Reopening: Moving Toward More Equitable Schools
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Curriculum Q & A Blog, Question 44

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    Katie Shenk

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 curriculum foster a strong classroom culture and support character development, particularly at the beginning of the school year?

Whether today, one of your first weeks back, or you’re already a month into the school year, we send our best wishes for a wonderful school year! We know each of you is committed to creating classroom communities where all students flourish, and we’re confident our K-5 Language Arts curriculum will support your mission. 

A central goal of our curriculum is to give students the tools to become effective learners and ethical people who contribute to a better world. In this week’s post, we’ll share a bit about how character is learned through authentic literacy experiences and ongoing reflection on those experiences in the first modules of the year, a time when you are no doubt focused on fostering your classroom culture. What follows are short descriptions and examples of how module 1 at every grade level integrates character and authentic literacy experiences. Read them all or zoom to your grade level for a quick read. 

Kindergarten Module 1, Toys and Play

In this module, students work to become ethical people by treating others well. Throughout all three units, kindergarten students practice respectful behavior as they engage in conversations and play experiences with peers, and practice caring for one another and classroom materials. These experiences lay a solid foundation for their interactions with peers and caring for the classroom space for the entire school year.  

Kelly Fernee, teacher at West Park Elementary in Leadville, Colorado, states, “During the first module in Kindergarten, students and I co-created two essential anchor charts that support their work and play in Labs. The “Commitments for Playing Together” and “Ways We Take Care” anchor charts lay a strong foundation for expectations. And because students contributed to the content of the charts, they understand what’s expected of them and hold each other accountable.  


Kindergarten students in Kelly Fernee’s Class co-created this “Commitments for Playing Together” anchor chart as part of their learning in Module 1.

Grade 1: Tools and Work

In this module, students work to become effective learners by developing the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life. Throughout the module, students practice collaboration, perseverance and initiative as they engage in a series of tool challenges, read texts like The Most Magnificent Thing and work in small groups to create a magnificent thing for classroom use. 

First grade students at Joe Shoemaker School proudly present their favorite class book pulley, which they created as part of the Tools and Work module. 

Annie Holyfield, primary teacher at Joe Shoemaker School in Denver, recently shared: ”Of all of the 1st grade modules I teach, Tools and Work is by far my favorite. This is for a multitude of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is because of the habits of character that are introduced. This module has one of the most authentic ways to see how character can be built, specifically perseverance, initiative and collaboration, because you literally can’t succeed in your final product without them. By deeply understanding the text The Most Magnificent Thing students first have a strong anchor to those habits of character. Through the book they understand how to use initiative to make a plan, and give it a go. Students also learn that collaboration lies at the heart of making something magnificent.  Most importantly, they learn to try and try again, even when it’s hard. If the character in the book doesn’t quit, neither can we.”

Grade 2: Schools and Community

Throughout this module, second-grade students work to become ethical people and effective learners through the reading of a variety of powerful texts.  In the beginning of the module, students read the text The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig. Students are then introduced to the habits of perseverance and collaboration through the text Off to Class. They discuss specific examples in which communities use these habits to overcome challenges in going to school. 

In Module 1, second-grade students learn more about habits of character through a variety of texts including Off to Class and The Invisible Boy

At the end of the module, students focus on the habit of perseverance as they work to create their “The Most Important Thing about Schools” book.

Grade 3: Overcoming Learning Challenges Near and Far

Throughout this module, third-grade students work to become ethical people—treating others well and standing up for what is right—as they read and respond to the potentially diverse views of different students after reading the texts. They also begin a new routine of independent reading for homework. To set students up for success with this routine, they engage in a classroom conversation about showing integrity with their homework reading in a lesson early in the module (see excerpt from lesson below). They also practice respect, empathy, and compassion as they participate in peer critiques and practice perseverance when they write their reading contracts for the module performance task. 

Grade 4: Poetry, Poets and Becoming Writers

In this module, fourth-grade students practice becoming ethical people and effective learners as they work collaboratively, read and reflect on complex poems, write independently and work in expert groups. The very first lesson of the module gives students the opportunity to generate discussion norms that will anchor their collaborative conversations for the entire year. 

Grade 5: Stories of Human Rights

In this unit, students learn about the habits of ethical people. Throughout Unit 1, students practice respect, empathy, and compassion as they read and reflect on Esperanza Rising and participate in text-based discussions in which they describe how they feel about threats to human rights in the novel Esperanza Rising. They also work to become effective learners as they practice perseverance and collaboration, working in pairs to write and revise a literary essay. At the end of the module, fifth-graders work to contribute to a better world by applying their learning as they raise awareness about human rights.

Fifth grade students engage in collaborative conversations about the text Esperanza Rising.

Beyond Module 1:  How the Curriculum Actively Develops Students’ Habits of Character

Habits of character are imbued in every lesson and taught in the context of students’ work. Students may read about people (real or fictional) who embody certain habits. Students practice aspects of character as they work independently, collaborate with peers, and care for one

another and their classroom. They reflect upon habits of character individually as they evaluate their work, set goals for themselves, and contribute to the evaluation of classwork. The sample chart below from Fostering Character in a Collaborative Classroom  includes specific examples of how EL Education’s curriculum integrates habits of character into the daily life of the classroom.   

If you’re interested in learning more about EL Education’s character framework, look here, here and here. 

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