From Skeptical to Skyrocketing: Why Teachers Should Believe in the Guidebooks Curriculum

Jade Porche

My journey teaching the Guidebooks began at the start of my teaching career. In 2016, fresh out of college and fresh into an Alternative Certification program at Louisiana College (TEACH), I was a 7th grade ELA teacher at a junior high in my hometown. During the professional development before the start of the school year, our supervisor asked us to write down the names of two Unit Readers that we wanted them to purchase for each grade. This was when the Guidebooks 1.0 was being rolled out. I knew NOTHING about the Guidebooks and so I relied on my fellow ELA teachers to choose the Unit Readers for the year. We chose The Christmas Carol and The Giver. I received zero training to implement this curriculum and the school’s attitude towards the Guidebooks was:

“If you want to use it, you can, but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to use it.” So I didn’t.

I used TeachersPayTeachers and my neighboring teacher for a lot of my classroom resources; if I couldn’t find it, I haphazardly created it. I pulled stories that I enjoyed and I taught reading strategies like I had been conditioned to teach in college. I created a folder called “Theme” in my brain, and I found videos, stories, and pictures to put into that folder. And honestly, I feel guilty about the way I taught my students in my first year because I did not give them the high-quality instruction they deserved. After that school year, I moved to Lafayette, so I never saw their test scores. But if I had…I know I would cringe.

In the fall of 2017, I became a 7th grade ELA teacher at Breaux Bridge Junior High (BBJH) in St. Martin Parish. I was excited because I was comfortable teaching 7th grade, but I was not teaching the same novels. Some of them were the same, but my new school had a setlist of novels to teach as a part of the Guidebooks 2.0 Curriculum. The attitude of the Guidebooks at BBJH was, “Here is the curriculum, use it.” And I did, but not with fidelity. I still supplemented here and there, holding onto the “teach reading strategies” mindset. If the kids didn’t understand “Main Idea,” then I hounded them on main idea.

LEAP scores came out for 2017-2018 and my students grew 0.1 points. Let that sink in… 0.1 points growth.

That put me at the “Ineffective” level with my Student Learning Targets. It was a gut punch because I know how that made me look. Not. Good.

In the summer of 2018, I asked my principal to move into an 8th grade ELA vacancy that we had. I spent all summer poring over into the units, looking at the lessons, creating outlines of the lessons, etc. I was going to be prepared this year to provide my students with the high-quality instruction they deserve. Then I was asked to be a participant in the Content Leader Distinction, with training provided by Teaching Lab. At the first Content Module (CM) meeting, I was skeptical. Yes, I had been studying the Guidebook lessons all summer, but now I was being told I was supposed to teach them with fidelity and integrity? My first thought was, “I’m not a robot! It feels like I’m going to be reading from a script,” which was how I felt at the beginning of the previous school year. The curriculum felt constrained and cookie-cutter, and I struggled with the time limits for my students.

But after the first unit, I worked out the kinks, I adjusted some suggested time limits, and I really dug into the “Supports for Differentiations” that each lesson provided. I didn’t change anything; I only employed the supports the Guidebooks units included to support learners of all kinds. And ultimately, I made this fantastic curriculum fit my kids’ unique needs.

We pushed through the challenging parts of the lessons and celebrated the growth, even when it was small. My students were able to track their growth and see themselves making sense of the texts as we visited them once, twice, and three more times. I waited in anticipation for this year’s LEAP 2025 scores. When the scores came in, I got to calculating as fast as I could. I counted and recounted to make sure.

My 2018-2019 students grew almost 20 points! LOOK AT WHAT MY KIDS DID!

The Guidebooks work. They absolutely work. Yes, I understand the skepticism about adopting curriculum, but this curriculum was built by teachers for teachers. The curriculum is designed to support the classroom teacher (and special ed teacher) in every way, so their students can dive into complex texts, and emerge with a greater understanding.

Jade Porche is a Middle School ELA teacher in St. Martin Parish, LA. She completed Content Leaders training with Teaching Lab in 2018-19 and was asked to write about her personal journey with the Guidebooks by Addie Kelley.

Addie Kelley is a Teaching Lab fellow. Addie has worked in the classroom for over 10 years, was a Louisiana Teacher Leader Advisor and has authored two 3rd-grade units for Louisiana Guidebooks.

Content Leaders are local educators who have the knowledge, skills, and concrete resources to provide high-quality, content-rich, and curriculum specific professional development to new and current teachers in their district. The Content Leader role is also an important step in the leadership pipeline for talented local educators.

October 7, 2019

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