Hollie Singleton began her teaching career in the ELA classroom at Rogersville Middle School in Hawkins County, Tennessee. After three years, Hollie realized that she had a passion for striving readers and decided to pursue her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and become a licensed Reading Specialist. Hollie currently serves as Rogersville Middle School’s RTI Coordinator and Reading Interventionist.
Applying lessons learned from the pandemic, here are four considerations to help committees evaluate digital English Language Arts curriculum and determine its suitability for their districts.
Choosing a new curriculum can be a daunting task, and given that there are multiple schools of thought on how best to teach literacy (and these schools of thought seem to become more fluid each day), selecting an ELA curriculum can be especially challenging. Undoubtedly, if you are lucky enough to have been chosen to serve on your district’s curriculum adoption committee, you have received an incredibly detailed and possibly overwhelming rubric.
Hopefully, the following four considerations can help committees to evaluate potential curriculum and determine its suitability for their districts without all of the squinting at tiny bullet points that read almost verbatim across scoring columns outside of the one change in evaluative language.
It is important to keep in mind when examining curricula, that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Our students have diverse needs, and those needs are reflected in our districts’ needs; hence, curriculum should address not only academic standards but also the instructional models utilized to meet the needs of the learners within a district.
Additionally, since digital curricula is the new norm, each of the following considerations assumes that districts will be considering primarily digital curricula and speaks to many digital components offered by various publishers.
1. Is the Digital Curriculum Accessible?
Just as we differentiate instruction for our students to accommodate diverse learning styles and skillsets, we now also have to consider how accessible a fully digital curriculum is to our students and provide appropriate differentiation.
This consideration will weigh heavier on some districts than others. Although districts have received much-needed federal funding due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of students are still without reliable internet and devices—especially in some of our most rural areas. As a teacher in a rural area, I can attest that multiple students told me they did not complete their homework because they simply didn’t have the means to do so.
With traditional print curriculum, my district did not have this issue. Therefore, when evaluating ELA curriculum, adoption committees should examine how quickly (students love to give us pertinent information as they are running out the door) and easily the digital curriculum can be modified to accommodate a student who needs printed materials.
Committees might pose the following questions regarding the ease of movement from digital to print resources:
- Are learning opportunities equitable between printed materials and digital materials?
- Are the curriculum’s instructional materials easily adapted for mobile access, for those who might not have desktop access at home?
- Are students who are utilizing printed materials able to seamlessly collaborate with their peers who use the digital curriculum?
2. Does it Come With Differentiation Strategies for Different Lexile Levels?
Differentiation is arguably the most effective practice within a classroom; however, it can be incredibly time-consuming to attempt to meet each learner where he or she is academically. Luckily, differentiation is an area in which digital curricula shine.
Teachers can easily assign differentiated texts to students inconspicuously, and in some cases, adjust the lexile level of a whole-class text for a small group of students. When evaluating possible curriculum options, types of differentiation available within a curriculum should be a factor influencing the final decision.
Some elementary and middle school curricula offer the option to adjust lexile levels of whole-class texts for students who are reading below grade-level by providing necessary scaffolding to enable striving readers to participate in quality text analysis alongside advanced readers.
(In a recent webinar, AP Whitney Green and Mike Tyburczy of Kiddom discuss how Kiddom paired with EL Education were a perfect combo for differentiation for teachers in Hamilton County.)
Conversely, other curriculum publishers offers digital leveled texts ideal for reading workshops and small group instruction. And some also afford teachers the option to provide scaffolding for students during the writing process, which ranges from providing a graphic organizer to sentence starters.
When assessing the differentiation that a curriculum provides, committees need a clear idea of how the literacy block in their district is structured. If reading and writing workshops are common practices within a literacy lesson, then less emphasis should be placed on the value of having the ability to adjust the lexile level of a “whole-class” text since the reading and writing workshop model focuses primarily on small group instruction.
3. Does the Curriculum Have a Quality Intervention Piece?
The first question adoption committees need to ask themselves regarding a curriculum’s intervention piece is, “Does this consideration apply to our community?” As an interventionist, of course I know that quality intervention is key to student success; however, many districts like mine use programs outside of their core ELA curriculum for reading intervention. In some states, such as my home-state Tennessee, only a select few programs meet rigorous state-defined criteria for Response to Intervention in reading.
Therefore, when examining intervention pieces of different curricula, it is important to first determine if and how the intervention piece will be used. In districts which are only utilizing state pre-approved intervention programs, the intervention component of a curriculum will likely be utilized to re-teach standards in small groups. The committee might review previous years’ testing data to identify trends and determine problematic standards to which it would compare the intervention piece of the curriculum.
Conversely, if the curriculum’s intervention component is going to serve as the primary resource for a district’s Response to Intervention program, committees might consider the following:
- Is the intervention’s instruction skill-based instead of standard-based so that reading deficits are addressed and achievement gaps can truly be narrow or closed?
- Does the curriculum’s intervention piece include progress monitoring that can be easily tracked and utilized to make swift and accurate decisions regarding student progress?
4. Is the Curriculum Scripted or Customizable? (And Which is Best for My Community?)
When examining the structure of curricula, districts should reflect on success they’ve experienced with their current curriculum. If student achievement scores in ELA have not historically met Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs), moving to a scripted curriculum could be beneficial. Ideally, scripted curriculum takes the guesswork out of planning for teachers by providing rigid lesson plans which include pre-selected texts, research-based strategies, and scaffolded high-level questioning.
However, curricula which provide opportunities for teachers to modify and expand upon lessons allow teachers to incorporate their own style and expertise into teaching. Furthermore, as trends in education continually change, a curriculum which provides an outline for a lesson instead of a script could prove to be more timeless and adaptable to new practices (or old practices that have been revived) than a scripted curriculum.
A noteworthy observation regarding scripted ELA programs is that there is often a perceived negative connotation for “scripted,” especially among literacy teachers. Many of us are creators at heart and thoroughly enjoy “reinventing the wheel” for our lessons each day. Consequently, there might be initial push-back from teachers if a district considers a scripted curriculum over a customizable or guided curriculum.
(Here AP Whitney Green shows how teachers and curriculum teams can easily customize curriculum with Kiddom.)
All considerations aside, I want to reiterate the importance of a district’s curriculum reflecting the district’s needs. At the end of the day, we know that teachers will do whatever it takes to help their students succeed. While teachers are the key to student success, an appropriate curriculum is like the elevator that lets you skip five flights of stairs—it should work with teachers, not against or in place of them.
Kiddom seamlessly connects the most critical aspects of teaching and learning on one platform.
For the first time, educators can share and manage digital curriculum, differentiate instruction, and assess student work in one place. Learners can take assessments online, see student performance data with the click of a button, and teachers have the insight and tools they need to create individual learning paths.
Ready to bring digital curriculum to your school or district?
Connect with us in a 15-minute meeting to learn more about available pre-packaged curriculum, and how the Kiddom education platform can support your learning community.