong sense of where you are headed. Using your grade’s curriculum map to take a long-range look during pre-planning--and revisiting the map over the course of the year--can help you keep the big picture in mind. We recommend teachers, coaches, and building leaders use the Long Range Look Task Card to collaboratively examine the Curriculum Map for the grade level, and Curriculum Plan for the grade band.

Mid-range look: once a quarter, at least two weeks before starting each module

The module is the biggest grain-size in the curriculum. We recommend teachers and coaches use a tool like the Mid Range Look Task Card or the Unpacking A Module Template to work through the Module Overview and the Assessment Overview and Resources at least two weeks before beginning a module. Since one of the key moves in preparing to teach a module is to read all the texts students will read, we recommend doing so as part of a mid-range planning process, rather than right before teaching. When you’ve read the texts, you’re able to get a lot more out of reading the Overviews, so your planning is higher-leverage.

The Unit-at-a Glance charts are powerful tools for quickly visualizing the key parts of upcoming instruction and assessment.

Short-Range Look: About every two weeks, at least a week before beginning a unit

There are 3 units per module. Once you are well-grounded in how they all build on one another, you are ready to look more deeply at each one in turn. One of the highest-leverage uses of your time in preparing to teach is to take the Mid- and End-of-Unit Assessments yourself. We recommend teachers use a tool like the Short Range Look Task Card as they read the Unit Overviews and take the Assessments at least a week before beginning to teach.

Up-Close Look: Between weekly and daily

Of course, teachers will spend the most time with the lessons themselves. To make that time the most useful, we recommend keeping the Unit-at-a-Glance charts very handy, and using a tool like the Up Close Look Task Card, or the Module Preparation Tool, to review the lesson in the Teacher’s Guide and the accompanying Supporting Materials.

None of these tools are required to teach the curriculum well, but we know that when teachers internalize the questions that they--specifically them, with specifically their students--need to ask as they engage with all that’s available, planning time gets shorter, and teaching gets deeper. We offer these in that spirit, and with our heartfelt best wishes for a great year of teaching and learning!

For more general information about our curriculum, check out our website or our book Your Curriculum Companion: The Essential Guide to Teaching the EL Education K–5 Language Arts Curriculum. If you have questions related to this blog, please email us at: ELcurriculumblog@eleducation.org.