Curriculum

New Product: Heinemann’s Units of Study in Writing

Which instructional materials is your district considering for writing instruction? Take a look at Learning List’s reviews of Heinemann’s Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing (Grades K-5) (Units of Study Writing).

Units of StudyUnits of Study Writing is a supplemental writing product for students in grades K-8. The program is primarily an instructional narrative for teachers and includes print and online teaching resources. Lucy Calkins’ workshop model underpins the framework for writing instruction in this series. Teachers without prior experience in teaching writing workshop will require significant professional development and time to study materials and resources to ensure successful implementation.

Units of Study Writing dovetails with Heinemann’s Units for ReadingTM, which Learning List has reviewed. Both products use similar structures, instructional strategies, and vocabulary across grade levels and content areas. This provides seamless transitions for students from grade to grade. Learning List’s alignment reports show how the material’s vertical alignment of skills guide teachers in supporting students at all proficiency levels. [Read more. . . ]

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Defining Roles: Standards vs. Curricula vs. Instructional Materials

FocusEducators and publishers often use the terms “standards,” “curriculum” and/or “instructional materials” interchangeably. Moreover, many educators consider their instructional materials to be their curriculum. However, each of these terms represents a distinct component of an educational program. In the sections that follow, we provide explanations of each of these terms to differentiate their meanings in the context of PreK-12 education.

Standards set out what students are expected to know and be able to do at the end of each school year. Standards are generally established at the state level. In fact, ESSA requires that each state create learning standards for public schools in three subjects—English language arts/reading, mathematics, and science—and many states go beyond ESSA’s minimum to set standards in social studies, career and technical education, languages other than English, and other subjects.

In contrast, the curriculum is developed at the district level, the product of local policy making. While the standards tell you what is expected, the curriculum provides the road map to get there. Often described in documents such as “scope and sequence” and “units of instruction,” a curriculum includes goals, instructional practices and pedagogical guidance, suggested resources and instructional materials, and methods of measuring student progress. [Read more…]

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How Learning List Helps Districts Comply with ESSA’s “Evidence Based” Requirement

A recent report from Curriculum Associates discusses the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) requirement that federal education funds be used for evidence-based programs, interventions, and products. “ESSA and Evidence Claims: A Practical Guide to Understanding What ‘Evidence-Based’ Really Means” provides a primer for educators in understanding the four levels of evidence recognized by ESSA (e.g., moderate evidence), the type of study that exemplifies each level (e.g., quasi-experimental), and the five questions educators should ask when evaluating research-based evidence (e.g., “When was the study conducted?”).

One of five questions for evaluating evidence, in particular, caught Learning List’s attention: “Was the study based on current content and standards?”

ESSA assumes that the evidence base for a product, program, or service is based on the state’s current standards, but it is possible that the research is grounded in prior state standards or another state’s standards, altogether. It is the district’s responsibility to vet information to ensure products purchased with federal funds and the evidence supporting the products’ effectiveness are based on the appropriate standards.

A tall order but Learning List can help.

Learning List’s alignment reports clarify which set of standards a product addresses, such as the Common Core State Standards or the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Our alignment reports evaluate the product’s alignment, determining whether the material fully addresses the content, context, and cognitive demand of each of the relevant standards. Thus, Learning List’s alignment reports provide strong evidence about whether a product is grounded in the relevant standards. [Read more…]

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The Role of Instructional Materials in Shaping Teacher Practice

In a recent op-ed appearing in The Hill, ThinkCerca’s founder and CEO, Eileen Murphy Buckley, describes the challenges she faced as a novice English teacher working at  Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, one of Illinois’ best high schools and Michelle Obama’s alma mater. Like many first-year teachers, she struggled with classroom management, planning relevant and engaging instruction, and mastery of her content area. She received sage advice from veteran colleagues, but she “confesses” that her strongest supports as an inexperienced teacher were the instructional materials she used in the classroom.

She writes:

So, there is my confession after all these years, but I make it to say that the products we use in schools matter. The quality of those resources matter so very much because they are what empower students, regardless of which teacher they end up with. The materials shape teachers and teacher practice, and they shape the teachers they raise through years of side by side work.

