SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City School District hosted the Knowledge Matters Campaign on May 16 and 17, allowing members of the campaign to view the district’s literacy work with the American Reading Company.
Members of the Knowledge Matters campaign sat in on classes, and held roundtable discussions with both teachers and students about the impacts of the district’s new ELA curriculum, ARC Core.
The district adopted the ARC Core curriculum at the K-2 level prior to the 2021-22 school year, and has begun to see the impacts. Dr. Michele Whitley, the district’s Director of K-12 Humanities and Elementary Instruction, said a committee of roughly 50 people chose the curriculum after reviewing elementary literacy programs under their curriculum renewal cycle.
“They selected American Reading Company because it is a program that builds knowledge in students, along with engaging them in learning reading and writing,” said Whitley. “Our teachers are very focused on skill-building, and teaching children how to read. But this particular program also came with a plethora of resources to help engage children as readers.”
Barbara Davidson, executive director of the Knowledge Matters Campaign, said that the idea of the campaign is to advocate for “restoring content into the elementary curriculum in particular.” Campaign members travel to school districts across the country to showcase schools that embrace “strong, knowledge-building criteria.”
Davidson said in past years, curriculums have focused on reading comprehension skills, such as comparing and contrasting, and inference. However, she said these skills “can’t really be taught in isolation.”
“What we know now is that it’s really so much more important the knowledge students bring to the reading,” said Davidson. “So if they encounter a word that’s unfamiliar to them, they may be able to learn to sound it out, and that’s important. You need good curriculum that’s teaching them how to do that. But also, they need to be able to make meaning out of those words. That takes them knowing about the natural and social world.”
Whitley said that the district is seeing reader engagement and students’ writing skills increase, saying, “We’re really proud of the work teachers have been doing.”
“As we’re in the second year of the implementation of it, we’re seeing our students’ love of reading, and reader engagement, soar,” Whitley said. “Their writing skills have really blossomed, and their stamina has increased greatly.”
Dr. Lisa Cutting, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, said the curriculum provides consistency across the district’s six elementary schools.
“You want to be able to provide a consistent curriculum, so students know what to expect, and also so that the middle school knows what kids are coming in with, and what they have been exposed to,” said Cutting.
She also said that the program helps teachers better track the progress of their students.
“If you asked any one of those teachers, they could tell you the same thing about their students,” Cutting added. “I can’t reinforce enough the availability of resources at their fingertips.”
Davidson said the amount of student engagement stood out when observing classrooms, as well as the instruction from teachers.
“I’ve seen some pretty amazing instruction,” said Davidson. “There’s not a classroom that we’ve walked in, whether we’ve stayed for an hour and watched a whole lesson, or whether we popped in for 15 minutes, where the kids haven’t been so on fire with what they’re learning. … You saw 100 percent of these kids involved in the lesson.”
She said allowing the teachers to simply focus on delivering the curriculum, rather than also having to develop it, allows teachers to deliver higher-quality lessons and instruction.
“Back in the day, we asked teachers to write these lessons themselves,” Davidson said. “Come up with this curriculum, figure out the texts, figure out the topics, figure out how it is you’re going to go about delivering it. Now, we’re saying, ‘No, let people whose job it is to do that develop that curriculum.’ You become a master at delivering it. That’s what we’ve seen here. They’ve just mastered it.”
Whitley noted it was great to hear the teachers’ feedback, saying they “have worked so hard to adjust to the new normal in school.”
“They’ve collectively worked hard to embrace this curriculum, and the change that they see in their students,” said Whitley. “That is hard work, so it’s so awesome to sit here and listen to their perspective.”
Cutting said that while a new curriculum was “a very, very big lift on top of the pandemic,” it has provided valuable support for students.
“I think it worked out very well to provide that support that they needed, and that push and that rekindling of the love of reading, and writing, expressing yourself, after the pandemic,” Cutting said.
“We want our children to be readers, learn how to read, love reading, but also build knowledge along the way,” said Whitley. “We know that there’s a knowledge gap in the nation, and we want to be addressing it through the work that we’re doing in our schools today.”