Message from Dr. Reilly
Dear Teachers and Instructional Staff,
It was late in the evening when I opened Ms. Salerno’s email. Attached to it were samples of first-grade children’s writing about Africa. These were full-page texts with deliberate leads, a variety of details, and conclusions. Capitalization of sentences and proper nouns, along with punctuation, were not only present but correct. The texts were written in response to the curriculum and demonstrated knowledge about the African continent that the children had learned. As I read the work, I wondered about the implementation of the Writing Revolution (TWR). Ms. Salerno confirmed that she and the other first-grade teachers at Elliott Street School were directly teaching the content from TWR as well as our reading curriculum.
A week later I was standing in the back of a third-grade classroom reading compositions about the differences between political and physical maps in Ms. Tavares’ third-grade classroom at Park Elementary School. What struck me about the compositions in grade 3 was the specificity of comments by the teacher. All feedback was actionable. Like the first-grade teachers at Elliott, Ms. Tavares also included comments referencing learned content from TWR and the reading curriculum.
Last Friday, I read the posted composition of grade 2 students at South 17th Street School in the hallway outside Ms. Simpson’s classroom. The children were writing in response to the text, Stitchin’ and Pullin’. In writing about the subject of the book and quilting, one child explained that Baby Girl wanted to begin to quilt like Mama and Grandma. “You need to find your heart,” her mom told her. “So, Baby Girl…cut her uncle’s old corduroy pants and her cousin’s white handkerchief. However, Baby Girl was not finished. She had to find her heart. A few days later she found her heart. It was grandma’s old dress”, the second grader wrote. The writer went on to explain how Baby Girl added pieces of cloth from her grandma’s dress and that completed the quilt. This level of explanation and detail was present in many of the writings. Later, Ms. Simpson explained how much she loved teaching the text, what she did last year, and what she decided to do this year. As I listened, I thought about the importance of teaching rehearsals when teaching complex curricula.
This week, the Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics residency launched with 100 Newark teachers from 44 NPS schools. Teachers engaged with the infamous Bridge and Torch thinking task. On Wednesday, the grade 4 students in Ms. Jara’s class at Lafayette Street School engaged in the same thinking task. Ms. Jara’s facilitation of the task promoted authentic student thinking, productive struggle, student collaboration and discourse, and the joy of the “a-ha” moment when students arrived at the solution.
To move academic achievement in Newark Public Schools, the implementation of curricula must be realized. Deep implementation requires rehearsals like Ms. Simpson and Ms. Jara did and the follow-through to bring that work to the classroom. It requires teamwork as the first-grade teachers did. It requires specificity of language to guide the development of students’ thinking as Ms. Tavares did. In all cases, these teachers demonstrated how their students’ successes were directly connected to how well they planned. One might say they practice relentless implementation of the curriculum.
Great planning is needed to practice the relentless implementation of the curriculum. I urge all to make great use of PLC time for planning instruction with colleagues and for school administrators to make sure that this is realized. Unclutter PLCs from other demands and plan well. Give yourselves time to collaboratively create a deeper understanding of and adaptations to the curriculum to meet the emerging needs of students.
If you are one of the 50 teachers signed up for the Teaching Comprehension Conversations in Grades 3-5 Residency that begins on February 23, I look forward to working with you.
What rests in your hands is consequential. It always has been. Consistently effective planning will help NPS realize better academic outcomes for all of our learners.