Using the Expeditionary Learning/EngageNY curriculum in your 6-8 ELA classroom? Here’s some resources for you.

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I’ve worked in ELA classrooms in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade using the Expeditionary Learning curriculum (freely available on EngageNY), and now I work supporting other ELA teachers in the Bronx, who often also use this curriculum.

I think the curriculum has a lot to offer*, but it’s also a heck of a lot of work to unpack. While each lesson provides a script, there’s few you could deliver as is. First of all, you’d never be able to get through many of them in a normal period. EL throws the kitchen sink into these lessons. Furthermore, you’d find yourself stranded in the middle of a lesson confused, trying to figure out where it was supposed to be going, or discovering you were supposed to have an anchor chart drawn up to refer to.

Like most curricula, Expeditionary Learning ELA curriculum requires each teacher to have first read, processed, adapted, and developed additional resources to complement each and every lesson. My co-teachers and I would develop our own “talking points” based on our interpretations of a lesson, then create an accompanying presentation, and finally, create a student guide/handout that matched our talking points and presentation. Doing this was intensive work for each individual lesson. The teachers I’ve been working with also find this incredibly daunting to do — most especially because they are also often told to implement the Teacher’s College writing curriculum alongside of it (. . . which is a whole ‘nother can of worms I’m not going to get into here). Suffice it to say, I’ve been trying to figure out how I can help other middle school teachers process and implement the EL curriculum efficiently and effectively.

So this summer I worked on a couple of tools to try to help ELA teams and teachers to be more strategic about how they are using the EL curriculum.

First on offer is a curricular overview of all the modules from 6-8, starting from a departmental-wide overview, then moving to a pacing calendar, which includes all of NYC’s official calendar dates. If you’re not in NYC, then of course modify to match your own district’s calendar.

At first glance, this may look like I’ve just copied and pasted a bunch of stuff from the original EL materials and reorganized it. And much of it is exactly that (my intent is to make it more accessible; EngageNY’s materials can be hard to manipulate and adapt). But I’ve also made a few editorial additions and decisions, which I will explain shortly.

In order to use the document, first make a copy for yourself, then you can edit it as you wish. Please share this with any teachers you think might be able to use it.

  • The first thing you’ll see is a departmental overview, consisting of Enduring Understandings, Essential Questions, and Focus Skills/Standards. These are not an explicit part of the EL curriculum itself, so I created the EUs and EQs based off the the module-level content. The focus skills I pulled from the EngageNY 6-8 Curriculum Map, which lists those focus skills for each Module 1-4 across the grades, so I thought those made sense as an encapsulation of the overall focus.
  • You’ll want to discuss these as an ELA team. Are these the Enduring Understandings you and Skills you want your students to graduate your school equipped with? Modify these first, then tailor the modules and units to match your focus.

  • I then included all the protocols and practices that EL provides as part of the curriculum. These are all good. But you would be wise to discuss these as a school, across all your content areas, and select a few common protocols and practices that you will use consistently across classrooms.

  • You’ll notice I’ve included every single module, including the alternative modules. So you will need to delete the columns and content that your team are not actually using, both in the section for Essential Questions/Assessments and in the Sequence section.

  • For the Focus Skills/Standards for each module, I literally went through every single lesson standard for each unit and looked at what was consistently practiced across the unit, then counted only those most practiced as the focus skills. I then pulled the “I can” statements that were developed by EL to align with those standards. But even still, you’re most likely going to want to focus and narrow these down to make them even more targeted.
  • I didn’t include the Focus Skills/Standards for Unit 3 of any modules because I’ve made the strategic decision to advise the schools I am working with to cut Unit 3 from each module. There’s simply not enough time, and while Unit 3s are nice, they are not essential. They are the fluffier “performance task” pieces. There’s a lot more to explain about my rationale on this, but not going to get into it now. Ask me if you want to know more. In any case, I didn’t want to waste my own time digging into something I wasn’t going to use.

  • Now you get to the pacing calendar. This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s nice to say you want to do all 4 modules. Go ahead, try to pace those out, while ensuring you’re including assessment days for MOSLs, baselines, iReady, test prep, or whatever the heck else your school will throw into the mix.

