Teaching a New Course This year? If So, Some Advice…

Teaching from a textbook and sitting on a stack of texbooks

Are you teaching a new grade level or subject this year? If so, you likely do not feel like you have had enough time to plan. 

Three years into my teaching career I moved between campuses and inherited a book cart full of textbooks and supplemental materials for my new assignment. I had no idea whether the materials were current or well-aligned to the current standards for the course! To make things more difficult, I was a singleton teacher and had no one to ask.  It took me a long time to wade through what I had, and I am quite sure that I was missing components of the material that came with the original purchase.

If you are in a similar position, consider these suggestions to help you plan instruction efficiently with materials you have inherited.

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Why Teachers Need More Planning Time

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This article discusses “Four Ways State Leaders Can Help Teachers Implement High Quality Curriculum.” One of the author’s suggestions is that leaders provide time and space for educators to plan. One of the reasons educators need more planning time is that online preK-12 materials have become increasingly complex to use. Here’s why.

Learning List reviewers have reviewed thousands of PreK-12 instructional materials. Our team is adept at learning how to navigate through online materials. These days, reviewing online materials is taking longer because materials often consist of different components to remediate, enrich and extend students’ learning.  Sometimes, each component uses a different online platform; more commonly, the assessments component uses a different platform from the material’s instructional components.  Thus, merely learning how to navigate through online materials takes longer than it used to.

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Defining Roles: Standards vs. Curriculum vs. Instructional Materials

FocusEducators and publishers often use the terms “standards,” “curriculum” and/or “instructional materials” interchangeably. Moreover, many educators consider their instructional materials to be their curriculum. However, each of these terms represents a distinct component of an educational program. In the sections that follow, we provide explanations of each of these terms to differentiate their meanings in the context of PreK-12 education.

Standards set out what students are expected to know and be able to do at the end of each school year. Standards are generally established at the state level. In fact, ESSA requires that each state create learning standards for public schools in three subjects—English language arts/reading, mathematics, and science—and many states go beyond ESSA’s minimum to set standards in social studies, career and technical education, languages other than English, and other subjects.

In contrast, the curriculum is developed at the district level, the product of local policy making. While the standards tell you what is expected, the curriculum provides the road map to get there. Often described in documents such as “scope and sequence” and “units of instruction,” a curriculum includes goals, instructional practices and pedagogical guidance, suggested resources and instructional materials, and methods of measuring student progress. [Read more…]

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4 Ways to Use Materials to Achieve Student Learning Objectives

Solid instruction begins with an analysis of student data followed by the development of targeted learning objectives/goals and instructional practices aimed at achieving them. District curriculum documents identify high-level learning objectives. Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes (SLOs) are growth targets set by teachers to help them plan instruction and drive learning throughout the year. SLOs are guided by the district curriculum and based on student data. SLOs also provide schools and districts with a way to make best instructional practice a common expectation for all teachers.

Here are four ways teachers can use their materials to achieve SLOs:
Learning Objectives: image showing the improvement cycle: Plan, Do, Check and Change
(1) After the focus of an SLO has been identified, check for causal connections between students’ learning deficits and deficits in the alignment of the district/campus’ instructional materials you have been using. Verify the alignment of any citations (lessons, activities, quizzes) you are planning to use to the standards students are struggling with.

  • Learning List’s alignment report for each material identifies which citations listed in the publisher’s correlation are aligned to each standard and which citations are not aligned.

(2) Use your existing materials to scaffold instruction from prior grade levels to address learning gaps that have persisted over multiple grade levels.

  • Learning List’s alignment comparison tool and alignment report for each grade level make it easy for teachers to identify citations in their existing materials that are aligned to the standards students are struggling with at any grade level.  [Read more…]

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The Role of Instructional Materials in Shaping Teacher Practice

In a recent op-ed appearing in The Hill, ThinkCerca’s founder and CEO, Eileen Murphy Buckley, describes the challenges she faced as a novice English teacher working at  Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, one of Illinois’ best high schools and Michelle Obama’s alma mater. Like many first-year teachers, she struggled with classroom management, planning relevant and engaging instruction, and mastery of her content area. She received sage advice from veteran colleagues, but she “confesses” that her strongest supports as an inexperienced teacher were the instructional materials she used in the classroom.

