CS 300 is a NYC Public School that has seen an incredible increase in student engagement and significant growth in student writing since implementing Fishtank ELA in Kindergarten through 5th grade classrooms. We recently had the chance to speak with eight veteran teachers and leaders from CS 300 about their experience using Fishtank Learning and how our core value of We Believe in Students came to life in their classrooms.
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Instructional Coach Jennifer Nybro
Seeking Rigorous, Engaging, Standards-Based Curriculum
We began our conversations with CS 300 teachers by talking about what it means to have a great curriculum and how curriculum impacts student success. Lisa Gilbride, a 19-year veteran of the classroom, emphasized the need for a curriculum that is aligned to the standards, engaging for the students, and rigorous. While she has felt that many past curriculums had holes in what was offered, she shared how happy she was with her Kindergarten curriculum because, “all of the things I’m looking for can be found in Fishtank curriculum.”
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Kindergarten Teacher Lisa Gilbride
One of the features of Fishtank ELA that CS 300 teachers repeatedly talked about, was the wealth of supporting materials and aligned nonfiction texts that allowed them to adjust their lessons to best meet the needs and interests of their students. Meagan Kelly and Edna Ruiz, a 3rd grade integrated co-teaching pair with a combined 31 years of classroom experience, were able to integrate technology and allow their students to practice typing by shifting their final writing task from pencil and paper to Google Docs. Nicole Minecola, a 5th grade special education teacher, was able to use the editing features and sample responses available in Fishtank Plus to adjust assignments to the needs of her students while still maintaining alignment with Common Core Standards.
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5th Grade Teacher Nicole Minecola
When we asked Ariel Brisman, a kindergarten special education teacher, what kind of curriculum her students need, she summed up the need for a highly engaging curriculum: “If I’m not excited by it, how am I going to excite a child?” Ms. Brisman and Ms. Gilbride both brought up Falling in Love With Authors and Illustrators when asked about their students’ favorite unit. The students were so invested in the books they read, they were talking about the illustrators like they were their friends by the end of the unit!
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Kindergarten Teacher Ariel Brisman
Lessons That Get Students Thinking and Talking
In multiple interviews, CS 300 teachers described being surprised by what their students were able to achieve when challenged by the Fishtank curriculum. Ms. Ruiz and Ms. Kelly told us that they were initially nervous about teaching Garvey’s Choice in the Embracing Difference Unit because she wasn’t sure how their students would react to a book written in poems. They were concerned that it might be too challenging for their students or that their students might lose interest. They were pleasantly surprised when it ended up being one of her class’s favorite books of the year! Ms. Kelly advised other Fishank ELA users to “be open minded, and let your kids challenge themselves with the texts that are incorporated into this curriculum.”
In sharing how much the Kindergarten students had enjoyed the Falling in Love With Authors and Illustrators Unit, Ms. Gilbride and Ms. Brisman told us that they were initially nervous about the unit as the texts were very rigorous and covered very diverse topics. Ms. Brisman shared that, “Falling In Love with Authors and Illustrators for us was the biggest surprise, because those aren't authors or illustrators that I would have chosen and I'm glad that those are the ones that they focused on. I learned so much, and I think the kids did, too.” Like Ms. Ruiz and Ms. Kelly, they were excited to see their students rise to the challenge—ultimately claiming Falling in Love With Authors and Illustrators as their favorite unit!
In her 5th grade classroom, students shocked Amy Noe’ with their ability to not only meet rigorous lesson objectives, but actually develop their vocabulary from those objectives. At first, she was worried that students might be intimidated by the rigorous language of the objectives. Instead, students began using words like “determine” and “analyze” in their classroom discussions after seeing them in the objectives. Additionally, when her students began state test prep, they were better prepared to answer challenging questions because they were comfortable with the level of rigor and language used in questions.
Content That Affirms Student Experiences and Expands Their Perspectives
Throughout each of our conversations, we were continually reminded of the importance of having texts that reflect student experiences and provide opportunities for students to grapple with issues in a productive and supported way. We were excited to hear how Fishtank ELA Curriculum’s core tenet of Centering Diverse, Relevant, and Rigorous Texts impacted the students at CS 300.
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Instructional Coach Olga Fotinis
CS 300 Instructional Coaches Jennifer Nybro and Olga Fotinis talked to us about their struggles to identify texts that were rigorous and reflected their students' cultures and experiences. With Fishtank ELA, Ms. Fotinis saw students able to more meaningfully think, speak, and write about rigorous texts, “because they’re feeling more comfortable with what they’re doing and because they’re seeing themselves in these books.” She went on to tell us how teachers have been able to learn more about their students through students’ writing about their own identities and experiences as they relate to the context of core unit materials.
Amy Noe’ and Nicole Minecola shared that their 5th grade students were most engaged with the book Breadwinner in the Exploring Human Rights Unit because of the culture shock students felt when they realized how different some children’s experiences were from their own. Ms. Minecola shared that she had a student say to her, “We really don't know a lot about what goes on in the world.” Ms. Noe’ was excited to see her students learn about current events and begin to develop their own opinions about complex topics as they worked through the various 5th grade units.
Centering Student Voice through Writing
After using Fishtank ELA, teachers saw their students improve their understanding of and ability to engage with diverse texts. That alone would have been exciting for us to hear, but the improvements in student writing as compared to previous years was yet another thing for CS 300 staff to celebrate. Across grade levels, students were better able to express their thoughts about main characters and central ideas, and identify key themes across core texts. In Ms. Brisman’s class, Fishtank ELA, “has really broadened their knowledge. They just have so much that they want to say. Sometimes they'll finish a writing piece so I ask them to write something else about, say, butterflies, or whatever it is that's the topic. They have so much that they want to share so I think that's been really exciting for us, especially because in the past their writing was just very basic.”
Ms. Ruiz shared that she and Ms. Kelly, “love that the target tasks are part of the daily lesson and the kids have really gotten used to writing about what they've read on a daily basis. If there's ever a day where we run out of time, and we don't get to the target task, they're almost upset.” Her students had never been as eager to write as they were this year and she attributed that to how excited her students were to talk about the texts they were reading. Not only were the students eager to write, they were writing with more detail, making connections across units, and were able to more successfully address writing prompts and reading comprehension questions than in past years.
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3rd Grade Teachers Edna Ruiz and Meagan Kelly
Ms. Minecola emphasized the impact using Fishtank ELA has had for her special education students saying, “It was the first time that my level A kids answered the same question as my on-grade-level kids, or that everyone participated in the discussion.” Her students were engaging in such high-level conversations that visitors from the district were surprised to find out she taught a special education class! Ms. Nybro pointed out the school-wide shift she noticed since classrooms have implemented Fishtank ELA: “I am seeing more content and more engagement in their writing than I have ever seen.”
The Power of Believing in Students
As we came to the end of our conversations with the CS 300 staff, it was clear that they had generated such incredible results in their classroom because of the wealth of experience and knowledge they were able to bring to each Fishtank ELA Lesson. Each teacher we spoke to believed in the ability of each student to grow not only academically, but as a well-rounded person. 5th Grade teacher Amy Noe’ said it best: “Yes, I want you to leave me being a better reader and writer and better in math, but really I want you to leave me (I know it sounds corny and cheesy) as just a better person. Just a nicer, better person.”
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5th Grade Teacher Amy Noe'
If you are interested in trying out Fishtank ELA in your own classroom, make a free Fishtank Learning account. We are eager to partner with schools and continue to see the incredible results CS 300 has found. If you are interested in bringing Fishtank Learning to your school, contact our school partnerships team to get the conversation started.