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Reading and writing curriculum to get revamp | Local News

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School administrators are placing renewed emphasis on English/Language Arts (ELA) instruction in Foxboro classrooms based on the findings of a comprehensive curriculum review presented to school committee members last week.

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Recommendations developed by a panel of educators and adopted June 14 by school board members involve spending $120,000 for new curriculum aimed at improving student reading and writing skills across all grade levels.

Fully implementing the modified curriculum and teaching methodology is expected to take two years, officials said.

The actions followed a lengthy review process steered by Shannon Wasilewski, English department head at Foxboro High School, and Karen MacKinnon, K-8 ELA social studies curriculum director.

The panel’s findings were heavily influenced by teacher surveys conducted at the elementary, middle and high school levels, as well as visits from vendors presenting different curriculum options.

According to MacKinnon, a majority of elementary teachers surveyed indicated they currently have inadequate resources to provide proper writing instruction — feedback reinforced by third-grade MCAS scores.

“The responses were amazing — super thoughtful,” she said. “Teachers really took a lot of time in the open response questions, which was really helpful for us.”

After analyzing comments from teachers and other data, MacKinnon said made the following recommendations on behalf of the review panel:

  • Introduce a different and more structured approach to writing;
  • Strengthen phonics instruction in kindergarten and Grade 1;
  • Emphasize instructional consistency between the three elementary schools and also when transitioning from elementary to middle school;
  • Realign “project-based learning” practices at the high school level with core curriculum and a wider range of resources and books.

As a practical matter, the review panel also recommended extending elementary-level literacy blocks to two hours and building resources that support reading and writing skills.

Although she termed the planned changes a significant undertaking, MacKinnon said that classroom teachers — some of whom participated in the vendor visits — have responded with enthusiasm.

“Change is hard and this first year might be a little bit messy,” she said. “But we’re going to try and front-load some of that professional development and then work it in throughout the course of the year.”

Assistant Superintendent Alison Mello explained that elementary and middle school teachers will convene in August for professional development days to introduce the new curriculum, with high school teachers engaged primarily in online training.

“People are really invested in this,” Mello said of rank-and-file teachers. “They’re hungry for it and excited about the change.”

According to Wasilewski, project-based learning at the high school level should integrate a wider range of resources and books are needed to boost student engagement with texts relevant to different races, cultures, genders, abilities and perspectives.

“We also found that we need to increase the variety of texts that we offer to our students, so that we can make sure they see, not only themselves, but others through the texts they read,” she said.

Project-based learning encourages students to identify and research real-world problems prior to writing a paper and presenting their own recommendations outlining prospective solutions.

The approach, more conventionally applied to STEM-related courses, already has been introduced in some advanced language courses at the high school, Wasilewski said.

“The focus really is building the skills into a project that allows students to have a voice and pursue questions that they have themselves,” she said. “These authentic skills are really going to help our students succeed, not only in high school, but when they leave high school as well, and that’s one of our focuses in the English department.”

Visual arts curriculum review

School committee members last week also heard from educators involved in a parallel review of visual arts curriculum, in part to update local offerings to incorporate state framework standards formally adopted in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Peppering her presentation with numerous visuals of student art works, Kelly Arcacha, K-12 department head, urged board members to think of art instruction, “not just as a space where we make beautiful things, but a place that fosters innovation and is a bridge to learning in other content areas.”

Like the ELA curriculum review, the visual arts process also relied heavily on survey data — although in this case it was students in Grades 2, 4, 7, 8 and high school students engaged in visual art instruction — as well as some parents and even alumni, providing feedback.

Elementary school art teachers Linda Scotland and Clara Schuster said K-4 findings called for better continuity of art vocabulary, continued focus on studio habits and developing transferable skills, and broadening the scope of voices and cultures to provide more opportunities for personal connections.

“Art isn’t something that we copy or we learn about, art is a personal expression,” Schuster said.

Recommendations at the middle school level include adopting letter grades for fifth- and sixth-grade students (current practice is a pass/fail system for students in Grades 5-6 with letter grades for those in Grades 7-8), providing a broader range of art electives and introducing an annual school-wide collaborative art project focused on current affairs and social issues.

“We’re trying to take this inherently subjective course and make it as objective as possible,” 7-8 grade art teacher Stephen Doherty said of the singular letter-grading approach.

Sheri Polseno, high school pottery and sculpture instructor, said art course enrollment has swelled, particularly in pottery classes, overburdening pottery wheels, firing kilns and other equipment.

As a result, recommendations include updating the school’s 3D Studio classroom to accommodate increased enrollment, increasing the supply budget by 20 percent, reviving a building-based art show at the high school and re-certifying two instructors to teach AP art courses.

Lastly, Arcacha suggested establishing an art booster organization to help promote school art shows, student achievements and other department events.

Informed that a formal vote would be needed to adopt changes to the report card for Grades 5-6, committee member Richard Pearson suggested tabling the matter before revisiting it over the summer months.

“I think it would be worth looking at in the whole scope of grading in fifth and sixth grade,” Pearson said. “I’m not sure why we need to speed through it tonight.”



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