Reviewing Is a Journey and the Benefits Aren’t What We’d Expected

Educators from Granite Falls uncovered benefits to reviewing that they hadn’t anticipated

Have you ever begun a trip focusing on your end point, with a plan for the most direct route? Then, after traveling for a period of time, surprises emerge along the trek, and you realize that the benefits of the journey equal or even surpass your original destination…

Launching our district’s work with the Instructional Materials Taskforce (IMT) promised a way to ensure alignment of new instructional materials with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The alignment itself is a worthwhile goal and yet, as this multi-district collaborative journey continues, we are discovering additional benefits we hadn’t expected at all. We knew the IMT would allow experts from our district to engage deeply with the Standards and grapple with understanding how the Shifts would look in the form of student tasks, assessments, questions and more. We knew that we’d have the opportunity to collaborate in order to learn from partner districts in the IMT. We knew that we’d receive training on new tools. All these things have proven true, but it’s what we didn’t anticipate that has proven the most eye-opening.

Seeing the Impact on Classroom Practice

As our reviewers fine-tuned their perceptions of the Shifts’ implications, first within our team and then in collaboration with our partners, we internalized standards for teaching and learning aligned with the expectations for implementation in the classroom. As our team began analyzing our materials for alignment with text-dependent question requirements, we realized that our conversation had moved from review of materials to confronting our own understanding of what these requirements meant for instruction. This process of collaborative professional learning continued as we delved into text complexity and the concept of writing to sources. When a reviewer commented that she would need to change her own instructional practice to align with Standards (and others nodded in agreement), we realized that work with the Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) prompted us to look beyond the materials in front of us and engage in discussions about our own teaching and our day-to-day work with our students.

While the project was initially considered a curricular one and used funding from the curriculum budget, we recognized quickly that our work with the IMT would provide tremendous support for professional learning. The rich experiences of the review team transformed our plans for district-wide professional development in ELA for the upcoming school year and caused us to think about curriculum adoption and professional learning as highly intertwined work. We now know that work with the IMET simultaneously launches participants into an analysis of aligned instructional practice, prompts an analysis of gaps between current and aligned practice, and promotes rich discussions about what can be changed to better align with the Common Core.

We’re envisioning a transformative change in our design of professional learning plans to capture the opportunity that we’ve uncovered. We’re planning to move from a workshop approach to one that brings participants together in collaborative, grade-band teams on a regular basis to analyze their instructional practice, identify and meet team learning needs, implement strategies, engage in an ongoing cycle of continuous improvement focused on alignment of content and practice to the Common Core.

Improving Instructional Materials in Other Subjects

Though the Common Core State Standards only cover math and ELA/Literacy, many forget that literacy skills are built across all subjects. In our district, word about the value of the IMET spread quickly and ELA reviewers seized the opportunity to collaborate with a concurrent K-12 social studies adoption committee, using the IMET to assess the alignment of the literacy elements of the materials while the other members of the adoption committee focused on the social studies content using their own criteria. While we traditionally review materials by content area, with a focus on one discipline within each adoption review, we’re seeing the benefit of utilizing the IMET for ELA as a component in all upcoming social studies/history, science, and technical subject adoptions at grades 6-12, as well as social studies and science at grades K-5. We are currently exploring the idea of using IMET for mathematics when reviewing science. While reviews in content areas will include a core team that will analyze for discipline-specific knowledge, skills and pedagogy, we plan to facilitate a concurrent ELA review of the content materials using the IMET early in the process so that this information can be shared and utilized by the core team.

The Instructional Materials Taskforce has resulted in selection of high-quality, Common Core-aligned instructional materials in math and ELA, but the unexpected outcomes are at least equally important. They’ve changed the work of our district, positively shaping the learning for our students, both now and for years to come.

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About the Author: As a first generation American, learning English as a second language, Karin experienced firsthand the life-changing opportunity that committed educators can provide to their students, subsequently choosing to serve as an educational leader to help ensure equity and excellence for all young people. Karin’s experiences span a wide variety of educational settings, including classroom and leadership positions in a large, suburban public school district home to several of the nation’s leading technology companies, an administrator of private education, a superintendent intern in a large, urban public school district, and most recently as a school principal transitioning into a newly created position of Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in a rural public school district. In her quest to impact school systems and children’s lives, she has also volunteered her services in many types of community efforts, including leadership for community learning centers to provide extended learning days for students, facilitating strategic planning for collaborations of non-profit agencies that serve families, and developing curriculum for a community leadership program through local city government and Chamber of Commerce partnerships. In her passion for shaping systems to support learning and transform lives, she greatly appreciates the privilege of collaborating with the many dedicated educators and community members who share this commitment to children and their future.