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Two Mentor Schools Implement the Common Core Curriculum

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    April Hattori

Two Expeditionary Learning Mentor Schools – The Odyssey School in Denver, CO and World of Inquiry #58 in Rochester, NY - are implementing the organization’s Grades 3-8 English Language Arts curriculum that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).   Odyssey and World of Inquiry are two of Expeditionary Learning’s 21 Mentor Schools, which are the highest performing schools in the 162-school network.

One may wonder why an Expeditionary Learning school would need the new curriculum since it is already implementing its educational model.  Principals at Odyssey and World of Inquiry point out that the innovative curriculum, which consists of four eight-week modules for each grade level, is providing new insights and benefits for their teachers and students.

“We have 100% faith in Expeditionary Learning.  We started exploring the curriculum last year and found there are really good strategies that we can learn from, particularly close reading,” said Sheela Webster, principal of World of Inquiry.

Marcia Fulton, principal of Odyssey, added that with the curriculum, “teachers will have a better sense of what it means to support students in achieving high levels of success against the CCSS.  There is much to learn about what we want for kids in each lesson.  The implementation of the modules has pushed us to be even more intentional about the decisions we make on behalf of students.”Like any new approach, integration takes time.  Both schools note that this year they are focused on figuring out the details of how best to implement the curriculum within their schools.

“Our priority is figuring out the effective use of the modules and how they fit with our existing classroom schedules and extended learning expeditions,” Webster said.

Sixty educators in collaboration with the Expeditionary Learning team created the curriculum. 

Sandra Galbato, Coordinating Director of Instructional Coaches with the Rochester City School District, helped write the Grade 4 curriculum. “We had a great starting point because the foundational skills, standards, and content were set by Expeditionary Learning. So we as writers had to go in and create the lessons, find the text, etc. My inspiration came from my experience working in an Expeditionary Learning school where integration is the foundation of expeditions,” Galbato said.

Chris Occhiuto, who teaches 4th and 5th grades at Odyssey, said the curriculum reflects the thoughtfulness behind it. “I appreciate the attention to both long term and daily targets, but the biggest point is the engagement - students are completely engaged.”

Kamaria Simmons, a 5th and 6th grade teacher at World of Inquiry said: “The curriculum makes me feel like I’m participating in Professional Development – it’s like my safety net because it allows me to practice the use of a selected protocol I may not have necessarily tried, and not only see the benefits of how it was effective for the module lesson, but also how I can use it for lessons within my expedition.”

Jeanne Boland, an 8th grade teacher at Odyssey, commented that she appreciates the curriculum’s focus on reading and writing. “The modules place a much larger focus on close reading and developing skills to read complex texts and to cite textual evidence in support of one's thinking. Reading and writing occur each and every day, with students writing in more modalities for different purposes on a regular basis. Students have to switch gears more frequently and be prepared to know what type of writing is required for which purpose.”

Teachers noted that one of the challenges with the curriculum is having enough time for the implementation of modules, reflection, and other elements of the school day.  Principal Webster at World of Inquiry noted that close collaboration among teachers in grade level meetings to problem-solve issues together is the key to addressing the challenges.Teachers in both schools see the potential of the modules.  

“Students are much more likely to push each other to support their answers, analysis, or inferences with evidence from the text. Rather than taking someone's interpretation or reaction at face value, another student will challenge, "Where does that happen in the text?" or "Show me something in the text that leads you to believe that?"  They see the value in supporting claims and analysis with actual evidence,” Boland said.

“One of the biggest surprises I had was the connection of the curriculum to the New York State exams. I noticed many links between the two with rereading sections and getting the gist, questions about the meaning of words based on context clues, questions about which paragraph best supports a given sentenced or matched a given picture. Even its comparing and contrasting essay had a common link,” Simmons said.

The open-source Expeditionary Learning curriculum was commissioned originally by New York State and is being used throughout the state and 220 schools in New York City.  It is also receiving significant interest from educational organizations and schools across the country.