This month, we asked educators across the country to reflect on how they engage families and caregivers in the Wit & Wisdom® curriculum. Anna Bradshaw, a multi classroom leader in Crossett School District in Arkansas and professional development facilitator for Great Minds®, describes how she has found natural pathways for family engagement with the curriculum.
When I reflect on my experience implementing Wit & Wisdom, my mind often gravitates to students’ engagement in rich literature and the support from their families that extended their learning beyond the walls of my classroom. Family relationships have always been a priority in my teaching career, but I often found myself pondering how I could bring my literacy curriculum beyond the school property and into students’ daily lives. All educators want to foster students’ positive relationships with books and support their natural love of reading. And we know that families play an important role in helping students reach these goals by encouraging lifelong learning.
Wit & Wisdom lends itself to natural engagement with families. When students engage with Grade 4 Module 1: A Great Heart, the discoveries they make about the literal and figurative meanings of the word heart often spark conversations with their families. Inspired to learn more, families often purchase or check out from the library the recommended texts from the module’s Volume of Reading list at the back of the Student Edition. Families have friendly debates at the dinner table because of the deep-seated feelings students develop about the famous colonial battles they study in Grade 4 Module 3: The Redcoats Are Coming!
Wit & Wisdom opens the way for teachers to invite all families and caregivers into classrooms. One of the most valuable resources that Wit & Wisdom offers is the Family Tip Sheet in English and Spanish. This resource, provided for each module, gives an overview of the module, suggests ways families can participate in students’ learning, and lists books students can read at home for further information. Families and caregivers can use this resource to preview the content of the module and generate questions they may want to ask the teacher. I also encourage families to help students make connections between the content and their personal lives. Family Tip Sheets are provided in several different languages and families are encouraged to discuss the content in their home language. We don’t just create readers in our classrooms; we create literacy-minded families. Students share their creative writing with their families, discuss what they notice and wonder, and answer their families’ questions about the curriculum. Many parents have noticed that a strong, grade-level curriculum challenges their children and broadens their horizons.
Personal conversations, rather than standard report cards, are the primary method I use to communicate student growth with families. While traditional grading is part of the school year, I take great pride in personally communicating students’ growth to their families. I often use anecdotes from interactions that occur during Wit & Wisdom lessons to show families how students are developing various skills. For instance, I have shared students’ work and contributions to Chalk Talks, where students have responded to interesting questions, to ensure that families understand their child’s success with peer collaborations. These moments of growth more meaningfully demonstrate a student’s success than a reading assessment can. One of my fondest memories as an educator involved explaining to a parent how their child found success through nurturing their conversational abilities during a Socratic Seminar.
One of my proudest engagement moments occurred during Grade 4 Module 1: A Great Heart. The module dives deep into the characteristics of both a physical and a figurative great heart. I invited a student’s grandmother, a retired nurse, to talk to the class about the characteristics of a healthy heart. Her presentation occurred during our school’s Grandparents’ Day celebration, when other grandparents and members of the community visited my classroom, engaged in Wit & Wisdom activities, and gained valuable heart health tips. She incorporated demonstrations regarding the value of eating heart-healthy foods and exercising. Some grandparents even jumped rope! Attendees had their blood pressure taken and were reminded of the importance of blood pressure health. Because of this demonstration, grandparents were able to answer the module’s Essential Question—What does it mean to have a great heart, literally and figuratively?—and leave feeling like valued members of their grandchild’s classroom.
We know that Wit & Wisdom’s accessibility, rigor, and depth of background knowledge help children find their greatness. However, one of the curriculum’s unspoken benefits is the way it organically creates family engagement. The Grade 4 curriculum is at the heart of my experiences, but this type of engagement reigns throughout all grade levels. Family engagement happens because of rich literature, compelling themes, and the way it helps students apply their knowledge to the world around them.
Anna Bradshaw is from a small town in southeastern Arkansas. She is a multi-classroom leader in Crossett School District where she supports third through sixth grade literacy teachers. Crossett School District was one of the first schools in Arkansas to adopt Wit & Wisdom. She taught fourth grade for five years before transitioning into her coaching role for the 2021 - 2022 school year. She had the honor to win CES Teacher of the Year in 2020. Wit & Wisdom has changed the trajectory of her teaching career by providing the opportunity to be part of the Fellowship and the ability to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful.
Topics: Family Engagement