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How the Right Instructional Materials Can Help Meet Shifting Curricular Needs

The Newsela Team
Oct 12, 2020

As students dive back into learning this fall, teachers are eager to make up for classroom time lost to COVID-19 earlier this year. Unfortunately, it’s not just learning loss from springtime closures they have to contend with: between delayed starts and adjusted schedules for blended learning, teachers will have less time than in previous school years to cover the usual curriculum.

Consequently, schools have had to pivot yet again and make hard decisions about what to prioritize. And as they work to cover more instruction in less time, administrators and teachers are finding they have to forgo the rigid resources and pacing guides of previous years in favor of standards-aligned materials that can be easily adapted and remixed to meet changing needs.

Below, we explore why flexible, high-quality content will be essential to help teachers make the most of their time with students, closing existing gaps and giving students the core concepts and tools they need.

Standards-Aligned Content Provides the Building Blocks for Success

As teachers face the effects of spring closures and the reality of learning loss, schools are starting to streamline their curricula. The first step? Aligning around priorities and deciding which standards are key to long-term learning success. From state departments to organizations like Student Achievement Partners, education leaders are encouraging a focus on essentials, and advising depth over breadth. 

But educators looking to put this into practice have made clear that having standards-aligned content that can be easily embedded into lesson plans is critical to the success of this approach. In a piece titled “My Teachers and Students Deserve Better Instructional Materials,” first-year principal (and former teacher) Joshua Zagorski writes that, “Personally and professionally, I have witnessed the impact aligned (and unaligned) materials can have on students and teachers...We’re laser focused on a material’s alignment to the standards.” In a year when meeting essential standards is more important than ever, many schools are realizing that having content that’s flexible, customizable, and clearly supports those standards is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s a requirement. 

Flexible Materials Help Teachers Create Scaffolds for Students

Another challenge teachers face this fall is that while learning gaps in the classroom are wider than ever, they still need to meet every student where they are, no matter their level. As a recent piece in Education Week puts it, schools “need to create a range of entry points into the curriculum — scaffolds for students, and places where teachers can refresh or reteach concepts from last spring that students need in order to succeed this fall.”

Creating these entry points depends on having flexible, differentiated content—content that supports teachers in meeting a range of student needs. “The right materials can provide scaffolds for students,” writes veteran teacher Amy Cox, “content to strengthen the skills they already have, and resources to fill in the gaps they are struggling with.” Cox’s piece, published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, also addresses the importance of high-quality instructional materials for teachers: “More than ever, we’re expected to do it all... it’s exhausting to be without the supports quality materials can provide, especially when the stakes are so high. Having been in the classroom for more than two decades, I know that having great content makes a huge difference in the kind of instruction I can provide.”

Streamlined Curricula Empowers Teachers To Close Gaps

Schools need to empower teachers with quality content that supports streamlined curricula—and in doing so, they need to facilitate conversations across grades to ensure no student falls through the gaps. As math teacher and content specialist Tim Truitt writes in a piece for EdReports, “Great curricula can serve as a platform for teachers to begin having conversations from grade to grade about what was taught and what wasn’t. These conversations will be critical for identifying all the potential unfinished learning students will bring with them next year.”

When teachers collaborate with their colleagues in consecutive grade levels to understand where learning loss may have occurred, they’re better prepared to address it. And they can do that with the help of flexible, easy-to-use instructional materials designed to bridge the gaps; for example, new Bridge Units from Newsela support teachers in spiraling key concepts and skills from last year into back-to-school humanities instruction.

As we all face an uncertain winter, curricula will likely continue to evolve as schools navigate the challenges of teaching during COVID-19. And while so much change can be daunting, there are many ways high-quality instruction materials are designed to help teachers adapt and be flexible in this moment, from special review units and customizable text sets to content with standards-aligned quizzes. As teachers work to reach every student and close learning gaps, they need all the support they can get — and that starts with the right instructional content. 

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