For the first time in a dozen years, the Muscogee County School District has adopted new English language arts textbooks for its middle schools and high schools. The content will be different, and the teachers will deliver it to their students in a different way.
Here are the key points you should know about the ELA programs the district will implement during the next two school years, as explained by administrators during the school board’s work session last month:
Names and costs
MCSD has been using the “Elements of Literature” series, published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston, for grades 6-8, and the “Timeless Voices” series, published by Prentice Hall, for grades 9-12. Last month, the board unanimously approved superintendent David Lewis’ recommendation to buy the programs called Georgia Collections, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Leveled Literacy Intervention, published by Heinemann, for grades 6-12, costing a total of $1,586,721.
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The district’s elementary schools will continue to use the Reading Wonders program, published by McGraw-Hill, which the board approved in December 2013 for $1,755,022.
Sureya Hendrick, the district’s ELA content specialist for grades 6-12, noted Georgia Collections “imitates Readings Wonders from the opening all the way to the closing” so the transition from elementary school to middle school and high school will be “seamless” in ELA, she said.
Why this matters
Starting this coming school year, all of the district’s schools will have ELA programs fully aligned with the Georgia Standards of Excellence, approved by the Georgia Board of Education in February 2015.
“As you can see,” Hendrick said, “we were working off of antiquated resources.”
That’s important because the state’s exams, the Georgia Milestones Assessment System, are based on those standards. And those exams measure the performance of the state’s public schools, teachers and students.
“We have a new assessment, new standards, the workforce is requiring that we do something new and even our educational institutions are requiring that we do something new,” Hendrick said. “So change is a must.”
The content in the district’s previous ELA textbooks was predominantly fiction. The balance will tip toward nonfiction now.
Since 2012, the College and Career Ready Performance Index has been the state’s single-score expression of how well the public schools are preparing students to become productive workers. The name of the index emphasizes the goal of public education. In other words, in the business world, it’s more important to know how to read and comprehend instructions and write reports than it is to understand a novel and write a poem, not that those pieces of literature will be omitted.
“Our students have to be exposed to multiple types of genres, more informational text than fiction,” Hendrick said. “…We have to teach our students to read like a detective, using the close reading, and write like a reporter, understanding the difference between biased and unbiased sources.”
The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development defines “close reading” as reading that uncovers layers of meaning and leads to deep comprehension.
“We must transcend the traditional,” Hendrick said. “Our students will be able to analyze and evaluate commercials, documentaries, news, films and images. So it’s not just the traditional literature, where they’re looking at one piece of genre. They’re looking at multiple pieces of genre focused around an overarching topic or theme.”
As with Reading Wonders, the Georgia Collections program uses the constructivist approach in teaching. Instead of the direct instruction model, based on lectures with the teacher mainly responsible for the student’s learning, the constructivist model uses the technique called gradual release.
“The traditional is the sage on the stage,” Hendrick said, “but the guide on the side is the constructivist facilitator.”
The responsibility shifts from the teacher to the student, from “I do it” (teacher performing the task in a focused lesson) to “We do it” (guided instruction as the class performs the task together) to “You do it together” (small groups of students collaboratively perform the task) to “You do it alone” (students independently perform the task).
Hendrick noted the constructivist model helps students learn the teamwork and problem-solving skills employers seek.
“We’re teaching our students how to think effectively,” she said. “We call it metacognitive strategies.”
Print and digital
The textbook packages come as hardbound copies, digital editions and what are called “consumables,” meaning workbooks in which students write.
The myNotebook and myWriteSmart applications enhance the reading and writing experience for students. With myNotebook, students collect and organize evidence in the text while reading and save the notes for a writing assignment. With myWriteSmart, students use the notes they gathered to draft, revise, edit and communicate about their writing.
“It saves the notes from sixth grade all the way to 12th grade,” Hendrick said, “so those annotations as well as their work follow them in an electronic portfolio.”
The electronic platform enables students and teachers to remotely discuss texts and writing assignments by typing comments on their screens.
From their digital dashboard, teachers will use the mySmartPlanner to set up their lessons, make student assignments, track their progress and collaborate with colleagues.
“Teachers have a very difficult job,” said Kendrick High School principal Alonzo James. “Time is very consuming. It walks teachers through that. It provides them the road map. … They’re able to create individual plans for students.”
A major part of the job for literacy coach Christy Grigsby is to help teachers find effective ways to help their students.
