Organizing Middle School ELA Curriculum: Part 1

Introduction to Curriculum Writing

A well sequenced curriculum gives order and meaning to what is being taught and improves student learning. Depending on the content area, different approaches to sequencing a curriculum could be applied.

There are six basic approaches for organizing curriculum:

Introduction to the TEKS for ELA Grades 6-8

In grades six through eight, the state standards do not place an emphasis on learning to read, but rather on reading, understanding, and producing a variety of literary pieces. In ELA (English/Language Arts), Texas organized the standards into four strands: reading, writing, research, and listening and speaking. Consider the message on the Texas Education Agency’s website explaining the middle school English/Language Arts strands:

Reading, where students read and understand a wide variety of literary and informational texts;

Writing, where students compose a variety of written texts with a clear controlling idea, coherent organization, and sufficient detail;

Research, where students are expected to know how to locate a range of relevant sources and evaluate, synthesize, and present ideas and information;

Listening and Speaking, where students listen and respond to the ideas of others while contributing their own ideas in conversations and in groups; and Oral and

Written Conventions, where students learn how to use the oral and written conventions of the English language in speaking and writing.  (Texas Education Agency, 2009-2010)

In Texas, the ELA standards taught within these strands are cumulative and simultaneous (Texas Education Agency, 2009-2010). Keeping in mind that students in the middle grades will have to build on previously learned concepts while learning new concepts in all the strands, an approach where reading, writing, research, listening and speaking skills are integrated into every unit of study, would be the best way to sequence an integrated ELA curriculum (Rakow, 2008).

How NOT to Organize your ELA Curriculum

  • A part-to-whole approach would not be entirely appropriate for middle school ELA. While some skills may lend themselves to a part-to-whole approach (for example, teaching sequential order before teaching cause and effect is appropriate because students need to understand placing events in time order) this approach is not appropriate for all of the standards. Teaching “author’s purpose” for example can be taught at anytime of the year because, depending on the genre, authors write for many different purposes. Students need to be able to determine the author’s purpose of multiple types of genres, therefore this particular skill must be taught or reviewed many times during the school year.
  • Additionally, there are too many ELA TEKS to teach them chronologically. Teaching the standards in “TEK order” (the numerical order in which they appear from TEA) would be time consuming. There are over 100 topics and subtopics in the seventh grade ELA standards. If a teacher decided to teach the seventh grade ELA standards in TEK order, then days, weeks, or months, of instruction for the remaining strands and standards would be lost
  • Teaching the standards in a non-integrated, isolated way in ELA can limit the depth in which a student can learn and understand the content (Rakow, 2008). An example would be: “Ok kids, today we are going to learn about main idea. Tomorrow we are moving on to author’s purpose. A major point of Margaret Kilgo’s research stresses that the standards in ELA will be tested at a higher Bloom’s level than ever before, starting in 2012 on the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test. The figure below explores the relationship between the levels of comprehension needed for the STAAR test identified by Maraget Kilgo compared to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Because the new standards and STAAR test assess students at a higher level, the curriculum being used must be written in a way that will address the high intellectual demands of the STAAR test. In order to get to the depth and complexity required in the STAAR test, Reading and Writing curriculum should be integrated and taught in thematic units (Kilgo, 2011 and Rakow, 2008)

Coming Soon in Part 2: Recommendations for Organizing your ELA Curriculum, What the National Council of Teachers of English Says, Tips for Getting Started


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