Because 1 has to come before 2, I wanted to take a minute today and write about how you will be able to successfully reduce the curriculum - especially in English language arts. Each school, under the direction of the leadership team, will likely choose to either focus on literacy, numeracy, or both for this school year in terms of completing steps 1 and 2. What I'm going to share today obviously has to do with literacy, but is also a continuation of the work we began last year with setting standards for the District Writing Assessment.
But before we get into how we can determine essential learning outcomes related to the work we started last year, I wanted share some of the literature from Buffum, Mattos and Weber (2012) about "Identifying Essential Skills and Knowledge" because I really feel strongly about staying true to the process outlined in the literature. According to those guys, that are often asked who should determine what is essential for all students to learn - the district or teams of teachers? They feel that it is both (p. 49). They feel that "it is important for the district to understand that without some process that involves teacher teams at each school site, there is likely to be a huge gap between the intended curriculum established by the district [and in our case Alberta Education] and the implemented curriculum taught when teachers shut the doors to their classrooms" (p. 49). The hope, I think, is that we can work from central office to support teachers as they work under the direction of their leadership teams to go through this process and complete this work - at least that is what I am going to attempt to do from a literacy standpoint.
When it comes to teachers actually determining these outcomes, however, it is important to note that the ELA curriculum is a perfect example of how we really need to reduce the curriculum to what is essential. If you've ever looked at the curriculum, and as teachers I really hope you have, there are probably over a hundred specific learning outcomes for each grade within the program of studies for each grade. Even professors like Kathy Howery, who visited us last week and taught us on UDL, would agree that no teacher can successfully teach and ensure that students develop mastery of all those outcomes. It becomes imperative then, that we find a way to determine what the essential ones are for each of the grades. That will give us the focus we need to complete this RTI implementation we are endeavouring to do this year (and for years to come).
According to Buffum, Mattos and Weber, "collaborative teams of grade-level or course-alike teachers should discuss, debate, and dialogue about which standards are essential, using all of the resources and criteria just mentioned. As they grapple with these issues, teams should refer to copies of their state contend standards [in our case Alberta Education's Programs of Study for English Language Arts], district power standards [we just want you to teach the outcomes in the programs of study], the Common Core State Standards [which we don't do here], and released test items from state tests [released items from PATs in grades 3, 6 and 9], as well as the blueprints for their state tests [also available through Alberta Education]. The discussion about which standards are most important should not occur in a vacuum" (p. 49).
Coming back now to the work we started last year, for those of you who were here, we determined the writing outcomes in the programs of study related to the District Writing Assessment. I have taken the work that you have done and put it into checklist format so that when I come to work with grade groups of teachers, I can help you determine the essential learning outcomes for writing in each grade from one to nine. That will give you a starting point for this process. From there, according to the literature, we will then rewrite the standards into teacher-friendly and student-friendly language (p. 50); and then from there, we will be able to determine what to teach, how to teach it, and begin developing common assessments for how to determine whether or not students have learned it.
Attached below are the initial checklists for the grades so you can see in advance the work we will start doing once I'm invited by the leadership teams to come in and work with you. I suspect it will not be long before that happens. In the meantime, if any of you have questions or concerns about how this process relates to what you should be doing in the classroom, or if you need any help with teaching language arts, please do not hesitate to contact me and invite me to come and work with you.
I look forward to a fantastic year - one of challenge, growth, and success!