What Sets EL Education K–8 Language Arts from Open Up Resources Apart from Other Curricula?

Community Coach and Tennessee educator Esmeralda Rivera reflects about student achievement and EL Education K–8 Language Arts

After reviewing several curricula while on the ELA Curriculum Adoption Committee for my district, one of the many components about EL Education K–8 Language Arts from Open Up Resources that stood out to me was its vision of student achievement. The three-dimensional view helps prepare students beyond their school years. 

The three dimensions of student achievement are:

  • Mastery of Knowledge
  • Character
  • High-Quality Work

It is imperative to know that all three work in conjunction with one another and are equally important to achieve our students’ fullest potential.  

Let’s begin with Mastery of Knowledge. Students demonstrate proficiency and deeper understanding in a body of knowledge and skills within each discipline. They build background knowledge about real-world, compelling topics. Students transfer their knowledge into meaningful and rigorous tasks. Further, they clearly communicate their knowledge by writing, speaking, and presenting their ideas. 

What does this look like in the classroom? In third grade’s Module 4: Water Around the World: Unit 1, students build background knowledge about the importance of freshwater around the world through various texts, beginning with One Well: The Story of Water on Earth. The module progresses into learning about three issues related to water: access to water, demands on water, and water pollution. Students continue to gain knowledge on the topic through a true story about a boy named William Kamkwamba in the text The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, all while completing tasks providing daily opportunities for mastery of knowledge, standards, and skills. These opportunities can be scaffolded and students are gradually released to show mastery independently. 

As students work towards mastery of knowledge, they are also provided with daily opportunities to build character. Students work to become effective learners (develop mindsets and skills for success in college, career and life), become ethical people (treat others well and stand up for what is right), and contribute to a better world (put their learning to use to improve communities).  EL Education K–8 Language Arts intentionally embeds habits of character into the module lessons – they are connected, not separate, from academic tasks. 

For example, as students learn about the compelling story about William Kamkwamba, they are authentically learning about compassion and empathy, respect, perseverance and initiative. Students learn that people from across the world face challenges in accessing freshwater, and show empathy and compassion. More importantly, they learn to respect various cultures and places. Through the story, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, students also learn about perseverance and taking initiative. Like many other topics included in the curriculum, students are provided with real world examples and are given opportunities to put these habits of character into action in their own learning and lives. 

The final performance task for Module 4 leads students to collaboratively create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) and poster sharing their knowledge with others about the demands of water, access to water, and water pollution. This is an authentic chance for the students to contribute to a better world. In the classroom, it’s important to ensure all students understand the habits of character and eventually have student-led discussions about the habits. 

The last dimension, but certainly not least, is high-quality work. Students create complex work. They demonstrate higher-order thinking, multiple perspectives, and transfer their knowledge. Students also demonstrate craftsmanship. They create work they can take pride in completing and displaying. Equally important, students create work to demonstrate original thinking and that is meaningful to others. Additionally, their work connects to real world issues. For example, in Module 4: Water Around the World, students create authentic work in which they share their knowledge about water access, water pollution, and water demands in the PSA and on the poster they create as their performance task. Students take ownership of their learning and learn to effectively collaborate with peers to produce high quality work. 

During my first year teaching EL Education K–8 Language Arts, the dimension of student achievement I felt most familiar and comfortable with was mastery of knowledge. This dimension was easier to understand and execute because the curriculum aligns its lessons with standards, as students gain background knowledge through complex texts. In contrast, it was easy to omit habits of character when time adjustments to lessons were necessary.  

However, I quickly found out the importance of this dimension and the role it plays in student achievement. I learned that working on pacing the lessons was best, rather than omitting the authentic opportunities to build character. The dimension I would like to become more intentional with is the production of high-quality work. Specifically, in further supporting my students with craftsmanship: the attention to detail and beauty of their work. 

All three dimensions are equally important in our students’ achievement. 

Esmeralda Rivera is an elementary english language arts teacher in Hamilton County Public Schools (TN) and an Open Up Resources ELA 3-5 Community Coach.