Balancing Teacher Autonomy and Support

March 15, 2023

We trust teachers. 

This belief, that teachers are in the best position to see and respond to what their students need, impacts every decision we make at Fishtank Learning. Fishtank Math and ELA curriculum, and our library of Teacher Tools, are designed to combine individual teacher expertise with high-quality content to drive student results. By balancing autonomy and support, Fishtank allows teachers to be authentic and adaptable, and ensure that students succeed.


How Does Fishtank Allow for Individual Teacher Choice?

The Fishtank curriculum team is made up of former teachers who understand that no two schools are exactly alike; Daily schedules differ, testing windows shift, not to mention how varied student needs can be, even just across individual classrooms.  While creating both Fishtank ELA and Fishtank Math, we kept all these factors in mind and set out to create materials that you can easily adjust to your individual setting and student needs.


Teacher Choice in Fishtank Math

Let’s start by diving into the many opportunities for teacher choice in Fishtank Math. While a typical school year is assumed to be 180 days, there are about 150 Fishtank Math lessons for each grade level. This immediately opens up opportunities for you to make choices about how to use the materials. You can decide to split one lesson over multiple days, pulling in opportunities for enrichment like fluency activity stations or class presentations. 

You are the expert when it comes to what your students need and, after completing a pre-unit assessment, may decide to insert one or two days dedicated to accelerated learning. With access to guidance on reviewing and reteaching topics (available with a Fishtank Plus account) and materials from all grade-levels, you don’t need to worry about creating materials for these days. Fishtank provides more than enough resources, and you get to decide how to use them. 

Within each lesson, there are opportunities for individual teacher decision-making based on how you present new content to students. Each lesson is grounded in standards-aligned, engaging Anchor Tasks meant to prompt critical thinking in students. How you start the lesson–A “Do Now” review question from the previous day, a word problem from the Teacher Tool library, a number talk, or other fluency activity–is up to you. Once you move into the Anchor Task, you can decide how much guidance to offer students, how you want them to work on the problem, and how you want them to present their solutions. 

Not only do you have choice in the instructional strategies you use in the classroom, you can also decide how to physically present student materials. You can edit student handouts directly on the Fishtank site to ensure materials reflect your students interests and academic needs. With a Fishtank Plus account, you can also edit all assessments on the Fishtank site. 


Teacher Choice in Fishtank ELA

Next, let’s explore teacher choice in Fishtank ELA. As a knowledge-building curriculum, Fishtank lessons prioritize developing students' knowledge of the world, themselves, and their power. As the teacher delivering instruction, you have the opportunity to adapt the lessons and supplemental resources based on your individual students and what you know about their background knowledge. 

If you are working with a group of students that has first-hand experience with immigration, you will likely teach the 2nd grade Stories of Immigration unit differently than a teacher whose students have no knowledge of the topic to begin with. You have the opportunity to choose how you activate students’ prior knowledge, encourage them to share what they already know, and what they hope to learn in each unit. 

In every Fishtank ELA lesson there are opportunities for you to decide how students will interact with the text and one another. Based on your knowledge of student needs, you may lead a class read aloud or have students read independently, you may decide to have students work in partners or small groups. There are also Opportunities for Enrichment noted in Fishtank’s Enhanced Lesson Plans (available to Fishtank Plus users) that you can use as a jumping off point to deepen students’ understanding based on their interests. 

At the elementary level, we have been adding additional writing projects so that you can decide what type of writing you want students to focus on. Within each unit, there are varied opportunities for students to develop their narrative, informational, and opinion writing for you to choose from. Additionally, there are multiple types of assessments available for you to choose from–Cold Reading, Content, and Fluency–so you can decide how to monitor your students’ progress. 

Additionally, at the elementary level there is choice in which units you want to teach to students. In order to build knowledge across a wide range of topics, Fishtank ELA has both Literature units and Science & Social Studies units you can choose from. This allows you to cover all grade-level standards while students learn about specific historical, cultural, and scientific topics. By providing more than enough material, you have the power to make the best instructional decisions for your individual students.


How Does Fishtank Support Strong Instructional Decision-Making?

Because the Fishtank curriculum is designed to balance teacher autonomy and support, you may be wondering what that support looks like in practice. There are three main ways that Fishtank supports strong instructional decision-making: In-lesson teacher guidance, Unit Launches, and Professional Learning

Within every Fishtank Math lesson, there are Tips for Teachers, Guiding Questions, and Notes available to help inform your decision-making. The Tips for Teachers section provides suggestions for teaching the specific lesson based on what skills your students have already demonstrated fluency in. The Guiding Questions and Notes relate to each Anchor Task and provide guidance on engaging students’ thinking and voice as they explore content. 

6th Grade Unit 5: Numerical and Algebraic Expressions Lesson 6

Tips for Teachers Section

Fishtank ELA Enhanced Lesson Plans (available to Fishtank Plus users) support strong instructional-decision making through guidance for Supporting All Students and embedded Routines and Rubrics. Within each lesson, there are resources linked to help build background knowledge that you can when you know your students are unfamiliar with a topic. There are also Language Support and Foundational Skills Support strategies within each lesson you can use if students are struggling with sections of the text. 

Unit Launches–available with a Fishtank Plus account–offer you the opportunity to deeply understand the content you will teach and plan how to teach it. For Math units, you will be guided through an analysis of the unit’s Big Ideas, major standards, and connections to prior and future learning. For ELA units, you will identify areas of text complexity and analyze key reading standards, writing standards, and the unit’s Essential Questions. By completing the Unit Launch, you are strategically planning how you will ensure the material is accessible and relevant to all students. This intellectual prep process provides a dedicated time for you to engage in thoughtful instructional decision-making before you begin to teach the material. 

Fishtank’s Professional Learning opportunities, available for both Math and ELA, are designed to deepen your expertise with the Fishtank curriculum. Each Professional Learning session is designed and delivered by the team that created the curriculum. Sessions are grounded in both the content and research to equip you with the strategies to get the most out of Fishtank curriculum. By offering these deep-dives into our curriculum, we ensure you are fully prepared to bring our high-quality content to your students in a way that is engaging and accessible based on their individual needs. 


Ready for a curriculum that honors your expertise, is grounded in research, and considers every student? Create your Fishtank Learning account today. Upgrade to Fishtank Plus to unlock additional resources and instructional guidance to further your classroom success. 


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