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Curriculum Q and A Blog, Question 29

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    Katie Shenk

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

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Question 29: There are so many challenges when teaching a new curriculum. Do you have any inspiration for me?

We are mid-way through the school year, and up to this point, we’ve been focused on offering solutions to common challenges related to our curriculum in our blog posts.  Now we want to take a minute to lift up some success and celebrate a few things.

As users of the EL Education K-5 Language Arts curriculum, we hope the start of 2019 affords you the time and space for some reflection. It’s human nature to focus on our challenges (those are, after all, what often take up our time and brain space), but we also encourage you to celebrate the successes. Where do you see evidence of students achieving more than they ever thought possible? We recently sat down with Brittni DeChalais, Alison Deacon and Ciomarda Diaz, teachers at Discovery Charter School in Rochester, NY, who reflected on how the challenging and compelling content of the EL Education Language Arts curriculum has fostered student learning and engagement. 

A student in Ciomarda’s third grade class engages in research about frogs as part of the third-grade module “Researching to Build Knowledge and Teach Others: Adaptations and the Wide World of Frogs”



The Four Cs of Success: Curiosity, Character, Confidence, and Culture


Curiosity

In our curriculum, we walk students into the content with the intention of turning on their curiosity motors. We build curiosity through high-interest topics, texts, and collaborative tasks, and we find that once students are hooked, they engage much more deeply in both the content and key literacy standards of reading, writing, speaking and listening. 
Ciomarda has seen this first-hand through her experience with the third- grade module, Researching to Build Knowledge and Teach Others: Adaptations and the Wide World of Frogs: “I love the frog unit because students who don’t have a general understanding of frogs think they are gross and slimy. Towards the beginning of the second unit I hear ‘wow, that’s amazing!’ or ‘Woah how do they do that?’ By the end of the module I get letters from parents sharing that they love that their child comes home talking about frogs, but now they want one as a pet.” Students often continue to seek out books and ponder questions, and have new insights about a topic long past a module culmination.  That’s when we know the curiosity motors are still running!


Second-graders in search of treasures in a fossil dig simulation as part of the K-2 Labs block.


Character Builders

EL Education believes in a multi-dimensional approach to student achievement that emphasizes character development, high-quality work, and mastery of knowledge and skills. Throughout our curriculum, students consistently read about and reflect on habits of character such as perseverance, collaboration, integrity, respect, and service. As students analyze these habits in the people and characters of the module anchor texts (like in this first grade lesson in Module 4), they engage in conversations and participate in activities related to character, and they work to grow these habits in themselves and others. Brittni says, “We discuss habits of character daily when we we interact with the texts. Students call each other out and celebrate others showing strong character. We’ve worked on that as a class and school, and I’m so proud of how students are internalizing character more than ever before.”  
 

Confident Experts

In our content-based literacy curricula, we ask students to  engage with rich vocabulary, read and listen to complex texts, and speak and write about science and social studies topics with depth and precision. These content-rich experiences demand higher-order thinking and synthesis, which in turn, builds deep expertise. Since students have done the heavy lifting of the learning, they become the classroom experts. Have you ever asked a second grader who’s studied pollinators to explain why pollinators are important? You’ll be blown away by their elaborate responses (and the joy and confidence they exude as they share every detail!). Because children crave independence and mastery, they thrive in learning environments that inspire them and give them the tools to build deep expertise about topics they care about.

Alison explains, “Students’ depth of knowledge leads to confidence. My students have often struggled with speaking, and listening has always been a challenge for students.  Through students’ experiences with the curriculum, the academic conversations are growing every day. The protocols set the structure and expectations, but they are not sufficient on their own. Students have expertise to share, and they genuinely listen to their peers in order to clarify and build their own knowledge.”

Second-graders at Discovery Charter School in Rochester, NY, support each other as writers as they draft their paleontologist narratives.


Keepers of Culture 

As the teachers at Discovery have noticed, the marriage of habits of character, meaningful learning experiences, and high expectations has shaped their classroom culture in powerful ways. “We’ve seen drastic changes in students’ behavior since we began using the curriculum mid-year last year. We spent four months with a group of students that struggled and, in turn, our classroom culture suffered. When we launched the curriculum in January, we saw immediate changes. Students began to take ownership of their learning and didn’t want to miss out on any of the experiences. We were delighted with how they began to  listen and support their peers in powerful, surprising ways. We know that there are various factors that shape a classroom culture, but we feel as though the curriculum has set a solid foundation for the kind of classroom culture that we aspire to,” reflect Brittni and Alison.
 

Of course, there are other aspects of a classroom culture that help to build a solid foundation (establishing routines, transitions and norms to name a few). We’ll revisit those in forthcoming posts in the weeks to come, so stay tuned!


Conclusion

Implementation of a new curriculum often provides a growth edge for both teachers and students. For teachers, there are new materials to manage, unfamiliar instructional practices to implement, and sometimes, a general curriculum paradigm shift that feels unsettling. Students might feel the same uncertainty as they grapple with new instructional routines and  increased expectations. As with any new endeavors, time and patience are essential in helping to overcome challenges.

We invite you to take stock of your students’ growth so far this school year. How have they grown as readers, writers, speakers, creators, and humans? And give yourself a cheer, for you are the one supporting them to achieve more than they ever thought possible.


We’d love to hear about your students’ successes and celebrations! Please share your stories via email at ELcurriculumblog@eleducation.org.