Starting today, when you visit the English Language Arts section of the Fishtank site, you’ll find that our Literature units and our Science & Social Studies units for Kindergarten through 5th grade are now living cozily side by side.
Previously, we’d separated the two subjects on the website, but we decided that it was time for our architecture to better match our core philosophy about elementary English Language Arts and how we intend the curriculum to be used.
This philosophy comes down to a few key tenets:
- Content knowledge and reading comprehension are inextricably linked.
- Students need a balance of fiction and informational texts to become well-rounded readers, writers, and critical thinkers.
- It is crucial to make time for both.
Building Content Knowledge for Reading Comprehension
Our ELA curriculum is designed to ensure that students have as many opportunities as possible to build content knowledge. Units are anchored in carefully-selected texts of grade-level complexity. These texts are the drivers of instruction, with standards and skill development embedded into the progression of daily lessons. Students spend the majority of class time closely reading extended texts that deepen their engagement with and understanding of the unit’s key ideas and thematic topics.
By offering Literature and Science & Social Studies units designed to be taught concurrently and rooted in authentic texts, students are equipped to build background knowledge and vocabulary, and ultimately improve their reading comprehension.
Balancing Fiction and Informational Texts
During the period when we were developing the curriculum, we saw many schools beginning to jettison science & social studies to make more time for reading instruction. Because we know how powerful science & social studies can be for building content knowledge and in turn how integral content knowledge is to reading comprehension, we wanted to create a curriculum option that promoted teaching reading through science & social studies.
At the same time, we didn’t want to abandon reading literature entirely, because these texts can provide students with valuable life lessons and push them to think critically about the world. Fiction allows for powerful discussions that help build social-emotional skills, which we think is also a kind of content knowledge.
By intentionally sequencing these two parallel tracks, students systematically build their content knowledge within the school year and from year to year. For instance, in 3rd grade students start the year with a Science & Social Studies unit on Ancient Rome, and in Unit 3 of the Literature track they read Roman Myths. And by the time 5th graders are reading One Crazy Summer, a novel set in Oakland, California in 1968 at the height of the Black Panther Movement, they have completed Social Studies units about the Children of the Civil Rights Movement (also in 5th grade), The Story of America and African Americans (in 4th grade), and People Who Changed the World (in 2nd grade).
Making Time for Both
One of the major reasons we wanted to present the Literature and Science & Social Studies units for each elementary grade on the same page is to reinforce how strongly we recommend that teachers implement them concurrently.
We know it might feel like there’s not enough time in the school day, but we recommend prioritizing this model as part of the daily schedule.
To ensure students engage in a depth and breadth of reading, an additional 45-minute independent reading block should also take place daily. Writing is embedded within all Literature and Science & Social Studies units, so an additional writing block is not needed. When prioritized and implemented together, these three blocks can support student mastery of all grade-level standards for reading, writing, speaking & listening, and language.
With these three blocks incorporated, a full school day could look something like this:
We invite you to explore the new side-by-side set up of our elementary English Language Arts courses for a closer look at how our Literature and Science & Social Studies units can better serve you and your students.