“Even with that, teachers still spend long nights scouring the Internet, trying to find the resources they need, not only to engage the students but also to meet the needs of the new Georgia standards,” Grigsby said. “… Teachers are just trying to catch up. With the resources we currently have, they’re struggling.”
Much has changed in the past 12 years since the district’s last ELA textbook adoption, Grigsby said, especially with technology. No more TV carts with VCR trays rolling around schools.
“What really makes (Georgia) Collections unique is the time it’s going to save teachers,” Grigsby said, “locating all those materials to engage students.”
For example, the program provides students a video to see other students demonstrating the “close reading” technique.
“Then the teacher is able to pair the students to do a close reading of another passage,” Grigsby said, “and they can do this on their downloadable e-book so they don’t have to be on the Internet necessarily. They can add highlights and electronic sticky notes.”
The teacher can respond immediately or during the planning period and have an electronic conversation with the student about the text.
“Students individually or in pairs can create an interactive graphic organizer to solidify their knowledge,” Grigsby said.
The program also has lessons already created for teachers to display on their classroom SmartBoard.
“I don’t know how many hours I spent trying to do that,” Grigsby said.
Two tasks are provided at the end of each unit to measure how well students understand the content compared to the state standards. For example, while the students are working on a narrative writing sample or an argumentative speech, Grigsby said, the teacher can watch a professional development video “for a little refresher” about that standard.
Then, after students take a quiz or test online, the program generates a report that suggests activities to help students improve deficient areas.
“You have so many parents go, ‘What can we do to help?’ Really, there wasn’t a whole lot we could tell them,” Grigsby said. “But now, they’re going to have those tools they can learn right along with the students because there are whole tutorials that walk them through step by step.”
Families without Internet access or computers at home won’t be left behind, said chief academic officer Keith Seifert, because “any digital content that is assignment related can be downloaded and printed.”
This is the first time in at least the 11 years Hendrick has been working in MCSD that the district has adopted a comprehensive program for struggling readers, she said.
The Leveled Literacy Intervention is a “rigorous supplemental resource for a small group,” Hendrick said, “and its focus is to renew a sense of empowerment for our students and assist our teachers to help those students to become proficient readers.”
In 2016-17, the district will implement LLI in the middle schools and Georgia Collections in the high schools. In 2017-18, the district will implement Georgia Collections in the middle schools and LLI in the high schools.
The administration decided on this method, Seifert said, because implementing both programs at the same time would be too much to handle, and the priority is to boost as many students up to grade level in reading and writing as possible before they enter high school.
Sheryl Green, an English teacher at Jordan Vocational High School and the district’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, appreciates this approach.
“The struggle I have the most,” she said, “a lot of my students can read black words on white paper, but they can’t closely read, and that’s what all the assessments in high school require of them, to draw from a text and use it.”
The textbook adoption also includes the publisher providing three years of professional development for teachers and administrators. That will include training on constructivist instruction plus observations in the classroom to determine how well teachers use the new programs.
“It is a quality assurance aspect,” Lewis said, “in terms of assuring the fidelity of the implementation.”
The district’s academic coaches and content specialists will be trained so they can train other staff members beyond the third year.
The Muscogee County School District’s region chiefs, Terry Baker, Ronald Wiggins and James Wilson, appointed the following employees to the selection committee that helped superintendent David Lewis recommended the new English language arts textbooks and programs for grades 6-12:
▪ East region: Principals Tamura Magwood and Alonzo James; teachers Sara Davis and Katrina Latimore Smith; and academic coach Christy Grigsby.
▪ Central region: Principals Penny Bowen and Michael Barden; teachers Stephanie Walker and Diana Allen; and academic coach Debra Terrell.
▪ West region: Principal Melanie Knight, assistant principal Christine Hull, teachers Krystal Blackmon, Jennifer Farrell and Sheryl Green and academic coach Kathleen Tervel.
District administrators Patrick Knopf, Mary Lewis and Anngeanette Snell provided support, and the MCSD Department of Teaching and Learning provided the following facilitators: assistant superintendent Rebecca Braaten, chief academic officer Keith Seifert, curriculum director Lorrie Watt, information services specialist Donna Gullatte and literacy specialists Sureya Hendrick and Jackie Mumpower.
Four publishers made presentations to the committee in October, Seifert said. After deciding on a publisher in March, the publisher made its final presentation to the principals of the district’s middle schools and high schools, as well as the ELA department leaders, he said.
“We felt real good about it because all the comments were very positive,” Seifert said.