Since 2016, Putnam County Schools has worked to improve literacy outcomes in our district by implementing high-quality instructional materials. Over the past three years, we have phased in use of Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA), a rigorous set of materials that deliberately builds students’ knowledge of the world around them while also developing their ability to read independently through systematic phonics instruction.

Since beginning with CKLA, we have seen significant growth in students’ use of new vocabulary and in their comprehension of texts. Students are able to have rich conversations about the topics they are learning about because the lessons help them to build critical background knowledge.

Parents share that their children are excited about what they are learning and that they come home and talk about all the interesting topics they are studying. Children are more engaged in class because they are more interested in what they are learning. We attribute all of these positive changes to the use of high-quality curriculum.

As part of the LIFT network, we have had the opportunity to mentor other districts across the state as they introduce high-quality instructional materials into their classrooms. Together with other “mentor districts” from across the LIFT network, Putnam County is proud to have contributed our lessons learned to LIFT’s Instructional Materials Implementation Guidebook.

The guidebook is organized into a series of phases that outline our recommendations for how to best introduce and scale up the implementation of rigorous instructional materials.

You can read more about each phase in the corresponding guidebook chapter. Below, I’ve highlighted a few of the lessons that are outlined in more detail in the guidebook:

  • Build a vertical spine of support: It is critical to have the support of leaders at all levels of the school district when choosing and implementing new materials. Our director of schools, Jerry Boyd, has led this charge by ensuring that school leaders, teachers, and parents are aware of and invested in our implementation of CKLA. He has also helped our district maintain focus on the importance of strong literacy instruction as we have prioritized this work over the past three years. 
  • Start small and scale up: Districts in the LIFT network chose to pilot high-quality materials in a small number of classrooms, and then used the lessons learned from those pilots to scale into larger numbers of classrooms. Specific recommendations for this approach are detailed in Chapter 4 of the guidebook.
  • Invest in teacher and leader professional learning: A major component of a strong materials rollout is providing school leaders and teachers with high-quality, materials-specific professional learning. This recommendation, which is supported by a 2019 study released by the Harvard Center for Educational Policy Research, has proven critical to ensuring that teachers and leaders are aligned in their expectations for classroom instruction when using a new set of curricular materials.

It is our hope that our lessons in the guidebook will assist other districts in Tennessee as they roll out new materials following the 2020 English Language Arts materials adoption. We have seen incredible growth in our students’ knowledge, vocabulary, and reading comprehension since our implementation of high-quality instructional materials, and we are excited to see the continued improvement in student achievement as our district continues that important work.    

Jill Ramsey is PK-5 curriculum supervisor for Putnam County Schools.