All of us can spend more time—at school and at home—teaching our children about the world. We can seek out nonfiction videos and texts, discuss current events, and make time for museums and libraries. We can also share this infographic showing why knowledge matters and use this guide to improve curricula and instructional materials.
Individual teachers can devote more time to the facts and concepts that are central to each discipline. They can avoid jumping from one topic to the next by selecting coherent sets of texts that immerse students one topic for several days. And if they have a literacy block that is stealing time from other subjects, they can develop text sets on science, history, and the arts to use during that block.
Teams of teachers can review the topics being taught in each grade to be sure that students are building knowledge in a coherent, logical, cumulative manner. They can introduce an array of topics in the early grades to build vocabulary and come back to those topics in later grades to deepen understanding.
Administrators in charge of curriculum purchasing can seek out knowledge-rich materials. A recent report from the Center for American Progress found that highly effective curricula do not cost more than less-effective materials.
Policymakers can shift their focus from teacher quality to teaching quality, realizing that the materials teachers are given (or required) to teach with strongly influence results. Research shows that higher-quality materials have just as large an impact on achievement as higher-quality teachers.
Resources for Teachers
These resources are recommended by teachers for knowledge-rich instruction—and most of them are free.
“Knowledge Matters” by TNTP
Chris Hayes had been teaching for 20 years before she discovered that her second graders could handle—and would enjoy—far more challenging academic content. Take a deep dive into Mrs. Hayes’s classroom to see how she uses a series of read-alouds, discussions, and document-based questions to immerse her students in the U.S. Civil War.
A History of US and The Story of Science
These two series of textbooks offer knowledge-rich narratives for middle schoolers. They tell the stories that make history and science fascinating.
This popular site helps teachers build a well-rounded curriculum.
Core Knowledge Language Arts
This comprehensive program teaches reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in preschool to fifth grade while also building knowledge in history and science. And, almost the entire program can be downloaded for free.
Created by the National Endowment for the Humanities, this site for K-12 teachers is rich with lesson plans on art and culture, foreign languages, history and social studies, and literature and language arts.
EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) offers a comprehensive, free ELA curriculum for grades 3-8, as well as upper-grades materials in science and social studies that engage students in substantive reading and writing.
Great Minds Curriculum Tools
Great Minds currently offers its popular Eureka Math program, as well as tools to build rigorous curricula in English and history.
This online platform for teachers, students, and districts provides an open, cloud-based curriculum created by a “dream team” of highly qualified teachers.
Access thousands of books, poems, short stories, and nonfiction texts, with helpful (and unobtrusive) annotations, for free. Teachers can also create online classrooms, quizzes, and their own annotations.
Teaching Literacy through History
This is an interdisciplinary professional development program created by The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History that uses primary sources to improve K–12 education.
Text Set Project
Text sets are a great way to build knowledge and vocabulary by staying focused on a specific topic for several days. Students see that as their knowledge grows, so does their reading comprehension. This site offers in-depth information on text sets, as well as several sets developed by teachers.
The Writing Revolution
Through its clear instructional method, the Writing Revolution provides strategies for students to write complex sentences, develop strong outlines for essays and research papers, and make revisions to deepen understanding and enhance arguments.
UnboundEd offers a carefully curated set of ELA and mathematics curricula, lesson plans, and guides that range from prekindergarten to grade 12.
What So Proudly We Hail
With this high school-level curriculum, educators Amy A. Kass and Leon R. Kass demonstrate how story, speech, and song enhance civic education.
World of Words
Designed for preschool through first grade, this read-aloud program provides 10 text sets per grade to build knowledge and vocabulary. Mixing high-quality fiction and nonfiction, the text sets address topics such as marine animals, space, and shadows and light.
Writing for Understanding
Writing for Understanding places writing at the center of learning, and emphasizes that students need to understand a topic deeply to be able to write about it effectively. The approach can be adapted for K–12, as the lesson plans created by experienced teachers show.
Online Professional Development
Cox Campus offers free, online courses for early childhood educators. Created by and for teachers using the highest-quality research, these courses offer in-class demonstrations for developing oral language, academic vocabulary, knowledge of the world, and pre-literacy skills. Although the courses are intended for birth through prekindergarten teachers, they offer a great deal for elementary-grades teachers as well.
Middle School Matters Field Guide
This comprehensive guide supports educators in adopting well-researched, effective methods for improving students’ achievement, motivation, and behavior throughout the middle grades. While the instructional focus is on reading, writing, mathematics, and reasoning, most of the practices could be meaningfully applied across content areas. The guide also provides links to related implementation tools and instructional toolkits (including professional development modules, videos, and instructional materials).
A Different Look at the Causes of the Achievement Gap: The Matthew Effect
In this hour-long presentation, David Liben provides a thorough review of research on the causes of the reading achievement gap and offers practical suggestions—and free resources—for teachers to narrow the gap and increase achievement. Liben is the senior content specialist of the Literacy and English Language Arts team at Student Achievement Partners. An experienced educator, administrator, and curriculum designer, he has taught elementary, middle, and high school students in public and private schools, as well as community college and teacher preparation courses.
Videos on Teaching Literacy
These short videos by ANet feature educators who recently switched from a skills-and-strategies approach to a knowledge-rich approach.
