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Baltimore County Educators Say New Language Arts Program Boosts Student Participation

Baltimore County Public Schools gave an update on its new language arts program.

File photo of elementary school students engaged in class. (Credit: Port Jefferson Patch)
File photo of elementary school students engaged in class. (Credit: Port Jefferson Patch)

This year, Baltimore County Public Schools launched an elementary English language arts curriculum pairing new Maryland standards with the county's focus on digital classroom instruction.

Educators and the chief academic officer for the school system reported to the Baltimore County Board of Education this week that the initiative was making students more interactive and that additional professional development opportunities were needed.

"As the new curriculum is implemented, students are asking questions and discussing ideas created through reading and discussing a variety of texts..." Sharon Fischer, a teacher at Kingsville Elementary School, said at the school board's April 22 meeting.

The school system began planning for the rollout of its new English language arts program in 2012–2013 with assistance from an educational consulting agency, according to a statement from Baltimore County Public Schools.

The new curriculum, which includes different textbooks and more digital programming, emphasizes explanatory writing, a balance between literature and nonfiction, and increasing complexity of texts and academic vocabulary as students advance, the statement said.

Each lesson has a specific focus, geared toward meeting Maryland College and Career Ready Standards.

“The curriculum has been written to support the standards, and each lesson has a specific focus," Fort Garrison Elementary School Principal Karen Harris said. "As a result, there is a wonderful wealth and variety of materials ... in each school ... differentiated to provide support for small group instruction."

Small group instruction is paying off in terms of participation, one teacher reported.

"Because of the new structure of lessons, which includes small group reading pathways, students are spending less time listening within whole group lessons and more time actively participating in their reading and writing each and every day," Fischer said.

What's still needed, according to some, is professional development and explanation of the new standards for the state.

“Teachers still need professional development in regards to grading work and giving feedback, differentiation and unpacking the standards," Christina Davis, a third-grade teacher at Glyndon Elementary School, said. She said that teachers were still looking to understand the ideas behind the new standards.

"We are confident" that the school system will provide the necessary tools for teachers, Davis added.

To date, Baltimore County Public Schools reported that it has offered face-to-face professional development opportunities, webinars with information about the new standards and curriculum resources. In the upcoming year, "teaching teams" will conduct site visits, according to the school system.

Also in the language arts program's next phase, teachers will develop digital resources specific to the needs of the students, according to Verletta White, chief academic officer for Baltimore County Public Schools.

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