Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Selection of a New English and Language Arts Curriculum

I think it is well established that the schools you and I went to are very different from those our own children attend. The infusion of connected learning, high stakes testing, Iowa Core Standards, and punitive accountability measures are proof of that! Every once in a while someone will share with me that we should present material in a certain way because, "When I was in school, we didn't do it like that, and I turned out just fine!" Believe me, I get it-and may even agree with you (the part about you and I turning out alright, that is). There are many things that we did a certain way when I was in school that we just simply don't anymore because times have changed. I have already shared with you my early experiences with computers, and that we had one computer in the school and it was viewed as a novelty item. I never would have guessed (and my teachers from that time period probably wouldn't have either) that we would see the day where the ratio of computers was measured not by School:Computer, but Student:Computer, and that it would lead to an environment where every student had their own computer!

We are also much more data driven now. Prior to 2001, the data that we collected on student achievement was summative in nature, and typically not used to form instruction. These days, we are constantly measuring student outcomes and designing instruction to address those areas where we see deficits. When implementing new programs or initiatives in our district we frequently ask how the strategy will impact student learning. Student achievement has become the super-ordinate of everything we do in our system--and student achievement is defined by how much our students are growing in their learning and meeting the standards that are part of the Iowa Core (of which the Common Core is a part). Our instructional program requires that teachers be responsible for taking the Iowa Core and boiling it down to what is referred to as Essential Learning Outcomes. Why do we do this? The main reason is that these documents simply articulate too much content! A study conducted by researchers at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel), found that schools and teachers would need 71% more instructional time to address all of this content. 

This year the elementary faculty has been completing research on curriculum material for the English/Language Arts (ELA) suite of content. Obviously, we have a paramount desire to ensure material is based in a sound research methodology, it is aligned to the Iowa Core Curriculum, and that it provides resources that enable our teachers to meet the range of a diverse population of student learners. Additionally, since we know that this is such a deep content area, the curriculum must be a good fit for our school. After all, we still have to teach math, social studies, science, art, music, and PE. At this time, we have narrowed it down to two options. That comes after months of study that included testing and piloting different lessons and curriculum, visiting with companies that have developed the material we are testing, and finally visiting other schools that have implemented the material that we are considering. 

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