Fort Worth parents can expect to be more involved in their youngest children’s education next year as the Fort Worth Independent School District phases in a new curriculum for pre-K students.
Teachers from two-thirds of the district’s elementary schools began training to learn the new curriculum. They say the new model is more involved, engaging and child-centered than what has been used in the past.
“It is very child-friendly and developmentally appropriate,’‘ said Clara Williams, a veteran pre-K teacher at Sunrise McMillan Elementary school. “It will allow for children’s natural curiosity.”
The Creative Curriculum for Texas, which is provided by Teaching Strategies, focuses on allowing children to explore and come to conclusions about questions on their own, with guidance from teachers.
Teaching Strategies is one of the largest providers of early childhood education materials in the country.
Williams says under the new curriculum she sees her role as being more of a facilitator.
“We’re looking at different things that the children are interested in learning about… and a big part of that learning is to be able to help them navigate where we go and what they’re curious about,” Williams said.
The practice is in-line with play-based learning, a learning model used across the country that has been tied to more successful student outcomes.
“It is purposeful play,” Misty Hollis, a pre-K teacher at Hazel Harvey Peace Elementary, said. “We the teachers will intentionally put out materials that help guide their curiosity, and the teacher is a guide on the side helping with the questioning.”
Breeyn Mack, the vice president of Education Content at Teaching Strategies, said the child-centered approach sets the curriculum apart from others.
“A lot of other curricula out there we would say are more scripted … where it is more expected that everybody is kind of doing the same thing as a large group,” Mack said. “There’s a great deal of intentionality on the part of the teacher, she’s setting the stage. But it’s much more open ended for teachers to be facilitating discussion and having the flexibility to follow children’s questions and interests.”
Putting the focus on the child allows for teachers to tailor the lessons they teach to serve students individually. Olayinka Moore-Ojo, the district’s director of Early Learning, said that is important for a district as diverse as Fort Worth ISD.
“Especially when we think about the cultural diversity we have in the district and the different needs,” she said.
That diversity includes bilingual programs, special education programs and pre-K classes for children both three and four years old, Moore-Ojo said.
Learning at home
Parents will also have a chance to observe and participate in their children’s education, with a number of family engagement resources FWISD invested in alongside the curriculum.
Lessons done in the classroom will be mirrored with activities that can be done in the home, according to Mack.
“So as we’re doing an investigation of boxes in the classroom, and one week we’re asking, what can we make with boxes? Then we’re sending the family equivalent of that home and a playlist for families to digitally access.” Mack said.
The focus on family engagement and digital access to resources has increased over the last year, as Teaching Strategies and the district navigated teaching amid a pandemic.
Williams said the format will allow for a more seamless transition in the event children have to learn from home again.
“If we have to move back into an experience like that, there is something in place now that will meet that need,” Williams said. “There’s a parent and family engagement piece that keeps learning ongoing, so they are constantly a part of the learning experience.”
But whether there are any emergency shutdowns or not, technology and family engagement have become a permanent part of early childhood education.
“One of the beautiful things that we thought during COVID was family is just becoming even more valued and trusted partners in children’s development,” Mack said. “They’ve gotten a whole new level of access and visibility into the day-to-day of their children’s development. We want to continue that momentum.”
Teaching Strategies also provides ongoing online professional development for pre-K teachers throughout the year, another tool that was refined over the last two years of virtual instruction.
Tools like ReadyRosie, an early education tool that connects families to the classwork and assessment-based progress of their children allow parents to be active participants in their children’s education. The program was adopted by the district previously, but works hand-in-hand with the new curriculum.
Parents can also expect to receive a more complete understanding of where their children are developmentally with access to a tool used by teacher’s throughout the year to measure progress called a formative assessment.
“Families don’t just want a checklist of what their child can and can’t do,” Mack said. “What families want … is a comprehensive picture along a progression of development of where their child’s skills are, what they can expect next, but then even more importantly -- empowering them of the ways they can support that development at home.”
As the district begins a phased in approach to the new curriculum this fall, Moore-Ojo said she is optimistic about the impact it will have on student achievement across Fort Worth ISD.
“We spent the past year going through the process of the adoption,” she said. “The resources that we have and the pedagogy that we’re using is what is needed for our students as they return back to school post-COVID.”