In Louisiana’s Desoto Parish, they believe in doing things “on purpose, with purpose, for a purpose,” said Willa Smith, Coordinator of Student Learning. After conducting extensive research on English language arts core curricula, they chose to pilot LearnZillion EL Education in all second-grade classrooms at North Desoto Upper Elementary during the 2019–2020 school year.
At the end of the school year, they observed student learning and reviewed teacher feedback and year-end progress data, and determined that LearnZillion was “the best of the best.” From there, they created a plan to roll out the new English language arts curriculum to support young learners across the entire district’s kindergarten through second-grade classes.
As if implementing a new curriculum across five schools wasn’t challenging enough, Desoto Parish made the change in the middle of a pandemic.
We chose EL Education because the Tier 1 curriculum gave our students the best opportunity to master the standards set forth by the LDOE.
LearnZillion EL Education Implementation
Desoto Parish has used LearnZillion Guidebooks as their core curriculum in grades 3–12 since 2015, so when evaluating Tier 1 curricula for kindergarten through second grade, LearnZillion was included in their analysis. Since the younger grades had never had a Tier 1 curriculum, the educators at Desoto Parish used research to back the assumption that a core curriculum to support young learners is beneficial.
“We make sure our students are paramount in everything we do,” said Smith, who emphasized the use of data in their decision-making process.
After choosing LearnZillion EL Education, the team used the summer of 2020 to determine what they wanted classes to look and feel like with the new curriculum. Incorporating flexibility was key as they knew the pandemic might force school closures throughout the school year. Having a solid curriculum to follow, whether learning took place in school or from home, gave the students and educators consistency in a challenging situation.
“It would have been easier to move forward with what we had,” said Smith, “but that would not have been best for our students.” After evaluating the data, teacher feedback, and observed student learning, LearnZillion EL Education was the clear choice.
“We chose EL Education because the Tier 1 curriculum gave our students the best opportunity to master the standards set forth by the LDOE,” said Smith.
“Training is at the forefront of everything we do at Desoto,” said Smith, who emphasized that the specific, targeted professional development and implementation training with the LearnZillion team has been essential to their rollout.
As a Teacher Advancement Program district, Desoto Parish emphasizes teacher development by integrating coaching, mentoring, and co-teaching as a normal practice. But launching a new curriculum took extra support, and the staff dedicated their summer to get up and running with professional development.
“Training has given us a roadmap of how we can use the curriculum to do the most for our students,” said Smith. She is especially pleased when teachers embrace the power of the EL Education curriculum and tools within the LearnZillion platform to create robust learning opportunities for their students.
“I’ve seen an awesome shift in the student conversations. These young kids are having high-level conversations about topics like the traits of birds, and that’s not something we’ve seen before at that level of depth,” said Smith, who was encouraged by her teachers’ commitment to the new program.
Curriculum to Support Young Learners
Smith acknowledged that their youngest students were at a unique disadvantage during the pandemic because they had little to no interaction with formal schooling during their lives. “We focus on building character, especially with our littlest learners,” said Smith, who admitted that some hadn’t even opened a book outside of school.
However, Desoto Parish teachers didn’t focus on learning loss; instead, they focused on the students’ existing skills and built specific scaffolds to fill in the gaps. Smith celebrated her teachers by saying, “As educators, we are constantly learning ourselves and preparing students to be adaptable and effective in every situation.”
By adding K–2 LearnZillion EL Education, we have been able to create a continuum of learning in ELA across all grade levels K–12.
“We wanted to be intentional with our instruction and focus on what skills students needed support in,” said Smith. The benchmark and cycle assessments were used to place students in their micro-phases carefully. Then teachers used the LearnZillion Skills Block curriculum for whole-group instruction and small-group differentiation.
Because they use LearnZillion Guidebooks in grades 3–12, early-elementary teachers could reinforce standards and make connections across all grade levels. “By adding K–2 LearnZillion EL Education, we have been able to create a continuum of learning in ELA across all grade levels K–12,” said Smith.
Advice for Others
“Be adaptive,” said Smith when asked to share advice for other educators. “Expect struggles and help people understand how the curriculum benefits students,” she said. Smith went on to say that by explaining the “why” behind a decision, it’s easier to dive into the “how.” She also encouraged educators to:
- Use continuous assessment so that data can structure your day
Desoto Parish has WIN time (Whatever I Need) built into their day to address learning gaps or difficult concepts. The content covered in this personalized time is based on student data, and the materials available in LearnZillion help support individualized instruction.
- Ensure fidelity in the classroom
Administrators should consider teacher and student concerns, but a strong Tier 1 curriculum can help bring everyone together.
- Help students get human-to-human interaction
Using technology is important, but that teacher–student connection is vital to learning, especially in the lower grades. And the different materials built into LearnZillion help the teachers customize learning based on the student’s individual needs.
Through an especially challenging year, Desoto Parish successfully rolled out a new curriculum to support young learners and facilitated learning in-person and from home with LearnZillion EL Education.