Switching from the CKLA’s Grades K–2 curriculum in 2021–2022 to the combination of Wit & Wisdom® (English language arts), Geodes® (content-rich books for emerging readers), and Fundations® from Wilson Language Training (a foundational phonics program based on the science of reading) was all about creating a more coherent, book-rich learning experience for students at Center City Public Charter Schools in Washington, DC.
Educators appreciate how seamlessly Wit & Wisdom, Geodes, and Fundations work together. “We believe in the science of reading, so it was a no-brainer to align our foundational skills program to Geodes and Wit & Wisdom,” says Kate Merrill, the school’s director of curriculum and instruction. “They’re designed to go together. If you don’t do all three, you’re doing a disservice.” Adds Grade 2 teacher Kerry Cassidy: “They’re a perfect combination—texts that are complex and decodable.”
Center City had been using Wit & Wisdom in Grades 3–8 for a few years before adding the earlier grades. “We liked that this was such a book-heavy curriculum. I’d much rather spend on books than workbooks,” shares Merrill. “Teachers were so excited to have real books for the kids.” In contrast to our previous curricula, students are now able to apply their skills to full grade-level texts.
“I love that we’re using multiple trade books [the kind of award-winning books you find in libraries and bookstores] along with paintings. These resources give us such instructional depth for an entire quarter,” says Natasha Taylor, curriculum and instruction specialist for Grades PK3–2.
“These books are not basic like CKLA [the previous curriculum]. [Wit & Wisdom core texts are] such rich, complex texts, with so much intentionality,” says Cassidy. She singles out Ruby Bridges’ memoir (Ruby Bridges Goes to School, in Grade 2 Module 3, Civil Rights Heroes) for teaching about social justice, fairness, and other issues that are relevant to her students’ lives today.
Integrated Reading and Writing Skills
The educators also appreciate how effectively writing is integrated into the curriculum, which helps students build deep knowledge by connecting reading and writing assignments to each other around important topics. Teachers were especially concerned that the previous curriculum was not preparing students for the level of writing required in Grade 3 and beyond. The new materials have gone “above and beyond expectations,” says Merrill. Adds Cassidy: “My second graders’ paragraphs will blow you away. They’re writing simple sentences with evidence and details.”
Expanding Use of PhD Science® Too
Adopting the trio of aligned Grades K–2 ELA materials was just one of the major changes the school made to start the 2021–2022 school year. It began using PhD Science in those grades as well. Center City had been using PhD Science in Grades 3 and 4 for one year. “It was a difficult decision to make, but we decided to go big or go home,” says Merrill, adding that almost all the Grades K¬–2 teachers supported the shift. “Everyone knows high-quality curriculum is in the best interest of children,” says Taylor. “It’s an equity issue.”
Supports from Trusted Colleagues
To be sure, teachers found the new curricula challenging initially, especially as the school was still navigating the pandemic. “We knew it would be tough, but we said we’d all do the best we could,” says Taylor. “There is so much rich information in each lesson that pacing was hard at first. It was a real learning curve for teachers,” she adds.
Extensive support has been key. The Grades K–2 educators piloted one module of the K–2 materials while working virtually last spring to get familiar with the programs’ structures. Great Minds® conducted professional development sessions for Wit & Wisdom and Geodes as did Wilson Language Training for Fundations®. The school provides a dedicated instructional coach for Grades K–2 and organizes professional development sessions five times a year based on teachers’ needs. Professional learning communities offer ongoing opportunities for teachers to hone their knowledge and skills. “We’ve really wanted to give teachers a chance to dig into the modules and lessons,” says Taylor.
Students and Teachers Alike Benefit
"We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response,” says Merrill.
Center City educators offer several pieces of advice for others who are starting to use the new programs in combination.
- Stick with it.
- Have fun.
- Let go and allow students to do more of the work.
- Lean into where students might need more support.
- Make sure primary teachers understand the science of reading and how children learn.
- Get teacher buy-in at the front end and then follow through with ongoing support.
“When teachers feel supported, they and their students do amazing things,” says Taylor.
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Jenny has over a decade of experience in education policy and research. She has worked with states and districts on the development and implementation of college and career readiness policies, especially around the implementation of rigorous standards and high-quality instructional materials. She has extensive knowledge about K–12 standards, graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems nationwide. Additionally, she has conducted research for school districts to address pressing needs in those districts. Jenny received her B.A. in English and education from Bucknell University and her M.Ed. in education policy from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.