The Adapting Materials project focused on building models to increase teacher and district capacity, as well as to increase the availability of freely accessible, Common Core-aligned materials for districts that need them now.
The 4th grade team at Pleasant Valley School in Harrison Township, New Jersey was well-positioned for participation in the project because it a) is using a curriculum that is malleable and has a large market share (Reading Street published by Pearson), b) has the capacity and interest in adapting the curriculum, and c) will be using its current materials for at least a year and thus has a strong need to enhance its Common Core alignment. The pilot team consisted of 4th grade classroom teachers, interventionists, and administrative staff. During the five months of the pilot, the team members participated in seven professional development sessions that included Common Core training, planning meetings, and classroom visits. My role in the project was to coach the teachers as they adapted the curriculum materials and implemented the newly designed units in the classroom.
Identifying the Problems
The team felt that students were not optimally engaged with the existing materials, and thus wanted to increase the academic rigor of the materials. While many of the texts students read were complex and engaging, the related questions and activities were superficial and became routine for students. The stories simply became opportunities to practice the comprehension strategy of the week. Students rarely experienced the full depth of the texts or remembered the useful and interesting information the stories provided. To better align the material to the Common Core, the educators wanted to include text-dependent questions and speaking and listening tasks, as well as topical reading and writing activities. Making these alterations would not only provide more academically demanding literacy experiences but also would increase student engagement.
Adapting the Materials
The teachers collaborated to adapt the unit materials in the following ways:
- Analyzed and discussed the text complexity and quality of each main text included in the current unit of study
- Selected the most complex and worthwhile text for close reading: teachers thought about which texts and topics would be most interesting to students and used the Text Complexity: Qualitative Measures Rubric to evaluate and discuss the qualitative features of the texts
- Conducted a lesson study using the modified close reading lesson plan, questions, and tasks available from the Basal Alignment Project
- Planned day-by-day lesson sequences for the entire close reading experience
- Created a detailed student-facing guide to facilitate class discussions that included vocabulary self-assessment, graphic organizers to facilitate student thinking and discussions, writing space for responses, and page number references to support engagement with text evidence
- Chose to use the alternate Common Core assessment from Pearson SuccessNet rather than the typical weekly assessment included in the teacher’s manual
- Selected additional texts from the leveled texts selections, ancillary texts and passages included with each unit, freely accessible videos, websites and online resources in order to build students’ vocabulary and knowledge about the topic that was first introduced through the main selection text.
Harrison Township expects to continue adapting their existing materials throughout the upcoming school year. The district leaders at Harrison Township plan to deliver the close reading and BAP trainings to grade-level representatives across the district. In addition, Harrison Township hosted a session with curriculum directors and teachers from three other districts within the state in order to share lessons-learned with other nearby school districts that use the same curriculum.
The Adapting Materials pilot at Harrison Township exceeded the district’s expectations. Beyond simply adapting materials to demonstrate better alignment to the Standards, teachers felt a closer connection in the classroom to the art/discovery aspect of instruction, and students also showed an increased level of engagement with the materials. In fact, during a planning session, another teacher stopped by to ask, “What is going on in the 4th grade? The students are at lunch, and everyone is talking about the Navajo code!” The 4th grade team knew right then; they were on to something with tremendous potential.