P.J. Kennedy (PJK) Elementary is a small, public K–5 school in East Boston. The close-knit school community creates a caring and stimulating environment to support student growth both academically and emotionally. As part of their work towards achieving student growth, PJK has been expanding its use of Fishtank ELA across classrooms. We recently had the opportunity to meet with teachers and leaders at PJK to learn more about the positive impact Fishtank has had in their classrooms.
Empowering Students in the Classroom and Beyond
When we sat down with 3rd grade teacher Carinne Gale, she couldn’t wait to share how much the Fishtank ELA texts have positively impacted her students. She explained how Fishtank empowers students to seek out high-quality books that not only reflect their own experiences, but feel important for them to learn from.
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Carinne Gale, 3rd Grade Teacher
By the end of the year, her students were able to, “see this as the norm now; Of course books have people that look like me, have people that speak like me, have families like me.” She recognizes that not all students have access to texts that empower them by reflecting and affirming their lived experiences and has seen how much it matters to her students that these texts do.
She shared about how the Defining Identity unit in particular encourages students to engage in conversations with one another. She shared how, “students were having really meaningful discussions with each other about the books, about their own names, and their name stories.” As students continued to feel connected to texts, they were empowered to be open with one another and share their own stories.
Second grade teacher Rosa Melendez shared many of the same sentiments as Ms. Gale. Her students, many of whom are new to this country, have been so highly engaged and invested in the stories that they were eager to participate in discussions, even those that were just beginning to produce academic language at the start of the year.
Many of her students “have gone through situations that other people are not familiar with and they're newcomers. They come into a school and they want other people to know about them.” Because of the strong connections they were making with texts like those in the Stories of Immigration unit, her students felt empowered to share their own stories of immigration with the class.
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Rosa Melendez, 2nd Grade Teacher
Outside of the Stories of Immigration unit, Ms. Melendez’s students were eager to share their voices through classroom discussions and writing. Students “improved tremendously in writing” because they were so “passionate about learning based on the topics” and felt so connected to what they were learning.
Expanding Students’ Worldviews
As a knowledge building curriculum, Fishtank ELA strives to affirm and expand students’ worldviews through diverse texts and meaningful conversations about real world issues. PJK Principal Kristen Goncalves Redden shared what that looks like in practice: “The topics of discussion, what kids are thinking about and what they are grappling with are very real world and really get to what kids need to be talking about and learning about. I think that’s crucial for our kids because they are not only learning the standards, but learning about the world around them.”
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Kristen Goncalves Redden, PJK Principal
Like 2nd grade teacher Ms. Melendez, Ms. Goncalves Redden pointed out how impactful the Stories of Immigration unit has been on the PJK 2nd graders. The school has, “a high immigrant population but they only know their own story, so being able to get them to explore different ways that people immigrate has been really powerful for our 2nd graders.”
Ms. Gale has been impressed by her students ability to engage in discussions and write about a wide range of topics over the course of the year. She attributes this to how Fishtank ELA prioritizes “building background knowledge as a foundational step to get to the discussions and writing that you want students to engage with in the end.” She pointed out that the Unit Launches were a key tool for preparing her to build this background knowledge with students as she was able to think, “from the beginning, about not only what makes the text complex, but to also think about your position as a teacher in making complex texts accessible . It is really helpful to have the reflection questions built into [the Unit Launch] to really think about yourself, your students, and your content, and how those three things are going to engage throughout the unit.”
Not only did we get to hear how much teachers and leaders enjoyed working with the Fishtank texts, we had the opportunity to hear from a student directly! 5th grader Kimberly talked to us about the different texts she read and the class discussions she participated in that were most meaningful in building her understanding of the world. She talked specifically about how The Breadwinner was one of her favorite books of the year because she got to learn how women were treated differently in different parts of the world. She also told us that, “one of the books that helped me learn a lot was definitely Seedfolks because there were a lot of people from all over the world.”
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Kimberly, 5th Grade student at PJK
Encouraging Teacher Creativity
While the PJK teachers love what Fishtank ELA provides, they also love that Fishtank offers teachers the flexibility to adapt the curriculum as needed to meet individual students’ needs. Ms. Gale shared how the Unit Launches have helped her intellectually prepare units, building a broad understanding of the goals and specific skills students should address by the end of the unit. With that understanding, she has been able to, “be really flexible about how we are going to get there.”
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Carinne Gale, 3rd Grade Teacher
Ms. Melendez shared how she has been able to shift her focus more to creatively supporting the diverse learners in her classroom once she had everything she needed from Fishtank: “You have a full lesson provided. You have the Essential Question. You have the Unit Launch and the Target Task for the students.” Without needing to worry about searching for or creating materials, she could plan how to ensure her students' “passion for these stories continues as they become better readers.”
PJK Principal Ms. Goncalves Redden is excited to see her teachers “bring back that passion and that creativity to their teaching for how they are going to get kids to get to that Target Task.” While it was a learning curve for some teachers at first to have to apply their own style and expertise to the lessons, teachers were ultimately incredibly successful in making lessons unique to their own classrooms.
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Kristen Goncalves Redden, PJK Principal
Ms. Goncalves Redden also shared how participating in Fishtank’s Professional Learning allowed PJK teachers to “take the curriculum and adapt it to the needs of our kids.” The Professional Learning sessions equipped teachers with an in-depth understanding of how Fishtank units build students’ knowledge through complex texts and how to best leverage Fishtank resources to support all learners. With this knowledge, teachers are more successful in “intellectually preparing for lessons and differentiating to make sure that kids’ needs, including multilingual and even different abilities, were being met.”
We are so happy to be able to celebrate the many successes happening in PJK classrooms!
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