In the Fishtank ELA curriculum, students build knowledge, develop social-emotional skills, and internalize relevant vocabulary through thoughtfully selected texts that increase in complexity over time. Each Fishtank ELA unit supports students in building their knowledge of themselves, the world around them, and their power to create change. Texts allow students to engage in discussions and writing that build students’ agency, empathy, and ability to connect with diverse experiences. Social-emotional skills are integrated into every lesson as students analyze characters' motivations and reactions throughout historical and contemporary events.
As students build their knowledge through both the core texts and supplemental materials, they are able to meaningfully engage with diverse, complex texts (Hirsch, 2006). In a 1987 study, researchers examined the impact of prior knowledge on middle school students’ ability to comprehend text. The researchers used a passage about a fictional baseball game and found that, with no prior knowledge of baseball, even strong readers struggled. However, those students with knowledge of baseball, even those considered “bad readers,” outperformed their peers (Wexler, 2020). With that in mind, Fishtank ELA aims to provide students with the appropriate background knowledge to comprehend and think critically about texts.
Within each unit, students address Essential Questions that push them to think critically about the world from multiple perspectives, to grapple with and explore relevant social justice issues, to learn about experiences that differ from their own, and to reflect on their own beliefs about the world around them. Both the knowledge and critical thinking skills that students develop in each unit create the foundation upon which learning in future Fishtank units takes place.
Fishtank’s approach aligns with the Reading Rope view of literacy skill development as each unit builds students' knowledge and vocabulary through texts rather than focusing on isolated skill-based instruction (The Reading League). This ultimately allows all students to build knowledge, and become critical thinkers and independent readers.