  • Or don’t. I already did it for you, leaving some extra time in there in March with the assumption you’re doing some test prep. If you wanted to do full modules, including Unit 3, you’d only be able to barely get through 3 modules.
  • So either you barely do three modules (probably still would need trimming). Or you cut Unit 3s and do Units 1 and 2 only for four modules.
  • You then need to consider your marking periods. Do you want the modules to align with those? If you’re doing four marking periods, it can be done. But it requires cutting Module 1 quite a bit. What you can do is cut Module 1 at the Unit 2 Mid-Unit assessment. This isn’t as tragic as it seems, since if you think about it, module 1 is really about getting students up to speed and engaged in reading and writing — then you can move on for deeper work in module 2.

  • Finally, the next thing you’re really going to need to take a look at as a team, aside from the actual lesson planning and development, are the mid and end-of-unit assessments. Do these align with the focus that your department has for your students? Do you want to modify them to include more multiple-choice, or more short-response writing? Do you want to design your own to supplant them? This is important work, because it will determine the type of data that you are looking at most closely to determine student feedback and grades.

Here’s an example of an adapted calendar in which Units have been cut and paced out in order to match a real school’s calendar. You can see that once you cut out all the school’s assessment days and “skill” days on Fridays, you’ve only got roughly 100 calendar days for the EL curriculum, and even that’s probably being optimistic.

The other resource I’d like to share is that EL has done some nice work turning the standards into student friendlier “I can” statements. But unfortunately, they embedded these wonderful statements deep within and across their many lengthy documents. So I pulled them all out and put them alongside the relevant grade-level standards so that you can access them more easily.

I am aware that the NY standards are being revised, but let’s be honest — they aren’t substantially different than the CCSS, and tests won’t align to the new ones for a few more years. I’ll update these accordingly, but it will just be a matter of some shifting around and deleting of a few of the standards.

I hope these are useful resources as you plan for your upcoming school year. Please let me know if there’s anything that I need to clarify or revise, or if you need further assistance in using these. Good luck!

* As a footnote, I want to note that Expeditionary Learning’s materials have a long way to go before they could be considered a viable curriculum in practice (in my opinion). And yet, comparative to most other ELA curricula, this is some of the better stuff out there, though I’d advise you to check out LearnZillion’s work with Louisiana’s Guidebook Units (disclosure: I’ve done a little bit of work on those and with LZ in general) or Great Mind’s Wit and Wisdom for clearer and more user friendly ELA curriculum.

What this tells us is that we’ve got a lot of work to do before we have rigorous curricula in more ELA classrooms that every teacher can effectively deliver.

But I also want to point out that the fact that EngageNY has provided this curriculum under an open license and for open access is the only reason that we’re able to have this conversation and that I’m able to provide these resources. I can’t do that for Teacher’s College curriculum because it’s proprietary. So the more we can share open educational resources, the more transparently and widely we can develop better stuff.

Thanks, Expeditionary Learning, EngageNY, NYSED, and the Public Consulting Group for providing these resources to the public. Now let’s get to work making ELA curriculum better and more usable.

 

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Sunday Smorgasbord

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By bigmick (flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, NYC students returned to school. I wish the best of luck to a fresh new start to the school year to students and teachers! While you recharge and steel yourselves for the week ahead (or celebrate Eid), here’s our weekly roundup of delectable Ed and other delights from across the Net.

Students are not hard-wired to learn in different ways – we need to stop using unproven, harmful methods

I can’t tell you the number of debates I’ve had with otherwise very intelligent and well-informed educators about the inefficacy of “learning styles.” While I agree that much of the onus is on teachers to be “critical consumers,” I also bring some measure of blame to our ed schools and district leaders. I had a professor who oriented her entire syllabus around videos from Mel Levine’s All Kinds of Minds’ “Schools Attuned” program, as if it were the gospel. Speaking of which, did you know that the NYC Department of Education once spent quite a bit of money on a 5 year contract with Schools Attuned? It’s frankly embarrassing.

Teachers need to be critical consumers of research – as with medicine, lives are also at stake – yet with the best will in the world and without the knowledge and time to do so, decisions may be made to adopt new approaches that are not only ineffectual, but can actually do harm. A case in point is learning styles. 

Failure to Replicate Values Affirmation as an Countermeasure to Stereotype Threat

Daniel T. Willingham casts some shade on the “stealthy intervention” of value affirmation, suggesting that it’s simply too good to be true.

