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Feb 13, 2015
BY Standards Solution

A Literacy Guide of High Standards

Recently, while conducting research for a workshop on applying backward design to the creation of English language arts units, I found a comprehensive and impressive literacy guide from North Plainfield. I don’t know anyone in North Plainfield, and we have not conducted business with the district, but I wish we did. I’d like to meet the supervisors that created this helpful guide.

I remember when I first began my teaching career; I looked for curricula to guide my instruction. But all that I found were textbooks and decade-old documents that had nothing to do with the existing instructional resources. When I became a curriculum director in a new district I found even older and even less helpful guides (I soon corrected that). That is why I’m so impressed with North Plainfield’s Cross-Curricular Literacy Guide 2012-2013.

The guide is not their curricula; it is a 176-page document that provides explicit information on the district’s accountability guides, their literacy programs and procedures, their UBD template, and resources for each grade-level configuration. One of my favorite elements in this guide is the emphasis on data. Every grade levels’ literacy profile is displayed in detail. Most impressive is the direction it provides for purging profiles and the exact years that instructors are to send home identified student products.

As an educator that has evaluated literally tens of thousands of student essays, I know the criteria for quality writing at each grade level. Yet I haven’t met many educators that can define the very specific elements that one should see when reading quality text. In North Plainfield’s guide they do exactly that. They define the “Standing Ovation Checklist” for different genres. I have to admit, given the opportunity I would revise some of their elements, but I am so impressed that they provided these documents to their instructors.

I get excited when I discover districts that know how to support their educators. North Plainfield must really care about the quality of their instructional practices. They must know that we all need guidance, resources, and direction. They must also know that when the administration communicates clear expectations for instruction and assessment, that their teachers project that clarity in their instruction.

Lastly, I think that North Plainfield drew many healthy lines in the sand. They included a lot of topics that many other districts consider controversial. The guide presents templates for teaching cursive writing, extending the history, science, and technical literacy standards to mathematics, and using a humanities approach in high school English classes. Many districts struggle with these issues, and make choices but don’t necessarily highlight them in publicly available guidance documents.

Here’s to you, North Plainfield, for defining your instruction and assessment practices. Congratulations on making hard choices and standing by your decisions. Bravo to the smart educators that compiled this thorough, useful, and clear-cut guide.

North Plainfield School District Cross-Curricular Literacy Guide

Victoria Pagonis
Founder and President
Standards Solution