- Structuring the Integration of Reading, Writing and Content
- Building World Knowledge
- The Importance of Oral Processing
- The Value of Deep Text Analysis
- Scaffolding Complex Texts to Meet the Needs of Diverse Learners
- Implementing Writing for Understanding
- Supporting Teachers with an Integrated Approach
- Advice to Other Leaders about Adopting an Integrated Literacy Approach
These book excerpts offer teachers an introduction to what knowledge does for the mind, and how to create knowledge-rich literacy instruction.
- “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel T. Willingham
- “Why Background Knowledge Is Crucial for Literacy” by Doug Lemov
- “A Second Excerpt on Building Background Knowledge from Reading Reconsidered“ by Doug Lemov
Infographic and Curriculum Guide
This one-page infographic explains why restoring wonder and excitement with science, social studies, and arts is the best way to improve reading comprehension. It also gives a few suggestions for teachers. For support with developing or evaluating curricula, see this companion two-page guide on the five essential features of knowledge-rich curricula.
Resources for Policymakers
Policymakers must do everything in their power to ensure all children—particularly the disadvantaged—benefit from a knowledge-rich curriculum from the earliest possible moment.
“The Reading Paradox and the ESSA Solution”
Reading comprehension largely reflects a child’s general store of academic knowledge and vocabulary. But under No Child Left Behind, schools were pressured to seek short-term gains, so they focused on skills, strategies, and test-prep drills. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives states the flexibility to solve this problem – if they understand the the reading paradox: Taking time away from science, social studies, and the arts to focus on reading actually slows growth in reading comprehension. To raise reading achievement, states must incentivize districts and schools to patiently invest in building students’ knowledge and vocabulary.
For briefs on incentivizing a knowledge-rich education through ESSA and well-rounded education as matter of a social justice, see “Job One: Build Knowledge” by Lisa Hansel and Robert Pondiscio of Knowledge Matters, and “What School Can Be” by John B. King, Jr., the U.S. Secretary of Education.
Thanks to the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence, Robert Pondiscio and Lisa Hansel sum up the most essential research on how knowledge drives comprehension, and then offer six recommendations to state and district policymakers, in this webinar on “Why Knowledge Matters.”
On May 11, Knowledge Matters hosted a lively discussion of these issues with:
- Nell K. Duke, professor at the University of Michigan who focuses on literacy development, particularly among children living in poverty;
- Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers;
- Corinne Colgan, deputy chief of Literacy and Humanities at the District of Columbia Public Schools; and
- Robert Pondiscio, executive director of Knowledge Matters and senior fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
“How to fix reading in the era of ESSA” and “Using ESSA to fix reading: Implications for state policy” by Robert Pondiscio and Lisa Hansel
With the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state and district policymakers have an opportunity to increase achievement and equity by supporting knowledge-rich instruction. These two blog posts offer a summary of the most critical research and three ideas for making the most of ESSA’s flexibility.
“ESSA’s Well-Rounded Education” by Scott D. Jones and Emily Workman
After No Child Left Behind unintentionally spurred a narrowing of the curriculum, ESSA has over 20 references to a well-rounded education. The Education Commission of the States developed this special report to help state and local leaders enact “a foundational element of the new federal law” by supporting everything from arts to engineering to physical education.
“College and Career Readiness: The Importance of Early Learning” by Chrys Dougherty
This short but powerful report by an ACT principal research scientist shows the importance of a knowledge-rich, well-rounded curriculum through which all students master basic skills while also building an academic foundation in the early grades.
“Keeping Track of Educational Improvements” by Chrys Dougherty
In this guide for district leaders, Dougherty explains six strategies for increasing capacity to improve teaching and learning. These strategies were distilled from a decade of case-study research in over 550 districts spread across 20 states.
“Never Judge a Book by Its Cover—Use Student Achievement Instead” by Thomas J. Kane
This short article summarizes a study showing that textbook choices have a substantial impact on student achievement. As Kane concludes, “annual report on the effectiveness of textbooks would transform the market.”
Resources for Parents
From reading books aloud to visiting museums to asking teachers for more knowledge-building assignments, parents can do a great deal to ensure that their children build the knowledge that they need to do well in school.
This extensive set of short videos show parents what grade-level work looks like from kindergarten to high school.
“The hidden benefits of reading aloud — even for older kids” by Connie Matthiessen
Educator Jim Trelease explains why reading aloud to your child, no matter what her age, is the magic bullet for creating a lifelong reader.
“Helping Students Confront Obstacles Beyond Academics” by Torrey Palmer
An experienced teacher, Palmer writes from her perspective as a mother and offers some great tips for parents to see if their kids are getting the knowledge-rich education they need.
“Schools — especially elementary ones — skipping the other basics” by Michael Petrilli
If your children’s school is not spending much time on history, science, or art, here are some ideas for enriching their education.
Infographic and Guide
This one-page infographic explains why a well-rounded education that inspires wonder and excitement is the best way to improve reading comprehension. It also has tips for parents. To evaluate the quality of your school’s curriculum, see this two-page guide on the five essential features of knowledge-rich curriculum.
START BUILDING KNOWLEDGE TODAY