At Fishtank Learning, we are committed to learning and growing as professionals, constantly seeking feedback and continuing to refine and develop our curriculum products. Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time reflecting on the knowledge we are striving to build in students who use our ELA curriculum, and how this knowledge connects directly with our goal of creating a culturally relevant, anti-racist curriculum. These reflections have led us to make a few changes to our materials as we close out this school year and look toward the fall.
We see knowledge building as learning about historical and scientific concepts, while also developing self-awareness and agency. Our goal is to provide students with experiences that help them understand how the world works, while also helping students understand their relationship with the world at both a small and large scale.
Fishtank ELA units give students the chance to learn social-emotional skills such as empathy, compassion, and critical thinking as they build knowledge of historical or contemporary events, or as they analyze fictional character’s actions. Fishtank ELA units also give students the opportunity to develop their own identity and build deeper understandings of diversity, justice and action as they consider experiences and events through a variety of perspectives. Additionally, many Fishtank ELA units introduce or build upon scientific and historical concepts that students need to grasp in order to understand how the world works.
We think that all three types of knowledge—knowledge of self, knowledge of how to advocate for change, and knowledge of historical and scientific concepts—are important and often interconnected.
Emphasizing different types of knowledge is an important part of our design. To recognize the priority our curriculum places on knowledge building and to better convey the knowledge students will build in each unit, we are introducing new unit names for our K–5 ELA units.
In K–5, most of our literature units were identified by the title of the core text, but the units are about so much more than the text. The core texts serve as launching points for rigorous discussions and writing about key themes and concepts. To better reflect these key themes and concepts, we have updated our unit titles to include the knowledge students are learning and exploring alongside the unit text.
For example, 4th Grade Unit 1, previously titled Shiloh, is now titled Taking a Stand: Shiloh. This change better reflects the key knowledge students build when exploring the Essential Questions of the unit:
- How do beliefs, ethics, or values influence different people’s behaviors?
- When should an individual take a stand against what he/she believes to be an injustice?
While reading Shiloh is definitely at the heart of the unit, the exploration of how people develop their identities, and how their identity influences the decisions they make is equally important.
We also renamed our Science & Social Studies units in order to more clearly signal what scientific and historical knowledge students are learning, and when applicable, how this knowledge is connected to building identity or advocating for change.
For example, 4th Grade Unit 2 American Revolution is renamed Examining Our History: American Revolution. The revised title draws attention to the more nuanced understanding students will build through exploring the unit texts and Essential Questions:
- What key events led to the outbreak of the American Revolution?
- How did opinions differ on the idea of independence?
- Were the colonies really a land of equality and liberty?
- Why is it important to look at history from multiple perspectives?
Our reflections also led us to think about the voices and topics we were centering in our curriculum. In doing so, we decided to retire two units and design their replacements to better align with our vision of building student knowledge of self or knowledge of how to advocate for change.
In our Kindergarten course, the texts for our Dinosaurs unit had gone out of print. In considering what topic would end the sequence well and continue building a domain of knowledge students had been developing throughout the year, we decided to create the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle unit.
Students draw on their learning in Celebrating Fall, Winter Wonderland, and Exploring Life Cycles, along with texts about waste and recycling to better understand the actions they can take to have less impact on the environment.
In 3rd Grade, we are replacing Unit 1: Roald Dahl with Defining Identity: Dyamonde Daniel and My Name is María Isabel, which better aligns with our vision for the type of self knowledge students should build at the beginning of the 3rd Grade sequence.
In the new unit, students will read these two texts by authors Nikki Grimes and Alma Flor Ada, and explore the unit Essential Questions:
- What makes me who I am?
- How should we treat people who are different from us?
- Why are names important?
The Roald Dahl unit has moved to our archives and is still available for teachers to access if they wish to continue teaching the unit.
These changes to the unit titles and unit substitutions are part of our ongoing work to examine and refine how our content reflects our values and vision for ELA instruction. While the effort to improve our content is a continuous process, these updates are the last major changes we are making to the K–5 sequence as part of our recent revision. We are excited to share these courses with you now, and support you in planning for the coming school year and beyond!
Anne Lyneis is the Managing Director of ELA curriculum, and the author of the Fishtank ELA curriculum for grades K–5. She began her career in education through Teach for America South Louisiana where she fell in love with teaching. She taught elementary school for 8 years in both public and charter schools in Louisiana, Texas, and Massachusetts before joining the Fishtank team. She has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont and a Master’s degree in school leadership from Louisiana State University.