A student in the early months of their first-grade year ought to be able to write a single complete sentence. The pronoun “I” should be capitalized and the proper punctuation should be in place at the end of the sentence.
By the time summer vacation rolls around, first-graders will have compounded those early skills so that they can write in paragraph form and provide a short narrative. Answering a teacher’s question in complete written sentences should be the norm.
This progression in basic language skills-and all the stages in between-is spelled out in an extensive outline that District 91 school board members lauded this month as a fine start to bringing greater uniformity to the village’s public schools while giving parents a chance to follow along. Labeled as a “curriculum map,” educators have stipulated those skills and concepts that are most important to a child’s literacy as they move from kindergarten to the eighth-grade.
In every grade level and in every marking period a student’s proficiency can be charted against this map.
“This is what we teach,” Superintendent Lou Cavallo said at a Feb. 14 school board meeting, explaining the map’s content. “This is how we teach it and these are the learning principles we expect students to understand.”
The map was pulled together with input from every teacher in the district and attempts to set a framework for instructors to follow. The purpose is not to dictate classroom lesson plans, according to administrators, but to guide teachers in choosing which concepts to emphasize and when.
Wendy Trotter, principal at Grant-White Elementary School, played a lead role in putting the curriculum map together. According to Trotter, the guidelines should also help boost standardized test scores by making sure teachers stress key skills prior to the annual exams. Producers of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test provide sample questions online, which teachers can access to help frame their lesson plans, said Trotter.
“We always take a look at the ISATs so we know what’s coming down the pike and what’s coming up,” Trotter said.
Cavallo stressed though, that the district is not catering its instruction to the whims of various testing methods. A solid education will make for better scores, he said.
Board members were not asked to take action with respect to the curriculum map. Vice President Sean Blaylock praised the effort and agreed with administrators that the map will be a tool in orienting new teachers, conducting staff evaluations and helping those parents looking for a better understanding of their child’s classroom.
“It’s good, once again, to step back and assess your strategies,” Blaylock said.
Educators expect to draw up a similar outline next year of the district’s math curriculum. Subsequent years will see maps of the science and social studies curriculums, in addition to revisions of existing outlines. Copies of each will be made available to the public both in print and electronic form, according to Cavallo.