In my current role as a high school English language arts specialist in Louisville, KY, I work with schools to support teachers with curriculum and instruction. Beyond my career, I’m also a parent. Many people can attest that being a parent changes the way you experience almost everything—this is certainly true for me and how I approach my work.
When I go into any classroom or look at instructional materials, my first thought is always: is this good enough for my child? And if it’s not good enough for my child, then it’s not good enough for any of our students.
Most parents have careers outside of the field of curriculum and instruction. It can be tough to know if the instructional materials our kids are bringing home are supporting their learning and helping them grow, especially since there’s no one correct way to teach and no single book that has all the answers.
However, there are three simple questions parents can ask to know more about the quality of their children’s materials:
1. CHOICE: Do your children have choices in the content they’re learning?
Students need the opportunity to choose some of the books and articles they’re reading. When they’re assigned research projects, the freedom to pick topics of their interest and that are culturally relevant can make a huge difference.
Some degree of choice is critical, because, through that choice, students can discover life-changing answers about themselves: what they love, what they don’t, what interests them, and what they hope to explore further.
The more that they like what they’re reading, the more they will actually read.
2. VARIETY: Do your children have access to a variety of texts and assignments?
Along with choice, variety and diversity of texts and tasks is essential. Literature is vital, but a variety of nonfiction is important as well.
Once most students graduate, they will primarily encounter informational texts in their everyday lives and careers. How students interact with diverse texts is also an important consideration.
I’m excited when my son brings home rich, multi-faceted assignments based on high-quality texts. For example, sometimes he brings home an informational text that he needs to annotate.
Along with the annotation, he looks up vocabulary, he answers questions, and he writes about what he’s reading. Through interacting with a single text in different ways, he’s able to build a multitude of skills.
3. INFORMATION: How can you find more information about the materials your child has access to?
Reach out to teachers and ask what English language arts programs are being used in your child’s class. Take a look at EdReports reviews to see if we’ve had a chance to examine it. We’ve evaluated hundreds of K-8 and high school programs based on their alignment to the standards and other usability factors.
We ask the same questions about choice, variety, and text complexity that I’m encouraging you to consider. Indicator 1b in our review tool focuses specifically on the kinds of texts and the diversity of content a program offers. Parents can learn what their kids will be engaging with every day and be empowered with a new understanding of what quality materials look like and how they impact students.
All students deserve to learn from high-quality materials, which includes the texts and tasks that they bring home with them. Having access to choice and variety is imperative in making our children better readers, writers, and thinkers.