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Teacher Viewpoint: EL In My Classroom

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    Alexis Margolin

Karen Kondrick, a sixth grade teacher at Ripley Central School in Ripley, NY, has been using Expeditionary Learning’s (EL) English Language Arts curriculum since the fall of 2012.

She was recently named a member of the New York State English Language Arts Advisory Panel, which was established to advise the New York State Department of Education on the design of the Pre-K through 12th grade curriculum, and on the modification and implementation of the State learning standards. As an advisor, she will supply both written and verbal feedback to the education department regarding resources, policies, and implementation strategies.

“I plan on bringing my voice as an educator who has been successfully implementing the Common Core Standards in a real classroom with real students… students with disabilities, students who live in poverty, students who can all achieve,” Karen said.

A 10-year veteran of teaching, Karen shares her experiences with the EL curriculum:

Can you please describe your school and the class you teach?
I teach in a small rural community in western New York on the shore of Lake Erie. Like many other schools in our area, we have had declining enrollment for the last 10 years. Two years ago, our district partnered up with another district in our area in order to add our 7-12 graders to their school. The school I teach in is now a Pre-K-6 school. The class sizes in our school vary from 12-33. This year I co-teach a sixth grade class of 33 students. We both teach all subjects.

What makes the EL curriculum different from other curricula that you have used?

  • When I read through this curriculum, I see evidence of all the best education pedagogy I have read in my professional journals and books. It is evident that multiple teachers/education professionals have worked together to ensure best teaching practices are in every lesson.  
  • I find myself transferring teaching strategies I use in this curriculum into my Science/Social Studies lessons. I never thought to myself… “Wow, this Scott Foresman curriculum would be real useful in Social Studies!” That, in and of itself, speaks volumes about how this curriculum is different.
  • It uses real books, not an anthology.
  • Even if my students have read the book before (insert The Lightning Thief here), they walk away from our module loving it even more… and having written their own hero’s journey.

Are there any specific elements in the curriculum you like?

  • Facilitating learning instead of teaching. I knew students should talk to one another, but when I use this curriculum, they spend more time doing it, and it is much more effective.

What is exciting to see in terms of student engagement and skills growth?

  • Students can see what they are supposed to understand, so they are engaged in the work to get themselves there.
  • I have had students discuss (think, pair, share) before, but each time my students talk to each other with this curriculum they are really learning, engaged, and building their speaking and listening standard skills.
  • Protocols, Protocols, Protocols…. I would have never thought my students could be active members of a fishbowl, or debate, but with the embedded protocols, they ask to insert them everywhere.

Can you cite any specific student stories?

  • During our module on Bud not Buddy, we had a debate on “Does Bud use his rules to survive or thrive?” The students were amazing, using the same rules, with different thinking to support their position. It was the quickest hour in my class. Later in the year when we were researching DDT and preparing to visit the Roger Tory Peterson Nature Center, the students begged me to allow them to debate their position. It was not part of the module, but they had internalized the importance of the debate and wanted to exercise their arguments.  

How has using this curriculum helped you to grow your professional practice?

  • I wanted to answer every previous question with “It has made me a better teacher,” so I am glad you asked this question. Using this curriculum has provided me with such a comprehensive model of good teaching. An unexpected benefit of this model is everyone grades 3 and up in our school is using this curriculum (not to mention neighboring districts) so now we can discuss and share our learning together.  

Have you received any feedback from students and parents?

  • During a recent parent teacher conference, a parent of a student who was new to our district was very pleased with how well the curriculum was supporting the Common Core standards. She knew the standards were rigorous and was worried her previous private education had not prepared her. She commented that she was very impressed with how well her daughter could discuss author perspectives - something her older children are just doing now.

You recently attended the EL National Conference and EL sessions at the Network Team Institute (NTI) hosted by the New York State Education Department. What did you take away from each?

  • First of all, the EL conference was wonderful. It was so invigorating to meet so many people who were there to learn/share. Everything was about the students! I have attended a lot of professional development, and although they are about learning new things to help our students, they are often teacher centered. Every word out of every mouth was about student-centered education. It was inspiring.  
  • NTI always teaches me so much. I think my colleagues and I have learned so much about providing meaningful professional development from participating in PD provided by EL. Living the lesson is my favorite part of the experience. I have been teaching 6th grade throughout my whole experience, but when I get to “live” an eighth grade lesson I learn so much about teaching practices and the “lesson” that I have to read the book (and curriculum) on my own! We also use many of the professional articles that were shared with us at NTI. Both components make it easy for us to give participants back in our districts the same experience we had. 

 Read about the opening of a Maker's Lab at Karen's school here.