Part One of Two
School is a unique journey for every student. Some of that novelty stems from students’ choices in navigating their educational experience, but other differences aren’t by choice. Discrepancies between school systems, standards and expectations can present unnecessary challenges as students manage multiple subject areas and progress through grade levels. I observed this in my experience as a high school teacher and vice principal of academics, and these observations are what inspired the Bainum Family Foundation to develop the Instructional Framework for 21st-Century Educators — a research-based scope and sequence for teaching English/Language Arts literacy standards from kindergarten through eighth grade.
My colleague Ginger Slaughter — also a teacher — introduced the Instructional Framework on our blog last year, but given the exciting update on the Framework that we’ll be sharing next week (stay tuned!), we first wanted to share the impetus behind it.
Across the United States, the education system faces many challenges, including high school readiness gaps, textbook-driven instruction and inconsistent learning expectations for students. From our work and partnerships with Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) schools, as well as my experience working in them prior to joining the Foundation, we also saw these challenges firsthand in faith-based settings and felt we could help address them as part of our SDA Initiative. This initiative, established to honor our founders’ commitment to faith-based education, formerly focused on helping individual students and schools through scholarships and grants. Now, our efforts are targeted toward making improvements at a systems level to achieve broader and more sustainable impact.
Across all our initiatives, our Foundation works to be a convener, collaborator and capacity-builder across all of our efforts — and back in 2012, we leveraged this unique position to begin a new effort to enhance the quality of faith-based education. And we did it in partnership with experts in our region, including administrators and teachers from several local SDA schools and Conferences across the greater Washington, D.C., area.
For our work with the Instructional Framework, we set two primary goals: 1) develop a scope and sequence for grade-level learning expectations that provide continuity as students progress from one grade level to the next, and 2) assist schools located in the same region in delivering consistent instruction at each level. These two goals possessed potential to strengthen both individual schools as well as systems — enhancing classroom instruction and student achievement.
Having developmentally appropriate, rigorous and consistent learning standards at each grade level is paramount for success; therefore, we delved into research to identify what exactly those standards and assessments should be. This process led us to Common Core State Standards and Partnership for 21st-Century Skills — both widely adopted, research-driven and focused on instructing and supporting the whole child. With these standards identified, we then looked at how teachers design their instruction to foster these skills in their students. This is where the Instructional Framework came in — to strengthen teachers’ planning in a way that saves them time and provides them with the needed autonomy to meet the individual needs of students in their classrooms.
We yet again returned to exploring key research-based approaches — the Understanding by Design framework developed by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, The Framework for Teaching developed by Charlotte Danielson and tips shared in The Highly Engaged Classroom by Robert Marzano. We then interviewed and hired experts well-versed in reading, English/Language Arts and curriculum writing to form our Instructional Framework writer workgroup. Leveraging the frameworks we found in our research, these writers came together to develop grade-level specific English/Language Arts frameworks both aligned with the Common Core State Standards and consistent across grade levels. The writers’ work — which included content, instructional practices and all research-based components behind successful instruction — was regularly reviewed and critiqued by a project review team, composed of more than 20 teachers and educational leaders within the SDA education system.
Initially, we hired the writer workgroup with the belief that multiple perspectives would add value, but we found that this approach put “too many cooks in the kitchen” and we struggled to achieve consistency in our overall tone across the materials. So, we streamlined our efforts by creating a full-time job for Ginger Slaughter, who at the time was one of our key writers and possessed a particularly strong skill set for this work. In her new role, Ginger would not only be the lead writer for the Instructional Framework — collaborating with contributing writers and ensuring continuity — but would also, in 2014, oversee its two-year pilot at a school in Hyattsville, Maryland. (You can read more about that pilot in Ginger’s blog post here.)
Her work, along with the Instructional Framework, has rapidly developed since then — and you’ll see that for yourself in next week’s post. She’ll pick up right where I left off. Stay tuned.
Additional note: Along with Ginger’s invaluable contributions and leadership, I wanted to extend my gratitude to Linda Natale, who served as our consultant. Linda’s expertise in professional development and job-embedded coaching for pre-K to 12th grade teachers paired with her exceptional ability to design and deliver training materials was an immense asset to our work. We truly could not have done this without her. Thank you, Linda — as a result of your hard work and collaboration with us, the Instructional Framework is making a difference for many students and teachers.