All curricula at LCTA are driven by the Core Knowledge (CK) criteria and are aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL).
The language arts curriculum incorporates the goals and objectives of the Core Knowledge curriculum that promote student growth and achievement in reading, writing, oral language, and vocabulary acquisition. Lyles-Crouch uses the Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) program, which facilitates this development through direct instruction, read alouds, modeling by teachers, whole and small group instruction, and guided practice. CKLA uses a balanced literacy approach with intentional sequential phonics instruction, explicit vocabulary instruction, and emphasis on oral and written comprehension. During whole group instruction, teachers use read alouds so all students can access knowledge and learn content specific vocabulary, regardless of their reading level. CKLA is designed so that students will revisit these words in subsequent lessons throughout the year, making them part of their working vocabulary. Specific phonics skills may be taught during whole or small group instruction time with an emphasis on student interaction and engagement. Reading workshop is utilized to meet students on their instructional level and target specific areas of need to support growth. Teachers coordinate language arts content with science and social studies in order to integrate across the curriculum using fiction and non-fiction texts. These texts are available in multiple levels so all students have access to the same information, regardless of their strengths. Writing workshop includes a variety of writing experiences, including narratives and expository writing. Teachers follow the writing process--drafting, conferencing, editing, and publishing--and demonstrate the use of graphic organizers. The ultimate goal is to support our students so they become independent, critical thinkers who are able to make connections, apply their knowledge to any situation, and pursue their learning with curiosity and excitement.
The focus of mathematical instruction at LCTA is building and expanding the students’ understanding of basic number sense, making explicit connections between place value concepts and computational strategies. Our belief is proficiency in number sense and computation allows students to expand proficiency in problem solving and critical thinking, focus on unpacking real-world problems into their core components, and develop strategies for solving them. Student instruction begins with the concrete, moves to the representational, and ideally culminates with the abstract. Instruction is designed to support the students at their developmental stage. Active engagement is a priority; manipulatives, games, and technology such as calculators and computers are all integral parts of the math program. Class lessons include direct instruction of specific skills, small group instruction to target particular needs, partner work for collaboration, math stations to practice skills, and independent work for enrichment or shoring up learning. Students are encouraged to apply their mathematical knowledge to real-world situations in other content areas, for example using measurement for scale on a map in social studies or in recording data for science investigations. Teachers use exemplars to promote student discussion on how to approach real life problems and solve them. Flexible thinking, i.e. looking at more than one way to solve a problem is strongly encouraged. Math talks begin at the kindergarten level so students learn to share their thoughts verbally and listen to the ideas of peers. Students are monitored for progress regularly using pre-assessments for planning, common summative unit tests, and benchmark assessments, as well as classroom observations and formative assessments. Teachers come together for weekly Professional Learning Communities (PLC) meetings to share information and plan strategies for instruction going forward. Resources used at LCTA include Math Expressions, Reflex Math, Imagine Math, AIMSweb, Do the Math, Number Worlds, Eddie Files, and BrainPop.
The foundation of science at LCTA is a hands-on approach to investigate science concepts using both the Virginia Standards of Learning and Core Knowledge. Classroom teachers facilitate student growth as scientists through activities in which students work with STEM kits and manipulatives, and collaborate and interact in real time via their Discovery Techbooks, Nearpod, and Gizmos activities. The Core Knowledge curriculum supports the use of science trade books during both language arts and science to develop student expertise navigating non-fiction text structures as well as expanding scientific vocabulary and background knowledge. Because of CK’s rich content at all grade levels, students explore topics beyond what is required by the state. Students research the contributions of famous scientists (like Louis Pasteur, Rachel Carson, and Michael Faraday) as well as learn about atomic structure and the periodic table, tectonic plates, body systems, and the relationship of germs to sickness. In addition, at LCTA we as a staff have voted to use one of our ACPS allocated “flex” positions to hire a science specialist. Through the support of this dedicated K-5 science teacher, students at all grade levels participate in bi-monthly classroom labs where they use the scientific process to ask questions, design procedures, collect data, and interpret results, developing a foundation of scientific understanding in the earth-space, life, and physical sciences.
Social studies instruction at LCTA is designed to build rich content vocabulary and background knowledge, the foundational philosophy of the Core Knowledge curriculum, in order to develop the students’ understanding of themselves and the world within a personal and global context. Through the Core Knowledge curriculum, students are exposed to a “Knowledge Canon” that spirals systematically from kindergarten through the 5th grade. It builds a foundation of understanding of historical, economic, civic, and geographic content. Within each school year, students at LCTA learn history in chronological order instead of topics being calendar driven. This helps give a framework to the abstract idea of “thousands of years ago.” They are actively engaged and participate in Socratic Seminars, become historic characters through classroom dramatizations, and experience the music and life of different cultures and times on field trips and during PTA sponsored assemblies. Through integration with language arts via the CKLA materials, investigation of primary sources, inquiry and project based learning, use of the Google education suite and web 2.0 tools (especially in our 2nd - 5th grade classes where we are 1:1 with chromebooks) students work to create schema for organizing content. All of these experiences prepare our students to become culturally aware and mature into active citizens of their local and global communities.
Strategies for Academic Success
The single most defining factor that has led to the success of our school has been the adoption of the Core Knowledge curriculum. In 2006, the staff and administration voted to implement CK as the guiding force to our instruction. It is a more traditional approach to teaching with a content-rich curriculum that continuously builds students’ background knowledge and promotes critical thinking skills and student engagement. It is research-based and teacher tested and has had immediate impact for our students. LCTA has shown continuous growth in state test scores since using Core Knowledge.
Staff took part in extensive training to effectively implement the curriculum. Additionally, since LCTA is a public school, teachers also had to align the Core Knowledge curriculum with the Virginia Standards of Learning. In 2009, LCTA became an official Core Knowledge school and is now a Core Knowledge School of Distinction due to the implementation of CKLA across the curriculum. To effectively utilize CK, teachers create lesson plans, coordinate materials, work in PLCs, and gather and interpret data on a regular basis. New staff is required to participate in orientation to CK. They are paired with mentor teachers to help familiarize them with the curriculum and use the materials and resources with confidence.
By continuously building students’ background knowledge, we have found that the achievement gap is just as Dr. E.D. Hirsch said--a knowledge gap. Additionally, by adopting a systematic, comprehensive language arts program, students develop decoding strategies, comprehension skills, and writing skills for a variety of genres which are threaded through all of the content areas. This has enabled our students to make meaningful connections, develop vocabulary within context, and use critical thinking skills to evaluate and problem-solve. All students participate in the curriculum--including ELLs, SPED, and students in a self-contained autism classroom.
The proof has shown itself in test scores across the board. Closing the “knowledge gap” also closes the achievement gap. LCTA has consistently performed at a high level on state tests. Scores are especially high in science as compared to other schools in the division. All of our students are tested, and these results hold true for all GAP groups. On the 2017-18 SOL results, our GAP students passed at a rate of 90% or better, and that is really the whole story. All students matter and all students achieve.
For more information on Core Knowledge, visit the Core Knowledge Foundation.