Fishtank ELA Guiding Principles Affirmed by Latest EdReports Review

February 08, 2022

Last month, EdReports published a new review of our Fishtank Plus ELA curriculum for 3rd–5th Grade. 

EdReports is a nonprofit that reviews instructional materials for K–12 classrooms and provides educators with detailed reports on alignment to standards and other markers of high-quality curriculum.

This is the first review of the Fishtank Plus version of our ELA curriculum, and we are proud to once again receive green scores for the first two gateways which examine a curriculum's alignment: Gateway 1 - Text Quality and Complexity and Gateway 2 - Building Knowledge.

Read the full report at


The Foundations of Fishtank ELA

Fishtank ELA is built on five guiding principles that are each based in the latest research on effective literacy instruction.

The guiding principles are:

  1. Building knowledge to nurture critical thinking and agency
  2. Centering diverse, relevant, and rigorous texts
  3. Prioritizing student voices and ideas
  4. Learning to write, writing to learn
  5. Preparing teachers to support students

If you want to dive deeper, you can learn more about the research that supports each of these principles.

EdReports' reviewers use a detailed rubric to examine every element of a curriculum. Fishtank Plus ELA is among the first cohort of ELA programs to be assessed using a new rubric that EdReports began applying to reviews in 2021.

The indicators in EdReports' 3–8 ELA rubric for text quality & complexity and knowledge building align well with our ELA approach. In the report, reviewers cite the specific ways that Fishtank ELA meets their expectations for high-quality curriculum, and reinforce the ways that the Fishtank ELA approach supports students and teachers.

Here is just a sampling of their evidence.

Building knowledge to nurture critical thinking and agency

At Fishtank, we believe that effective literacy instruction builds students' reading/writing skills and knowledge, develops students' identity and agency, helps students understand the world around them, and creates independent critical readers.

EdReports' review reflects how knowledge building is centered in the Fishtank ELA curriculum.

"Anchor texts and supporting materials build students' acquisition of knowledge through reading, discussions, research, and text-based questions. The units introduce essential questions with knowledge goals for students that build knowledge of each topic." (Indicator 2A)

"Tasks enhance the students' knowledge base of the unit topic through questions, discussions, writing prompts, and at times, research. Within most units, there are multiple texts that offer varying perspectives and viewpoints while continuing to build knowledge of the unit topic or theme." (Indicator 2C)

Centering diverse, relevant, and rigorous texts

Every student, regardless of background and reading level, should read complex, engaging texts written in a variety of genres and by diverse voices, to highlight the diversity and richness of the human experience.

EdReports' review affirms the high quality of the texts selected for the Fishtank ELA units.

"The literary units feature full-length published texts of high quality by award-winning authors. Throughout the science and social studies units, there are a multitude of published texts that are informative and of high interest for students. Texts are diverse, well-balanced, and accessible for multiple purposes." (Indicator 1A)

"The materials include units that build upon the next with increasing demands for knowledge and application as students master the content, and the texts increase in complexity. The complexity of the anchor texts and supporting texts offer students the opportunity to grow their literacy skills across the year." (Indicator 1D)

EdReports' overall summary also notes that, "The materials include representations of a wide variety of individuals with various demographic and physical characteristics in both the texts and unit topics. Additionally, the materials provide extensive information to support equity and diversity in both the content and activities in the materials."

Prioritizing student voices and ideas

Engaging in regular academic discourse is essential for students to synthesize texts and content, spark their curiosity, develop original ideas, and find their own voice.

Fishtank ELA combines engaging topics rooted in the texts students are reading, with a variety of structures and supports for teachers and students to facilitate a strong practice of academic discourse. EdReports' review found evidence of this across several indicators.

"The materials include frequent opportunities and protocols for students to engage in evidence-based discussions." (Indicator 1G)

"The materials include opportunities for evidence-based discussions in pairs, small groups, and whole class settings in the majority of lessons. Through discussions, students build knowledge, explain their thinking, and support their reasoning. The majority of discussions pertain to the unit texts or topics and ask students to provide evidence to support their ideas." (Indicator 1H)

Learning to write, writing to learn

Writing and language skills are best taught in context, allowing students to authentically analyze an author's craft and structure, develop their own voice as writers, and build deeper meaning with the texts and ideas.

While other curricula might divorce students' reading and writing practice, Fishtank ELA embeds comprehensive writing instruction into each unit, so students are writing in relation to the texts they are studying. Students write in most daily lessons in response to target tasks, and engage in longer process writing pieces in every unit. 

Evidence abounds in the EdReports review to support this structure. 

"The materials include opportunities in each unit for students to complete on-demand and process writing. Both types of writing tasks are connected to the unit topic and texts and assist students with building knowledge of the unit topic. Throughout each unit, students have almost daily opportunities to respond to the Target Task in writing, which provides students with opportunities in on-demand writing." (Indicator 1I)

"Students receive explicit, sequenced instruction to assist in developing grade-level writing techniques in narrative, informational, and opinion styles of writing." (Indicator 1J)

"Writing prompts are specific to the texts and help students build knowledge on each unit topic. Writing assignments are designed for students to construct meaningful responses and to think critically about new knowledge and themes in the unit." (Indicator 1K)

"The materials in both Literature and Science and Social Studies units provide opportunities to help students achieve grade-level proficiency in writing by the end of the year. … The Enhanced Lesson Plans ensure that students receive explicit and sequenced instruction to aid in developing grade-level writing techniques followed by ample time for practice." (Indicator 2E)

Preparing teachers to support students

Intellectual preparation allows teachers to do their best teaching: when teachers deeply understand the text and unit themes they can help all students master grade-level content and standards.

We were disappointed that EdReports gave Fishtank Plus ELA a "partially meets expectations" rating for Gateway 3, which assesses the usability of a curriculum. We believe this rating results from a difference in beliefs about how to best prepare teachers to support students.

We believe that when teachers are given the tools to immerse themselves in a unit's texts, essential questions, and standards, and internalize the key demands of each lesson's content and tasks, they are then in the best position to customize lessons to meet the needs of all of their students.

We hear from teachers time and again that this blend of autonomy and support is what makes Fishtank curriculum the right fit for their classrooms. They report how much easier it is to use compared to other curriculum options on the market, and how much they appreciate the flexible structures and ability to put their own unique stamp on the curriculum.

Over the next few months, we'll be publishing a series of posts that share more about our unique approach to teacher preparation, student supports within lessons, and how we serve the needs of multilingual learners. Stay tuned for those!

And in the meantime, if you have any questions about our curriculum, you can always reach us at [email protected].