This post is published with permission from Amplify, the Core Knowledge Foundation’s publishing partner for the Core Knowledge Language Arts® (CKLA) program. The blog’s author, Stephanie Chang, highlights Byrd Avenue Primary School and their success with building knowledge with students through CKLA.

 

Walk through the halls of Byrd Avenue Primary School on any given day, and you’ll be surprised by some of the conversations the kindergartners are having. You might overhear them chatting about ancient civilization, or exactly how the sandwiches they ate at lunch are digested by their bodies.

“You’d think kindergartners wouldn’t be interested in Mesopotamia, but they love it,” says Debbie Jenkins, elementary curriculum and instruction supervisor of Byrd Avenue’s district, Bogalusa City Schools in Louisiana. “They’re just like little sponges, taking in all of this information and absorbing it.”

The reading and language arts program that introduced these topics to the children is Core Knowledge Language Arts®, or CKLA, which works to develop world knowledge as well as word knowledge to create successful readers.

At Byrd Avenue Primary School, which serves grades K-2, 93 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The students often have issues with comprehension because of their lack of background or world knowledge, Jenkins says. As a result, as they get to the upper grades, they often know how to read the words but don’t understand their meaning, she says.

“Other than a few charter schools, we were the only public school district in the state of Louisiana to implement CKLA. We took a leap of faith, and it totally paid off.”

Jenkins followed the work of E.D. Hirsch Jr., chief architect of CKLA, for many years before Bogalusa implemented the program last year.

“Hirsch believes that comprehension problems stem from a knowledge problem,” Jenkins says, “and we needed a program to help build world knowledge as well as foundational reading skills. Other than a few charter schools, we were the only public school district in the state of Louisiana to implement CKLA. We took a leap of faith, and it totally paid off.”

The difference the program has made in students’ language arts skills has been unbelievable, Jenkins says. The year before implementing CKLA, 88 to 89 percent of Bogalusa’s kindergartners hit the reading benchmark; after implementing it, the number jumped to 95 percent. First-grade percentages jumped from the 60s to the 80s, Jenkins says.

“Each year, the curriculum builds on what they learned the previous year. So we’re building a foundation of knowledge at the youngest age,” she says.

The state of Louisiana has since placed CKLA on its “Tier 1” list of curricular resources for ELA and literacy. As for Bogalusa, because of its success with the program in K-2 last year, the district expanded its implementation to grades 3-5 this school year.

“We are expecting wonderful results in those grades as well,” Jenkins says. “We know now that we took the right leap of faith with CKLA, and I continue to be one of E.D. Hirsch’s biggest fans.”

 

6 comments on “Developing Strong Readers by First Building Knowledge”

  1. 1
    Kristi Barnes on January 24, 2018

    I have found it to be true that children are interested in the world, both things that are near and familiar to them, as well as far away and strange to them. In fact, I find that there is very little that cannot be made interesting to kids. So it seems strange that as a teacher I am continually trying to find ways to make the curriculum interesting and engaging to my students. For years in my district, we were directed to teach our adopted curriculum “to fidelity.” Now that we are teaching the Common Core Standards, we can use district curriculum or any other material to help students reach the standards. This feels freeing as a classroom teacher and opens up the ability to choose rich content-based literature to teach standards. I can teach more history, geography, and science. I agree that when students have content knowledge, they will comprehend more, and be more likely to produce clear and coherent writing. The pieces that I still feel is missing in my public school is the systematic teaching of social studies and science that continues to build year to year, and the fact that the given curriculum for K-5 social studies never moves beyond the United States. For students to grow into world citizens, they should begin learning about the world outside our borders before middle school.

    1. 2
      Alyssa on March 21, 2018

      You are fortunate to be given the “go ahead” to use supplemental resources. My district requires the curriculum and has very little flexibility for us to sway from it. I also find it interesting that I am constantly looking for ways to engage my kids even if the content is truly meaningful. I make certain that I teach the exact content yet in a variety of different ways. I also agree with you regarding the lack of social studies/science content? How do you integrate this material? I often need to select texts that are unique to those topics to teach during guided reading or small groups. I would like some insight on how I can provide more purposeful instruction without these certain curriculums.

