Writing ELA Curriculum with Multiple Resources: 7 steps to get you started

Written by Gen

I have had the extreme pleasure to learn the following, while as a literacy and instructional coach, on a curriculum writing journey with some very dedicated colleagues over the course of four years. It was a truly collaborative project that was a powerful learning experience for us all.

In the primary grades, we often draw from multiple resources that we use to teach our students to read and write. Of course, we know the best approaches follow the individual students’ needs, so what is a teacher to do for curriculum? And what about Common Core standards? How do they fit with this individualized approach? These days we are under increasing scrutiny to provide evidence that students are receiving standardized instruction. So how do we translate responsive instruction into curriculum?

Responsive instruction requires a workshop model. Workshop models should begin with a whole-group mini-lesson. This is where curriculum can be accomplished and planned out according to scope and sequence. While the whole group is set off to work on a common goal (the purpose of the mini-lesson), small groups and individuals can receive individualized instruction.

Here are a few steps to help you get started with your own ELA curriculum:

Step 1: Gather a group of teachers

Get your grade-level together. The more sets of eyes and minds you have on this type of project, the better. If you don’t have multiple teachers at a grade level to collaborate, a mixed group will do, but results will be better if you begin with a homogenous group. Once a grade-level gets a finished draft of the curriculum, you can begin vertically aligning it by inviting lower and higher grade-level teachers into the mix.

Step 2: Get on the same page

Philosophically, that is. A great way to do this is to create a book club around one of your professional texts that your group intends to use as a resource (see Rhonda’s previous post: 5 Easy Steps to Starting a Professional Book Club). At each meeting, compare thoughts and make a list of agreed-upon ideas that everyone is willing to strive for in their classrooms. Be sure to get into the nitty-gritty of what everyone thinks and believes. If you stick to only the big ideas, you may miss some important discrepancies between teachers that may cause problems later on. You can use the agreed-upon list of ideas to solve any discrepancies that come up later by using it as a measuring stick to decide if an idea that you want in the curriculum fits with your philosophies.

You may be thinking that you want to jump in and get some curriculum on paper, and the thought of completing an entire book club before you begin is just too much. While you could always skip this step, I highly recommend putting in the time. It will help to avoid roadblocks during the curriculum writing when you suddenly discover differences between teachers’ philosophies that are hard to reconcile. These types of setbacks are a lot harder to move forward from mid-process than if you reconcile them early on. This step very well may take a school year before you begin the actual curriculum writing process.

Step 3: Gather ALL of your resources

As an elementary teacher, I know the volume of resources that are adopted, adapted, suggested, and recommended by our districts and colleagues. Some of them fit nicely with our philosophies of what is good for students, and others…don’t. Gather them all up and decide which resources will be heavily relied upon in your curriculum writing. This may mean that you are selecting resources that you don’t care for-I’ll get to that later.

Step 4: Consult the standards

If your district has already decided upon a prioritized hierarchy of standards for your grade level, skip this step! If not…well, roll up your sleeves.

Before writing curriculum, it is most useful to have decided upon which standards you want to teach explicitly throughout the year. You may be under the impression that you must explicitly teach every standard during the school year. This is impossible. Many standards are multifaceted and may take multiple lessons to achieve mastery from the majority of your class. If you were to break each part into a series of lessons, you would run out of school days long before teaching them all. There are standards that are more important to teach explicitly than others. Many can be taught through quick demonstrations or through daily practice activities. Your job during this step is to determine which are complex enough for your population of students to teach explicitly.

You can see that being on the same page philosophically is priceless during this step since philosophy is what will drive individuals’ perceptions of what is important. Being connected through a shared professional experience will be invaluable to keep the group moving through these difficult decisions.

Step 5: Develop a template

Some districts have a curriculum template, others don’t. If you are lucky enough to have one, then here’s another step you can bypass. If not, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. As a group, decide what features are most important to include in your curriculum form. Some features that I and my colleagues have found useful to have are:

  • Resources with listed chapters & page numbers
  • Standards addressed
  • Learning targets
  • Mini-lesson topics
  • Lists of suggested texts or text features
  • Pages for all areas of literacy teaching: Writing Workshop, Reading Workshop, Interactive Read Aloud, Writing About Reading, etc.
  • Scope and sequence summary

Choose the most tech-savvy member of your group to organize your items into a template. I could give you examples, but for ease of use, the template really should be created by your own group so that it fits your district requirements and teaching styles.

Step 6: Develop your curriculum

Using the resources and standards you’ve selected, put together a list of lesson topics and prioritize them. I’ve found that thinking about small segments of the year at a time helps with this process. You may want to meet at the beginning of each quarter to map out your curriculum for the following few months. This is also the time to think about any thematic units that you want, or are required, to complete. Sort your lessons into the units that best fit. Remember, your explicit lesson emphases are not about content-they are about ELA standards and skills.

Example: Readers preview text before they begin to read.

Non-Example: Read to learn about types of weather.

It is during this step that you can address any concerns you have with resources that conflict with your philosophies of how students learn to read and write. Find the underlying ELA standards that the resource is trying to accomplish. Deconstruct the resource to use the parts that seem to fit best and combine them with your other resources to best help your students accomplish the particular standards. Some published programs may claim to address many standards in one lesson. Carefully read through the materials and choose the one standard that needs to be explicitly taught to your students to focus on.

Step 7: Revisit & Revise

This may be the most important step. Your ELA curriculum will always be in draft form and should be reviewed and revised on a regular basis. Every year brings a new group of students with different backgrounds as readers and new district initiatives and expectations. You will also want to be collecting evidence of how students are responding to your teaching and using this data to inform your revisions.


One thought on “Writing ELA Curriculum with Multiple Resources: 7 steps to get you started

  1. Pingback: Become Excellent Through Professional Learning @StenhousePub #litessentials – Literacy Pages

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