Value affirmation is a short intervention intended to counter the “stereotype threat.” It is a simple exercise that I have used multiple times with students, generally right before state testing, since I first read about the research: you give students a piece of paper and ask them to think of something important to them, and then write for 10-15 minutes about those values.

Another intervention along those lines I’ve also used is where you just ask students to “write it out” for 10 minutes. I use both of these interventions in the hope that at the very least, it can alleviate the anxiety they feel when state testing rolls around.

The good news is that unlike learning styles, a values affirmation exercise is not going to harm children, and it only takes 15 minutes max. So I say keep on truckin’ on this one. If it can alleviate some of our children’s anxiety, then it’s done something good.

The door is not closed on the values affirmation intervention, but much work is to be done if it is to prove useful in schools.

A Worrying Trend for Psychology’s “Simple Little Tricks”

Science writer Ed Yong (excited to read his new book about the ecosystems of the body) also reports on the research above, as well as other studies that question so-called “wise interventions” that have claimed to have a significant long-term academic impact.

I’ve written about these sort of “stealthy interventions” before, and made a concerted effort at my last school to promote these practices, so it’s certainly disappointing to hear this news. But it certainly fits in with the one of the few things I can say with certainty about the messy world of education: improving schools requires lots and lots of hard work. There are no short cuts.

It seems, then, that wise interventions are like sensitive and delicate flowers, only able to bloom if the conditions are just right. Walton, Cohen, and their peers have always argued as much. But that’s in itself a problem. If it is so hard for teams of experienced and competent social scientists to get these techniques to work, what hope is there for them to be used more broadly?

Books: How Repeated Evictions Impact Students’ Lives

Alexander Russo reviews Matthew Desmond’s EvictedSounds like a fit companion to Edbuild’s recent report on segregated school districts.

Evicted shows that it’s not just slumlords who are culpable for the deplorable, exploitative situation. The legal system, law enforcement, and even social support agencies all play a role in creating and perpetuating things — and tolerating what’s clearly intolerable.

Putting Student-Produced OER at the Heart of the Institution

Mike Caulfield with trenchant insight into the critical function that institutions can serve—especially in regards to public services and goods.

People make things possible. Institutions make them last.

I had worked my heart out for this thing, evangelized widely, written up the prototypes and the stubs, explained it to the college. But I hadn’t institutionalized it. And so it was bound to die the minute I left.

. . . while we like to scoff at all the mucky-muck bureaucracy around training, budgets, policy and messaging, it’s precisely that stuff that prevents your dream initiative of today morphing into rotting infrastructure of tomorrow. It’s all too easy in this business to end up the new interactive whiteboard — bought one year as the must-have accessory and abandoned the next.

Noise: How to Overcome the High, Hidden Cost of Inconsistent Decision Making

Daniel Kahneman and others provide advice on overcoming human bias and inconsistency when making professional judgments.

This is certainly relevant to education, where educators make constant evaluative decisions about children. Grading papers, for example, can be highly subjective and subject to the “noise” described in this article. I, for one, welcome the day when algorithms will grade student writing, leaving teachers to focus on the much more critical task of providing ongoing opportunities for feedback and practice.

Where there is judgment, there is noise—and usually more of it than you think. As a rule, we believe that neither professionals nor their managers can make a good guess about the reliability of their judgments.

. . . Algorithms are sometimes used as an intermediate source of information for professionals, who make the final decisions. One example is the Public Safety Assessment, a formula that was developed to help U.S. judges decide whether a defendant can be safely released pending trial. In its first six months of use in Kentucky, crime among defendants on pretrial release fell by about 15%, while the percentage of people released pretrial increased. It’s obvious in this case that human judges must retain the final authority for the decisions: The public would be shocked to see justice meted out by a formula.

Uncomfortable as people may be with the idea, studies have shown that while humans can provide useful input to formulas, algorithms do better in the role of final decision maker.

Support the Call for Open Educational Resources

By Jonathasmello, Hamish_Darby [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I believe that curriculum, materials, textbooks, and other resources that are utilized in delivering a public education should be made available publicly under a GPL style (“open source”) license.

So I was excited to see that K-12 OER Collaborative is making a request for proposals for development of Creative Commons 4.0 licensed curriculum aligned to the Common Core. Check it out and support this effort. The major textbook publishing companies have dominated the field with sundry weak materials for far too long.