These products must answer to students and teachers as well as buyers — the admins and school boards who are the stewards of our future, our culture, our democracy. Products have material impact on the lives of our children and grandchildren — who will be caring for us and our country in the very near future.

Simply put, reading materials impact the quality of teaching in much more significant ways than you might know.

At Learning List, we understand the importance of high quality materials. We recognize that instructional materials influence how teachers teach as well as how and what students learn. And this understanding shapes how we review products.

Our editorial reviews examine the supports each material does or does not provide for teachers. Our reviewers explain whether teacher resources include background in content and pedagogy; provide pacing information, lesson plans, and guidance in differentiating instruction; and offer professional development opportunities and professional communities that facilitate collaboration and sharing with other teachers who use the same product. Our reviewers note when they feel a product is particularly appropriate for novice teachers. Such products include comprehensive discussions of the required content knowledge and pedagogy, and offer detailed, often scripted, lesson plans to support instruction. [Read more…]

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5 Ways Learning List’s Alignment Reports Help You Get the Biggest “Bang for Your Buck” from Your Materials

Learning List’s alignment reports help teachers select materials that are aligned to the standards they need to teach.  Then, like a GPS through the product, our alignment reports show teachers specific citations in the material that they can use to address each standard fully.GPS

Learning List’s Alignment Reports

Our alignment reports show (a) the percentage of standards to which the material is aligned, (b) the standards to which the material is aligned and is not aligned, and (c) specific citations (e.g., pages, lessons videos) that have been independently verified to be aligned to each standard.[1]  [Read More …]

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Build Your Own …

This post is the second in the series, “Three Critical Trends in Instructional Materials.”

An increasing number of districts are forgoing comprehensive textbooks in favor of building their own resources. In fact, a California superintendent told us that he had put aside $7 million to pay his teachers to develop their own materials. Administrators in favor of building their own resources say the exercise will engender greater buy-in among teachers and produce better resources for students.  Others question whether the skills that make a person a great teacher are the same skills necessary to design instructional materials. As one person suggested, “I’m a good driver, but I couldn’t build a car.”

Having reviewed almost 2500 resources, Learning List staff have seen and learned much about instructional materials. If your district is considering or developing instructional resources, we share the following observations to help inform your methodology:
Magnifyer

  • Focus – Materials should focus on the major work of the grade.  Distracting content should be limited and the materials should include multiple citations (e.g., pages, lessons, videos) aligned to each priority standard. For example, if you’re in a Common Core state, do you have multiple citations for teachers to use to teach each Major, Supporting, and Additional standard or each of the Critical Areas of Focus? If you are in Texas, do you have at least a few citations addressing each Readiness, Supporting and Process standard?
  • Coherence – Citations should build and reinforce (within and across grades and subjects) a deeper understanding of concepts and skills articulated in the standards and their application in the real world. Does your material contain real world examples and activities to engage your students and show the relevance of the content and skills they are learning?
  • Rigor – The citations should be grade-level appropriate and rigorous, as opposed to difficult.
  • Horizontal and Vertical Alignment – Citations should be verified to be aligned to the standards. Alignment is a unique skill set.  Very accomplished teachers are not necessarily adept at doing alignment work.  Moreover, alignment is an inherently subjective endeavor. In order to ensure that the material your district is developing is aligned to the standards: (1) have at least two teachers, who are good at aligning material to standards, review the alignment of each citation incorporated in the material, and (2) have a method of reconciling differences of opinion among those teachers.
  • Adaptions/Instructional Resources – The material your teachers develop must be “accessible” to all students and teachers.  Consider whether/how the material will help teachers differentiate instruction for students with differing abilities. Consider also whether all teachers have the skills and knowledge to use the materials you are creating effectively.  For example, will professional development be necessary? Does the material have content supports and notes to help all teachers present the content in a similar way?
  • Maintenance –Teachers will quickly get frustrated if links in the material do not work and will lose faith in the material. It is imperative to the success of your Build Your Own initiative to have a regular maintenance schedule to ensure that the embedded links are working.

Building your own materials will be a time consuming and painstaking process. But, if done well, it is likely to produce resources that your teachers will use and that will prepare your students with the knowledge and skills the standards require them to learn.  Hopefully, the observations provided above will help you build an efficient and effective “Build Your Own” methodology.

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