When Orangeburg County School District (SC) began implementing Wit & Wisdom® in Grades K–8 during the 2020–2021 school year, there were many changes and challenges occurring throughout the county. The district was newly consolidated, teachers were implementing new curricula in English language arts (ELA), math, science, and social studies, and the COVID-19 pandemic forced teachers to rapidly adjust to remote instruction.
“We were experiencing so much when we started to implement these curricula. COVID hit, and we had to learn so many new things in tandem that it was difficult for teachers to figure out the priority,” recalls Dr. Terry Fludd, Director of School Improvement and Innovation.
Adopted Wit & Wisdom in the 2020–2021 school year
In that first year, Orangeburg teachers used the Great Minds in Sync™ digital curriculum platform, which allowed the district to learn about Wit & Wisdom and begin implementation while navigating remote instruction. In 2021–2022, with a return to face-to-face instruction, the district focused on expanding teachers’ knowledge and implementing all components of the curriculum with fidelity.
In Orangeburg, the first step in navigating such a complex implementation was providing Great Minds® professional development and coaching for their leaders and teachers. All teachers participated in the foundational Launch and Module and Lesson Study professional development sessions. Reading coaches and building administrators participated in Wit & Wisdom’s personalized coaching series, which they have continued this year, so they can effectively support implementation in their schools.
What Is a Learning walk?
A learning walk is a brief classroom visit that enables district leaders, building leaders, reading coaches, and/or teachers to see Wit & Wisdom implementation in action. Learning walks can help uncover implementation trends within and across grade levels and inform future areas for coaching and professional learning.
"Participation in learning walks with Great Minds specialists, district leaders, and teachers was very eye-opening," says Dr. Fludd. She also highlighted the coaching around guided observations and the Wit & Wisdom Teaching and Learning Progression tool as particularly instrumental in moving their implementation forward.
"Our coaches are looking at how to use those tools in order to effectively implement and provide intentional support that will help teachers as they strive to teach with fidelity. The Teaching and Learning Progression Tool helps our coaches understand what implementation should look like for teachers as well as what teachers should see students doing throughout the lessons. This has really helped as we have had all hands-on deck in lifting the curriculum."
Growing Excitement for Relevant, Content-Rich Texts
School-level administrators perform weekly classroom walkthroughs to observe teachers and provide feedback, and reading coaches and instructional technology specialists conduct observations and provide coaching as well. They are thrilled to see improvements in teacher practice already.
“The knowledge of the curriculum has been a struggle, but it has been a good struggle because people have been forced to learn it and grow with it,” says Instructional Technology Facilitator Anna Smith. As teachers have embraced the curriculum and their knowledge of it has grown, so has their ability to connect Wit & Wisdom texts to current events, which has bolstered student engagement.
At one school, Grade 6 students started Module 4—Courage in Crisis, which details the story of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton—the same week Shackleton’s lost vessel, the Endurance, was found at the bottom of the Weddell Sea. “It was exciting planning with that teacher and seeing those kids getting it. They would say ‘Oh I saw that on the news the other night; that’s what we were reading about.’ She was making those real-world connections and getting kids excited about reading,” Smith says.
Smith has also been excited to see non-ELA teachers wanting to transfer some of Wit & Wisdom into their own subject areas thanks to the content-rich texts used throughout the curriculum. One high school agriculture teacher saw the novel Hatchet being taught in his child’s classroom and, Smith explains, “he reached out for support and said ‘listen, I’ve never taught a novel, but I want to teach a novel and I want to teach Hatchet. I can scaffold it up to [my students’] level, and it is totally relatable to my class on wilderness and wildlife.”
Even teachers skeptical of the curriculum have shown promising growth. A few teachers were resistant to the new texts, and building leaders dedicated time to coach and support them through the transition. Smith enthusiastically recalled her observation of a lesson when a teacher was able to connect a picture book about immigrants coming to Ellis Island with the war in Ukraine and skillfully engage her students in discussion about people fleeing their country and how that must feel.
“That module specifically showed her growth as a teacher and a learner. I like that the topics in Wit & Wisdom are pushing our teachers to grow and expose our students to texts they may not otherwise [read], and that it gives them opportunities to make those real-world connections,” Smith said.
Enthusiastic Learners Are Becoming Independent, Critical Thinkers
Smith has seen that growing enthusiasm for the curriculum transfer from teachers to their students, and she has noticed a big shift across grade levels toward students thinking more independently because of Wit & Wisdom’s design. “They’re not just regurgitating some vocabulary words and definitions,” she says, “they are truly being taught thematic units where they have to think about concepts like perseverance and how this person showed perseverance through the novel or how did they not.”
Dr. Fludd added that there has also been incredible value in the curriculum’s consistent structures and learning routines. Even with teachers at different levels with their own mastery, some students have been able to take ownership of their own learning and become leaders in the classroom.
“I’m happy to see independent thinkers even in elementary school because [students] will be able to transition those skills as they matriculate throughout school. They’ll move forward to middle school and will use those strategies to be self-reflective as well as explorers,” she says.
Although the pandemic did have some negative impacts on student learning, administrators remain optimistic, as the majority of students across grade levels demonstrated growth on their ELA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing from fall to winter of the 2021-2022 school year.
Advice for Others: Have Patience with Implementation
Reflecting on the district’s experience so far, Dr. Fludd says “the more that we learn as we move along with implementation, the more appreciative we become of the curriculum.” And she adds that giving yourself grace is critical when starting out. “The most important part is making sure leaders understand that this is a rigorous curriculum and that it’s going to take some time to study and implement. Great Minds offers layers of support, and their guidance will prove to be rewarding.”
Smith notes that those who decide to use Wit & Wisdom should start their implementation with a Module and Lesson Study professional development session to fully understand the curriculum’s design. She has appreciated how that session has helped teachers understand the various curriculum components and the importance of implementing with fidelity.
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Alyssa has nearly a decade of education research experience. She has led equity and student success research to support K-12 public school districts across the country in addressing their most pressing challenges, including college access, mental health, social emotional learning, and racial justice. Alyssa holds a B.A. in Psychology and Global Studies and an M.Ed. in Globalization and Educational Change from Lehigh University.