Things I Wish I Had Known...

Veteran teachers of the Open Up Resources EL Education K–8 Language Arts program share their learnings throughout the years.

The Open Up Resources EL Education K–8 Language Arts Community is continuing to grow each year. The Community Coaches are continually welcoming new teachers and new districts to our monthly PLCs and Facebook communities. We have seen a lot of first- and second-year users of this wonderful curriculum joining us this year, and we thought it would be helpful to share some experiences from our veteran teachers and administrators. 

Every time I embark on a new journey, I try to find people that have been there before me. I want them to tell me the things that worked and didn’t work for them. Therefore, we have rounded up some amazing educators to share their experiences from implementation. We hope you find these “lessons learned” useful in your new journey. We are better together.

Justin Endicott - Lead Community Coach - Open Up Resources

I can remember my first year with the EL Education K–8 Language Arts curriculum.  I was excited for a fresh start because I knew my students needed it. I was nervous about the implementation because I didn’t get any type of training and this was something I was doing completely on my own. I was anxious to see if my students could handle the rigor of the curriculum, and they absolutely could! I made a lot of mistakes my first couple of years, but my students still showed so much success that I had to keep pushing forward. Looking back, I wish I had someone with experience to guide me through, yet at the same time, I am proud of my perseverance. Here are lessons I wish I had known:

  1.  Always unpack the module before you start teaching it. My first year, I opened the book to Lesson 1, taught Lesson 1, and then started Lesson 2 the next day. I didn’t know the end goal for my students. I found that if I spent the extra time looking at the performance tasks and unit assessments, I knew exactly where we would end up. This allowed me to make the appropriate pedagogical decisions in the middle of my lessons when the time came.   
  2. Don’t be afraid to annotate the teaching notes in the slides. The slides created by the community of teachers at Open Up Resources are great for pacing, but they also come with full teaching notes containing all the questions students should be asked as well as teacher moves. I found it was beneficial for me to put all the questions I would ask in red bold text and the possible responses in blue bold text. That way, when I glanced down in the middle of my teaching, I would access them quickly.
  3. Study the protocols and know how they work. Have a set of protocols that are easy to implement in your back pocket. These increase engagement and can add to the discussion in your classroom. Don’t be afraid to add a protocol.
  4. You are the driver of the curriculum. This has quickly become the slogan I am known by. The four Ts are there and should not be altered; however, you know your students best.  If they need additional scaffolding, feel free to add it.  
  5. Find a system of organization. Find a way to organize your materials that work for YOU! You will find tons of examples from other teachers and it may be that you decide to use some of their ideas.  
  6. Connect to the community. The Open Up Resources Facebook communities are amazing. At any time, you will have thousands of teachers there to help you with any questions you might have. You will get ideas for your classroom and 24/7 support. I encourage everyone to connect!
  7. Watch the support videos. There are a lot of instructional videos on the EL website that show an in-depth look of what a classroom might look like. They have videos modeling the protocols, close reading procedures, and much more.

