Research and Reflections, Standards-Alignment Information, Tools and Resources

How Reviewing Materials Changed My Classroom Practice

A teacher explains the unexpected connection she uncovered between materials reviews and the classroom

When I began training to use the Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET), I had no idea how much I would learn about the Common Core. What I’ve discovered through my work with the Instructional Materials Taskforce (IMT) is that a good review tool can teach you how to look more deeply at the content of instructional materials and that the process of doing that work changes the way you approach your classroom practice.

The IMET allows my review team to focus intensely on the most important components of the Common Core and the Shifts in ELA instruction. It is an all-encompassing tool with clear metrics and evidence requirements. It gets to the heart of the texts and teaching practices within the materials. Previously, I had been involved in reviews for math and science materials in my district. For those reviews, I had a narrow mission: use a rubric to evaluate the materials in front of me. We never discussed what repercussions the materials might have for my classroom, and we were focused more on what the materials had to offer us as educators than what they offered our students as learners.

As a member of the Taskforce, however, I’m seeing connections everywhere. Through my training, I learned to recognize the importance of truly rich and complex text that will engage my students while contributing to building knowledge that will enhance their growth as individuals. I’m always looking for new and exciting learning strategies and practices to take back to my room to share with my third grade students.

Both Non-negotiable 1 and Alignment Criteria 1A of the IMET require careful analysis of the texts in order to find their purpose and value for students. As a result of my learning about, and examination of, text complexity in published materials, I have begun to look more carefully at the anchor texts I use with my students. I now recognize previously-used materials that aren’t complex or worthy enough to be considered anchor texts. I’m also searching for better-quality support materials, that, when combined with the anchor texts, can be used as scaffolds to build knowledge in a systematic way. I’m very excited to be participating in text-set training that will allow me to share the skill of building complex, relevant units of instruction with my colleagues.

Non-negotiable 2 of the IMET enables reviewers to examine the questions within the lessons to ensure they require students to closely read materials and support their answers and reasoning by citing evidence. This year, I created a new lesson plan template to use during my reading lessons in which I compose several questions of various cognitive levels, scaffolding them to encourage students to dig deeper for meaning in their learning. As a result of the training, the reviewers on my team have all come to have a deeper understanding of the ELA Standards, and recognize the necessity of more professional development and training in this area for the staff in our district. I will be working with my principal and our Director of Curriculum and Assessment to prioritize staff needs and provide instruction and training for the new school year. We (committee members) have all taken our new insights back to our rooms to incorporate into our instruction with our students.

My IMET training with Student Achievement Partners and with my fellow reviewers has also focused my attention on creating relevant writing and performance tasks that allow my students to truly demonstrate their new learning. For example, my class recently completed a research project about how animals that live in and near cities interact with humans. They had to use their research to make inferences and draw conclusions about the relationship between humans and their assigned animals. They then created a brochure to use as a visual aid in a class presentation, sharing what they learned with their classmates.

My IMET training has been an amazing opportunity and a blessing! I believe there is incredible value for all educators in understanding ‘what good looks like’ in instructional materials. I think they’ll find that the conversation doesn’t stop with textbooks but extends to the work they do in the classrooms every day.

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About the Author: Tresa has been teaching in the Granite Falls School District in Washington for the last 11 years. In addition to teaching third grade, she is acting as the ELA lead for the district in their work with Student Achievement Partners, using the IMET to review published materials. Her family moved to this small town against the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in 1993. She has a husband, two daughters aged 22 and 19, and a goofy dog named Tank, who is the light of their lives!