    2. 3
      Monique E Owens on March 23, 2018

      Alyssa,

      Lack of social studies content is a major problem for our school as well. Our district is still in the process of creating a curriculum that is meaningful for all students while at the same time we are frustrated with the materials we are given to teach it. As a grade level team, we review the topic and overall guiding questions the district expects students to understand after teaching and learning and we search for supplemental materials to engage students in their learning. This is not an easy task but technology has helped alleviate the constant research battle. Kahoot is a good way to have students review major social studies topics like the birth and growth of America from its founding to the many wars that shaped it and the events that made it what it is today. This is a free program that includes pre-scripted reviews and opportunities to create your own reviews based on your teaching. Another site we use is Flocabulary that helps our English language learners with specific vocabulary or tier 3 vocabulary that is associated with social studies. The students are engaged with the material that I teach for a maximum of 20 minutes and they extend their learning with meaningful activities.

  2. 4
    Linlu on March 21, 2018

    As an Early Childhood educator or Pre-K teacher I see the fundamental importance to build a foundation of knowledge at the youngest age! Reading to children can promote early literacy and by creating a supportive learning environment that nurture language discoveries can create opportunities for children to build knowledge as well as learning about the real world. I believe young children strive in learning or print-rich environments that help them to use what they already know to make sense of new information or knowledge. Discovering the use of their minds or imagination allow them to practice skills in real-life experiences and through those everyday experiences that children gain oral language skills and ultimately emergent reading skills.
    Thanks for the insights on such an effective program!

  3. 5
    Macarena AB on March 22, 2018

    Its great to see how many schools are trying to engage students with reading. I find it fantastic! I am from Peru and here schools are very traditional… they don’t innovate much. I find the CKLA program very interesting and I will try to apply it in my workplace. I love the way in which the program combines “engaging and increasingly complex informational and literary texts, with a focus on expanding knowledge across all content areas” (Amplify Education, 2018a). I’ve always thought that content areas have to mix around grades and classes in order to engage students and make learning more meaningful for them. I also want to find rich texts across science, social studies, literatures and arts in order to promote close reading, writing and text- based discussions! Do you know where can I get them? I live in Lima, Peru. I found this implementation guide: https://3o83ip44005z3mk17t31679f-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/CKLA-Implementation-Guide-2017.pdf (Core Knowledge Language Arts, 2017) but I can’t find a link here to buy complete kits!

    I think that the proven results after using CKLA are awesome! (Amplify Education, 2018b). If we compare results of comparison schools and CKLA in Kindergarten and First Graders, the results are always higher for CKLA! The most amazing was Second Grade where the fall-to-spring literacy gains of second grades using CKLA were more than double to those of their peers in control schools!

    Thanks for such great and useful information!!!

    References:
    Amplify Education (2018a). Core Knowledge Language Arts. Retrieved 21/03/2018 from https://www.amplify.com/curriculum/core-knowledge-language-arts

    Amplify Education (2018b). Core Knowledge Language Arts Results. Retrieved 21/03/2018 from https://www.amplify.com/curriculum/core-knowledge-language-arts/results

    Core Knowledge Language Arts (2017). Implementation Resources Guide. Retrieved 21/03/2018 from https://3o83ip44005z3mk17t31679f-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/CKLA-Implementation-Guide-2017.pdf

  4. 6
    Robert on March 25, 2018

    It’s great to hear that many schools and teachers are taking this approach. While a lot of us have the best intentions with teaching our students and strengthening them as readers, I think we get lost in the process of focusing entirely on those reading skills, rather than building background knowledge in general. As we know, students learn best when they can attribute positive experiences to their education. How are we to expect that students who have no background knowledge on a topic or reading selection will have any success? Aside from that, building background knowledge seems to promote a higher level of motivation and engagement for students, based off of what this article stated about young students being excited about Mesopotamia.

    I think that even in districts where we feel that there might not be a lot of resources to access in building background knowledge, our job is to find ways to do it regardless. When we think about what we read and our purpose for reading, a lot of times it is to find out new information or build on previous knowledge. Why should reading be any different for our students? Let’s start making opportunities to provide students with background knowledge so that they can get more out of their reading curriculum and construct stronger learning experiences.

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