Cassie Leiby - Open Up Resources EL Education K–2 Community Coach

  1. Use labels. Find a way of organizing the materials, lessons, and all of the pieces that work best for you! Label, label, label everything! Make sure every anchor chart, every vocabulary word, every learning target, and every student response sheet has a label on it for the module, unit, and lesson.
  2. Collaborate with others. Collaborate with your team on a weekly basis during the first few years of the curriculum. Document what worked out well, what needs improvement, and check in frequently with your team! Divide & conquer. Split up the work that needs to be done amongst your team so each person has the same materials. Collaborate with specialists like music to assist with those songs in the K–2 curriculum. Physical education might assist with movement or games regarding your topic, and art could assist with the literacy labs and scientific drawings.
  3. You know best. My first year, I sat with the book on my lap terrified that I would miss something or do something wrong. It caused me so much stress and my students knew it. I wish someone would have told me that I could make those natural changes that I felt would be the best for my students. I followed the script word-for-word and I felt guilty for making adjustments with scaffolds like sentence starters. But throughout the years, I have learned that this is not the case! Like Justin had stated above, you are the driver of the curriculum, you know your students best, and you know what scaffolds your students need to reach the end goal. This curriculum gives you the road map and the tools, but you get to make it fit your personal teaching style.
  4. Use the slides for pacing. When we adapted the curriculum for our first graders in the Fall of 2017, slides were not created yet. When the slides first came out, I just used them as an easy prep for my substitutes, but I have started to use the slides from Open Up Resources, and it has helped my pacing so much! I initially worried that if I used the slides, I would lose the engagement piece, but when I use it as a pacing guide, adding timers to the slides helps to move us along.
  5. Prioritize social emotional learning. I am going to be very honest, my first year I was always going over my Module time due to a number of typical things that can pop up with a busy batch of 1st graders. I would find myself cutting out the 5-10 minute social emotional closing piece at the end of the lesson. Every Module, I challenged myself to do better with the closing, but that first year was tough and I always found myself skipping it. When year two came around, I made it a mission and a priority to not skip the social emotional piece and – wow – did it make a difference! Not only were my students able to debrief the lesson, they learned how to acknowledge their progress by evaluating their struggles, successes, and how they used various habits of character. When students began to be honest about their progress – both with themselves and others – I witnessed a tighter bond form amongst the class. They began putting their trust in their classmates. I witnessed my first graders taking initiative to request feedback from students they typically didn’t interact with, because they trusted that these students would provide the most helpful and kind suggestions to make their work better.
  6. Plan for the year. Grab out a calendar and a pencil to physically plan out your school year. Start with the district calendar, add in those holiday celebrations/parties, put in field trips, then start backward planning the Module lessons. Plan for one lesson per day and add a buffer day at the end of each module to account for adjustments that need to be made along the way for concert practices, conferences, snow days, possible pandemics, etc… You know, the usual teacher things.
  7. Seek out help. Open Up Resources Facebook communities have been a HUGE help! I have taken so many ideas off of the community groups! There are free materials created by other teachers who are living in the curriculum on a daily basis. The monthly Open Up Resources PLC meetings are also a great way to bring questions to the table and pick the brains of other teachers who know all the tips and tricks. There is power in numbers and having platforms to seek out help has been such a game changer. 

Esmeralda Rivera - Open Up Resources EL Education 3–5 Community Coach

  1. Refrain from “taking it one lesson at a time.” Unpack the module by analyzing the overview. Complete the mid-unit and end-of unit assessments prior to launching the units. Lastly, analyze the final performance task. This will help drive instruction and determine the “heart” of the lessons leading up to the assessments. After I started this practice, it gave me a better understanding of the purpose of the  lessons and how they build on each other. 
  2. Build community with social emotional learning. After my first year of implementation, I learned the importance of including the Social-Emotional Learning component. During my first year, we would partially discuss the habits of character. As my pacing improved, I became more intentional with the habits of character. These are purposefully embedded in the lessons. Through the habits of character, there is a stronger sense of community in the classroom, which in turn students feel socially and emotionally supported. EL Education has a three-dimensional view of student achievement. Character is one! 
  3. Use varying protocols. Determine which ones work best for your students and when. When I started to implement the curriculum, my “go-to” was Think-Pair-Share because it was the one with which I felt most comfortable. However, as I stepped out of my comfort zone and started to use others, there was more student engagement. These total participation protocols promote productive and equitable discussions. 
  4. Be a facilitator with “Catch and Release.” EL Education K–5 Language Arts is a rigorous curriculum. It is different from anything I used before. At times, I found myself thinking: “This is too hard for my students.” I learned to shift my mindset and began to allow the students to grapple and productively struggle with something within their reach. I learned to see my role as a facilitator. So, provide support and scaffolds (but don’t over-scaffold). Determine which scaffolds will lead your students to success. This promotes autonomy and a growth mindset. 