She writes:

So, there is my confession after all these years, but I make it to say that the products we use in schools matter. The quality of those resources matter so very much because they are what empower students, regardless of which teacher they end up with. The materials shape teachers and teacher practice, and they shape the teachers they raise through years of side by side work.

These products must answer to students and teachers as well as buyers — the admins and school boards who are the stewards of our future, our culture, our democracy. Products have material impact on the lives of our children and grandchildren — who will be caring for us and our country in the very near future.

Simply put, reading materials impact the quality of teaching in much more significant ways than you might know.

At Learning List, we understand the importance of high quality materials. We recognize that instructional materials influence how teachers teach as well as how and what students learn. And this understanding shapes how we review products.

Our editorial reviews examine the supports each material does or does not provide for teachers. Our reviewers explain whether teacher resources include background in content and pedagogy; provide pacing information, lesson plans, and guidance in differentiating instruction; and offer professional development opportunities and professional communities that facilitate collaboration and sharing with other teachers who use the same product. Our reviewers note when they feel a product is particularly appropriate for novice teachers. Such products include comprehensive discussions of the required content knowledge and pedagogy, and offer detailed, often scripted, lesson plans to support instruction. [Read more…]

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The Importance of Developing Teachers: Part Two Using Learning List’s Resources to Support Teacher Growth

This is Part Two of a post in response to the recent report Leadership Perspectives on Public Education: The Gallup 2017 Survey of K-12 School District Superintendents.  As discussed in our first post, the superintendents who participated in the Gallup 2017 Survey identified teacher quality as the most important element in student success, but noted the difficulty in hiring talented teachers. In particular, superintendents said that the quantity and quality of new teachers is decreasing and that districts need to become more effective in training teaching staff.

In Part One of this post, we explored how districts can use the resources embedded in instructional materials to support teacher professional development. In this post, we examine how the tools on LearningList.com can facilitate training by enhancing teachers’ understanding of state standards and how standards shape day-to-day instruction.

Learning List features a detailed alignment report for each product we review.  The alignment reports reflect our independent verification of the alignment of citations listed in the publisher’s correlation. In order for Learning List to consider a citation to be aligned to the standard, the citation must address the content, context, and cognitive demand specified in the standard. [Read more…]

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5 Essentials in Teaching Pre-AP

We are often asked whether we review materials for Pre-AP courses. Pre-AP courses are grade level courses with embedded strategies to provide knowledge, concepts, and skills needed to prepare students for AP courses. While we will review any instructional materials aligned to the TEKS, CCSS, NGSS, and certain state-specific standards, districts may not need to purchase specific “Pre-AP texts”. Supporting …

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Are You In a New Role This Year?

Are you teaching a new grade level or subject this year? If so, have you had time to investigate the instructional materials provided by the district for the grade or course you are teaching? Sometimes when we have short notice of a change of assignment there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to plan.  Three years into my teaching …

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Teacher Collaboration: A Key to Success!

Kentucky educator and “teacherpreneur” Paul Barnwell eloquently blogged this week about the fact that teachers need more time to plan and collaborate to improve education. “With so much on our plates, and few opportunities to scale solutions outside of the classroom, we teachers are longing for expanded opportunities to share what we know and can learn from one another. But we …

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Asking Key Questions

One of the keynote presentation speakers at the recent Texas ASCD Conference was Dr. Jackie Walsh.  Her presentation was, “Questioning for Thinking:  Helping Students make Connections”.  Dr. Walsh talked about the importance of asking quality questions and developing effective questioning strategies to activate, support, and sustain student thinking. Dr. Walsh shared the impact that teachers have on student learning when …

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