By Mariel Elguero and Kinyette Henderson, Teachers, KIPP New Jersey
Two years ago, we debuted a common literacy curriculum for all KIPP schools. Inspired by requests and feedback from English Language Arts teachers throughout the KIPP network, the KIPP Wheatley curriculum provides a rigorous, text-based approach that’s aligned with college-ready standards.
So how does KIPP Wheatley look in action? Here are some thoughts from two KIPP New Jersey teachers.
Assistant Principal of Humanities, KIPP RISE Academy
My school, KIPP RISE Academy, started using KIPP Wheatley two years ago. I’ve been teaching it in my fourth grade classroom for the past year, and have also coached other teachers on how to implement it in their classrooms.
I do 100 minutes of text study per day with students. I start by getting kids excited about the lesson, and what we’ll be doing with our brains that day. We read a text, and then kids engage with a series of discussion questions, which usually lead up to a bigger culminating question for the day. Then we move into writing. Currently we’re working on narrative fiction, so we read The Lightning Thief, then talked about how the author makes the plot exciting and how to apply that to their own writing.
I’m in my 13th year of teaching and my 11th year with KIPP. I can confidently say that, since we started using KIPP Wheatley, our kids are engaged in more rigorous work. The texts are richer. The writing is stronger. There’s an emphasis on close reading, which makes kids more careful readers. Our PARCC scores have gone up. Kids are sharing ideas, pushing back at times, and building on one another’s ideas.
Because KIPP Wheatley is challenging, it’s helping kids build persistence. Over the course of the year, I’ve noticed that students get less and less easily overwhelmed in the face of difficult texts. I think of one student in particular, who didn’t love reading when he came into my class. Now, he seems to really shine when stuff gets harder. He’s able to back up his answers with evidence, and point out moments where the author’s craft is evident.
KIPP Wheatley is a grade-level curriculum. It’s intended to augment, rather than replace, the work we do to bring students up to grade level. We put in the time to reteach, to do small-group remediation, to do guided reading. We meet each kid at their level and figure out how we can get them to college-ready levels, using KIPP Wheatley and other tools at our disposal. I think that’s what makes KIPP special—that we use a mix of approaches to engage and challenge all students.
Fifth Grade Teacher, KIPP TEAM Academy
KIPP New Jersey Alumna
The thing I love most about using KIPP Wheatley is that it helps bring texts alive. Kids can look at a text, analyze it, and apply those lessons to the real world they live in. It’s a rigorous way to promote discourse, since kids are coming up with these thoughts independently.
From my own experience as a KIPPster, I definitely see a major difference. In middle school, our teachers focused on reading comprehension. So our comprehension was high, but we didn’t do textual analysis the way the kids do now. ELA and social studies were always my favorite subjects, because I loved to read. But I wouldn’t necessarily finish a book and think about the connections to the world around me.
Now, students are able to take things off the page. We talk about how a character develops, what the author might have been trying to convey. It helps them with critical thinking. We’re building life skills. I tell my students, let’s think about this on a deeper level. Let’s connect it to the real world. Literacy is a tool for change; the stronger a reader you are, the better a public speaker, the more you can advocate for yourself and others.
I’m hoping the KIPP Wheatley curriculum will adjust as the social climate adjusts. Most of my students are African American, and they need to connect on a cultural basis with the texts they’re reading. I’ve been doing a lot of customizing, introducing texts in a more culturally relevant way. But other classrooms may not do that, or have the guidance to. In order to place KIPP Wheatley into the right cultural context, KIPP educators will need to share what’s working and what practices we’re using in our classrooms so that others can do the same.
When using a text-heavy curriculum like KIPP Wheatley, it’s important to play to students’ strengths. Reading can be a difficult and personal subject for a lot of kids. They may feel vulnerable reading aloud, or they may get frustrated by doing the same type of assignment over and over again if they don’t feel like they’re good at it. Using KIPP Wheatley, there are so many opportunities for a kid to be successful. Students who are strong writers can write down what they heard, and kids who are more aural learners can talk it out during discussions. Find how students can shine during different lessons, and then use that to your—and their—advantage.
To learn more about how KIPP does literacy, visit the Beyond KIPP Resource Library >