Megan Kruse - PreK–12 Literacy Coach (Fort Madison, IA)

  1. Use the Teacher Guide first, then the slides:  The slides provided by Open Up Resources are nothing short of AMAZING! Use them for every lesson: they provide great visuals, a steady pace, plenty of notes straight from the teacher guide, and are perfectly aligned with the sequence of the lesson. But before stepping into the lesson with your students, it is best to use the Teacher Guide as your first go-to. If you are fortunate enough to treat those guides as your own, mark them up as you read through them. In the spirit of Backward Planning, visit the Teacher Guide for the upcoming Module a week or two before launching the module, ideally with your team members. Pay special attention to the Module and Assessment Overviews – look for the story that unfolds over the three units. Look at each unit overview: they provide a great snapshot of each lesson in the unit.
  2. The Read, Think, Talk, Write Cycle is living and breathing in (nearly) every lesson! It is a central feature of the curriculum. As you preview each lesson, look for the times throughout the lesson that students will be engaging in reading, thinking, talking, and writing. Mark those places up in your teacher guide. Know that they won’t always be in that exact order, and depending on the lesson, one activity will get more time than another. Help students recognize each component of the cycle as they are engaged in it.
  3. The EL Education Curriculum is rooted in the Science of Reading. As an instructional coach, I wish I had done a better job – when working with teachers – of highlighting the connections to The Science of Reading which has deep roots in the Simple View of Reading and Scarborough’s Reading Rope. The Simple View of Reading tells us that: decoding x language comprehension = reading comprehension. Hollis Scarborough’s Reading Rope expands on this same idea. Essentially, EL’s K-2 Foundational Skills component addresses the decoding side of the equation, while EL’s K-8 Modules component addresses the language comprehension side of the equation.  It’s a beautiful and simple way to understand the why of the curriculum!
  4. The EL Modules are grounded in the 3 ELA shifts as outlined by the Common Core. During Module lessons, students regularly engage with complex text, they ground everything in evidence, and they build knowledge through content rich nonfiction (and fiction!). In our district, we were initially so worried about our students being able to handle the complexity of the curriculum. We have discovered that they absolutely can!  The productive struggle is very real, and oh-so-important!

Jean Hurst - Literacy Coach/Intervention Teacher (Rochester, NY)

  1. The Read-Think-Talk-Write cycle (RTTW) is a really thorough, effective, and efficient way of supporting students to dig deep into the topic. You'll find that in every module, you read about the topic, think about it, talk about it, write about it! This happens within and across each unit AND even within the lesson. The protocols for student discourse are so important. As others have shared, familiarize yourself with them. You can use them in other parts of your day as well!
  2. There is LOTS of reading in the curriculum! I came from a hybrid word work/guided reading background and at first, I felt like students did not have enough “independent books in their hands.” I worried that they weren’t reading enough and I wasn’t hearing them read enough aloud. It took a while for me to fully understand that my students were immersed in so much reading in ways that were very different from what I had been used to – but which were propelling them in ways I had not seen before. Students grapple with complex language and syntax, they participate in conversations around multiple texts on a topic. They discuss and use rich vocabulary. They devour their decodable readers and are forever pointing out what they know about sounds in words and how they’re spelled (my favorite to date: “Ms. Hurst, what’s up with Chipotle? It’s a consonant -le syllable type, shouldn’t it be ‘chipote-ell’?”) They get it. They love words and want to talk about them. They pore over informational text and picture books and use and point out multiple text features along the way. They are reading ALL THE TIME.
  3. The “script” is not a script meant to be read verbatim. It is meant to give you the picture of what the intended thinking should be. When I read the “script” ahead of the lesson I think “Ah! That’s what they’re getting at!” I like to use the metaphor of learning to dance. When I first learned West Coast Swing and Lindy Hop, I had to recognize the basic six and eight count moves, the timing of the dance, and the overall dance aesthetic. As I danced more and more, I became super comfortable with the structure of the dance and how it looks and feels. I am now able to fully connect with the music and my dance partners on the dance floor and make it my own. Think of it this way, when you go to a Lindy Hop social dance, you look out on the dance floor and you can tell that everyone is dancing the same dance – all of the essential structures are in place. But everyone is making it their own. It’s really fun to watch.