Important things are happening in Ohio in the world of literacy instruction. As district and school leaders work to ensure their students are receiving the best possible education, they are seeking out knowledge and strategies around reading science and the components of aligned systems. One of the questions that comes up often is around how to set a schedule that provides the best opportunity for teachers to meet student needs. Not only are leaders revamping master schedules, but they are digging deeper into the appropriate stages of the balance between the elements of word recognition and language comprehension across different grade levels. This is no easy task with curricular and other demands, but the work is important because the amount of quality instruction provided is the biggest alterable factor in student learning! What follows are some thoughts to help provide guidance to district and school leaders who are currently grappling with this issue.
A question that is asked frequently revolves around the recommendations for the amount of instructional minutes of English Language Arts that should be allocated for each grade level. With guidance from experts in the field (A Principal’s Primer for Raising Reading Achievement (2012) by Pati Montgomery, Melody Ilk, Louisa C. Moats), districts are working to align schedules with the following:
- 120-150 minutes for ELA in primary grades
- 90-120 minutes for ELA in third grade and beyond
Many districts are also including an intervention/extension block (or elective) as well (at least 30 minutes). This is a critical component for some students due to learning loss they have experienced in 2020 and 2021. When planning, many schools are incorporating the collaboration of multiple teachers/classrooms in their intervention/extension block, some allow teachers to conduct this block with only their own students, and others allow both options, depending on connected data, grade level systems, or other factors. It is critical to ensure that students are deeply engaged in grade level work and are also provided necessary opportunities to engage in scaffolding, interventions, and/or extensions.
The Changing Emphasis of Subskills – Critical to Consider
As leaders work to support teachers in planning effective reading/writing instructional blocks, they are looking to the Changing Emphasis of Subskills Chart in connection with Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement for guidance. This chart demonstrates the elements that require the strongest focus within specific grade levels. District and school leaders are analyzing offerings within their chosen curricula and ensuring that teachers spend an appropriate amount of time on different components within their ELA class or block. “Being smarter than our programs” is an important theme here, as leaders take focused time to consider how to effectively use evidence-based curricula to allow quality instruction to be provided in way that appropriately weights word recognition and language comprehension skills throughout different stages of learning.
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Other Ways to Leverage Time
Creating effective schedules and quality/manageable scheduling expectations is no easy task! Here are a few things that some schools and districts are considering as they are engaging in the decision-making and planning process:
- What model would best serve the students in your school(s) (in order to most effectively provide an adequate amount of instructional minutes in ELA-aligned classes) – self-contained or departmentalized?
- Is it possible for your district to offer options for students to experience intervention/extension opportunities outside of the normal school day?
- Does the scope and sequence of your ELA curriculum allow for natural connections to be made (through text sets) to other content areas? This integration may open up time for useful reading/writing practice activities.
- Have you considered learning about and training teachers/staff in all content areas about how to support disciplinary literacy?
- Have you considered training teachers in the importance of writing across content areas?
- How can you recruit community and/or family volunteers to support content scaffolding and practice efforts?
- What funding sources are available to support teachers with evidence-based resources or professional learning?
- How can you/your team schedule time for teachers to discuss these options and participate in implementation planning?
- How can you support teachers and staff in implementing strategies around daily time-management (ie: eliminating down time, shortening transition times, increasing student engagement, ensuring effective lesson pacing, etc.)
- How will you/your team monitor implementation, facilitate data-driven conversations, provide continued coaching as needed, and problem-solve any barriers that arise?
- What guidance can you provide to families in an effort to increase targeted supports for students?
- What systems need to be aligned in order to ensure the highest level of success (ie: Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, Ohio Improvement Process, Early Warning Indicators)
- What needs to be in place (training, systemic factors, etc.) in order to protect teacher and staff wellness and the resulting impacts?
As we begin to think about potential strategies, systemic changes, or other ideas that might support greater student achievement in our schools in the coming year, it is important to thoughtfully consider the possible cost of remaining comfortable and stagnant. It is imperative that educators live in a mindset of striving for continuous improvement. The amount of minutes that students are provided in reading and writing instruction, as well as the quality of how those minutes are spent, can greatly impact the trajectory of our students’ academic success. This can ultimately lead to differences in how they might experience adulthood, and how our communities function in the future. The work you are doing now is incredibly important, and being intentional about providing students with targeted support as needed (in addition to core instruction) should be a non-negotiable.