At Great Minds®, we believe all students deserve opportunities to read complex texts, complete grade-level tasks, and engage in meaningful discussion with their peers. Placing complex grade-level texts in the hands of every student is at the center of Wit & Wisdom’s® learning design. These texts are the tools with which students build meaningful, deep knowledge about important topics. Although it is tempting to reduce text complexity to meet students where they are, this strategy is often subject to implicit bias and results in students—especially those most frequently underserved by schools—not meeting grade-level expectations.
So, as this next school year rises before us, how can teachers prepare for their students to enter the next grade level, perhaps without the typical prerequisite knowledge and skills, and succeed with the complex texts featured in Wit & Wisdom? We have a few recommendations to get teachers started:
- Use the preparation protocols to study modules, arcs, and lessons before instruction begins. The preparation protocols guide teachers to analyze the contributions of each text, test-drive the assessments, and study lessons in depth. Doing this work can help teachers understand how students should build both knowledge and skills throughout instruction. Regularly studying the content with colleagues helps teachers anticipate student misconceptions and plan just-in-time supports, such as posing follow-up questions, creating strategic student groupings, or identifying when to lean on an anchor chart or graphic organizer students created in a previous lesson.
- Analyze the daily Checks for Understanding to gather additional information about how students perform during each lesson. In Wit & Wisdom, each lesson has at least one daily Check for Understanding so that teachers can regularly monitor students’ progress. The Analyze box at the end of each lesson helps teachers consider whether they need to adjust pacing or create additional supports for students in upcoming lessons.
- Prepare for read aloud support and multiple opportunities for students to reread complex texts. Many students may need additional support accessing complex texts, especially if their foundational skills are lacking. In addition to providing systematic foundational skills instruction for students in Kindergarten through Grade 2, teachers at all grade levels should consider using audiobooks or recordings of themselves reading texts aloud. Alternatively, teachers can consider scheduling another time in the school day, perhaps at breakfast or during an intervention block, for a first read of a lesson’s texts. Additionally, teachers must plan for when and how to challenge students with ownership of some of the reading. Regular use of the fluency passages within Wit & Wisdom is one way students can own the reading. In Organize, Reveal, and Distill lessons, students often re-engage with smaller chunks of the text, which they can read with a partner or independently as a part of a second or third read.
- Leverage scaffolds written into the lessons. Wit & Wisdom provides suggestions (e.g., sentence frames, vocabulary glossaries, and graphic organizers) and alternate activities to support students when their understanding breaks down. Teachers should consider these scaffolds during their planning and prepare to use them as just-in-time supports.
- Provide additional time with the highest priority content as outlined in the Learning Goals and assessment tasks of each Module Overview. A rich discussion or an extended opportunity to plan and draft an essay may be worthwhile to help students build essential understandings. Teachers are best prepared to make these decisions after deeply studying modules, arcs, and lessons so they know when extended time will best support students in meeting the module’s Learning Goals.
- Note trends in students’ assessment data—and then look forward to the next arc of instruction to determine when and how to fill the gaps in students’ work. Wit & Wisdom’s performance-based assessments give teachers ample evidence of students’ strengths and growth areas. Teachers should use each assessment to inform their preparation of future lessons, determining when to slow down, extend the learning, or provide more support to small groups.
- Attend professional development sessions. Great Minds offers PD sessions that support teachers at every stage of implementation, so consider sessions that will maximize your preparation for the next school year.
Finally, this August, our blog features two teachers, both using Wit & Wisdom in their classrooms, who tackle the challenges of complex texts with students. We hope their stories inspire you to do great things with your students as you all rise to the challenge of engaging in complex texts to build knowledge.
Director of Implementation Success, Humanities
Liz was a New Hampshire public-school educator for 30 years, serving as a classroom teacher, Special Education teacher, and Literacy Coach. During her last few years in NH schools, she also worked part-time for Great Minds as the lead writer for Grade 4 Wit & Wisdom. When the curriculum was finished, she transitioned to lead the Professional Development team and supported districts with Wit & Wisdom implementation.
Now, she serves as the Director of the Humanities Department’s Implementation Success team. Liz leads a team of more than 100 educators who create and deliver professional learning opportunities including PD, coaching, and strategic planning sessions, to teachers and school leaders across the country. Liz is passionate about high-quality education for all children, especially when it helps all teachers, leaders, and students actualize their greatness.