If I had asked my second-grade class three years ago to write a paragraph about a text we were studying that included an introductory sentence, at least four details, irregular nouns and verbs, and vocabulary like “colossal” and “enchanted,” I would have seen a lot of blank stares—especially in September. But this year when I asked them to write this paragraph, they said, “We’ve got it, Ms. Mayo!” And they did; most students furiously writing to get their thoughts down without struggling.
I find myself constantly in disbelief about what my students can do and how much they are learning. I have been using Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) materials in my classroom since fall 2017, when my district implemented the materials for all classrooms in grades K-3. Using these strong, content-rich materials has been extremely valuable for me, my school, and most importantly, my students.
We have higher expectations because of the materials. The high quality of the materials and alignment to the standards caused both teachers and students to expect more of learners. In our second learning domain about Early Asian Civilizations, we read a text about Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. My students referenced how Diwali had similarities to what they learned in first grade when they studied Christianity in the domain on Early World Civilizations. In the past, I never would have expected second graders to know about Diwali, or early civilizations, but here they were, making thoughtful comparisons to something they learned almost a year prior. This makes me especially excited to see the difference that this will make for my students when they have had rigorous, knowledge-building materials for multiple years.
Consistent materials in all K-3 classrooms made a difference for students. When we started learning about CKLA over a year ago, there was a lot of uncertainty about using new instructional materials. The change was hard, and the materials felt so different from the basal program that we used before. However, all the teachers knew we were in this together and had support from our school administrators and district leadership. We were able to share ideas with colleagues at other schools, something we had not been able to do in the past, and we had a wider network of people to problem solve with.
This year, I am really seeing the consistency pay off in my students. All my students coming into second grade this year were already familiar with the format and content of the lessons, regardless of whose classroom they were in last year. As we work through our reading skills lessons each day where students engage in explicit and systematic phonics instruction, they know how to practice substituting, adding, and deleting sounds in chaining activities, and are familiar with tools for second-grade skills like sound charts. They always tell me, “We did that last year!” The teachers I talk to are also more comfortable and confident with the materials, and I’ve heard parents of my students appreciate the consistency. They know what to expect in literacy instruction from every classroom and grade level.
Most importantly, there is incredible growth in what students know and can do. My students have so much knowledge about the world. The texts we use are rich and complex, and my students really get it. Just the other day, they were telling me information they learned in first grade about elephants that I didn’t even know—elephants are the biggest land animals in the world, are herbivores, and strip the bark off Acacia trees and chew on it in the eastern African savannah.
I also see a deeper thought process in my students, especially in their conversations. They are asking and answering thoughtful questions about the story and using accountable talk structures to really listen to their peers. This is a drastic difference from previous years in my classroom. That deeper thinking also shows up in their writing. The rich text from the read alouds is transferring to what they can put on paper. They are not overwhelmed by the writing requirements and are easily using those words like “enchanted” and “colossal.”
I am invested in using strong instructional materials because my students are invested. In our second year with the materials, literacy lessons are flowing for me and my students. I’m constantly amazed by what my students understand, the information they retain, and the conversations they are having. I know that this district-wide initiative will increase all students’ listening ability, reading comprehension, and word study skills. I can’t wait to see where we can go from here!