New English Language Arts Curriculum Fosters Excitement about Reading and Writing for Students and Teachers Alike

RIPLEY, TN — This week, the Knowledge Matters Campaign visited Lauderdale County as part of a national tour that highlights schools and districts across the country using high-quality instructional materials to enhance student engagement and literacy. Ripley and Halls Elementary schools were featured for the work they are doing to foster students’ love of reading and writing as part of their adoption of a new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum, Wit and Wisdom. 

“The Knowledge Matters School Tour highlights schools that are committed to providing teachers and students with access to high-quality ELA instructional materials that build students’ knowledge of the world as it teaches them to become strong readers and writers,” said Barbara Davidson, Executive Director of the Knowledge Matters Campaign. 

During the tour, national instructional experts spend two days in featured schools interviewing principals and teachers, observing classrooms, reviewing student work, and holding roundtable discussions that give school leaders, teachers, and parents an opportunity to share the impact the curriculum is having on student achievement. This week’s visits to Ripley and Halls Elementary schools included Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn and Assistant Commissioner Lisa Coons. 

“We are honored that Lauderdale County is being recognized for their hard work and commitment to providing students with access to high-quality ELA materials and instruction every day. The work of Director Shawn Kimble and his team is directly aligned to priority one of our Tennessee Best for All strategic plan,” said Penny Schwinn, Tennessee Commissioner of Education. 

State Representative Chris Hurt joined the round table discussion at Ripley Elementary on Wednesday morning to hear about the impact Wit and Wisdom is having on literacy in the district directly from Lauderdale’s educators. “As a former teacher, I know how important it is for a district to provide schools with great instructional materials and the support needed to use those materials well. I am excited to hear about the reading improvements happening in Lauderdale County Public Schools and I am committed to helping other districts achieve the same success,” said Hurt. 

Both the school tours and round table discussions highlighted many common success stories that are indicative of the use of high-quality ELA instructional materials.

1.       High-Quality Instructional Materials Foster Students’ Love of Reading: Overwhelmingly, school leaders, teachers, parents, and students all said that the new curriculum has nurtured a deep love of reading with students. As a result, student engagement is at an all-time high, and students in 3rd grade who have experienced Wit and Wisdom for multiple years, are outpacing their peers in grades 4 and 5. 

“This curriculum allows us to set a bar high for our students, and they are meeting it. The collaboration I am seeing between students in classrooms and the paragraphs I am seeing our Kindergarten students write, will change what you think is possible as a school leader,” said Andy Campbell, Principal, Halls Elementary School.

2.       High-Quality Instructional Materials Support Struggling Students: One of the biggest impacts that teachers and school leaders highlighted was that the new curriculum accelerates the learning of struggling students, and breaks down equity barriers in classrooms by allowing all students to engage in grade-level texts, regardless of their background, performance level, or learning challenges. 

“This curriculum has allowed us to reach every child, and every child is learning. When you walk into a classroom, you can’t tell who the students with disabilities or low readers are. Everyone is engaged,” said Theresa White, Principal, Ripley Elementary.

3.       High-Quality Instructional Materials Support Teachers by Providing Clear Goals and Expectations for Student Learning: Lauderdale’s teachers talked frequently about how the curriculum provides them with a roadmap of where students need to be by the end of the school year and how the tools and lesson plans help them get there.

“In the past, we gave teachers the standards and assessments, and expected them to fill in the blanks. Now they have a roadmap of where to go with their students, and have more time to focus on bringing lessons to life and meeting students’ individual needs,” said Shawn Kimball, Superintendent, Lauderdale County Public Schools.

The Knowledge Matters Campaign is a project of StandardsWork, a “do tank” that focuses on levers and tools that support academic improvement. The campaign is designed to garner national awareness of the importance of building students’ background knowledge of the world through high-quality literacy instruction. The Knowledge Matters Campaign plans to visit additional schools in Tennessee over the coming months. Details on these visits and accompanying roundtable discussions will be released later this year.