Issues with commonly-used ELA curricula

One central feature that sets knowledge-rich programs apart from all others—in particular, current iterations of Basals and all balanced literacy programs—is that the programs highlighted here go deep on content.

One could rightly argue that any text—any focused theme—imparts some knowledge. True enough. But programs that don’t meet our standards toggle too quickly between a wide range of topics or themes, which, although interesting in their own right, don’t add up to a coherent body of knowledge. Knowledge-rich programs spend considerably more time (from three to eight weeks per topic) and dive deeply into core texts, while other curricula prioritize a focus on isolated skills or standards and only touch on texts and topics as their vehicle for doing so. Without an express purpose to secure students’ knowledge while reading, strategy and skill practice governs the treatment of texts, and discussions and writing assignments focus student attention there. Content takes a back seat.

Perhaps the most egregious characteristic of many of these programs is their lack of universal access to rigorous texts. It means there is a lack of shared experience with a grade-level text. The leveled text approach at its heart means weaker readers read only less-complex texts, preventing them from developing the vocabulary, syntax, and concepts they need to tackle grade-level work. The impact is most severe for children who do not come to school already possessing what they need to know to make sense of written and academic English. They don’t get the chance to learn rigorous, rich content in this model.

Research tells us that a concentration on content—on building knowledge about the world—profoundly influences students’ intrinsic motivation to read, grows their wonder, and strengthens their self-efficacy.