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Looking To Save Your Teachers Precious Time Unpacking ELA Standards?

Whether your school, district, or diocese is using the English/Language Arts (ELA) Common Core State Standards (CCSS), state standards, or a hybrid of the two, PreK-12 teachers are being asked to make curriculum, instruction, and assessment decisions based on the interpretation of those standards.


The reality is that accurate interpretations of the standards’ learning expectations is not an easy—or speedy—task.


ELA Reference Guides

The ELA Reference Guides are unpacked CCSS* that have been meticulously translated into horizontally and vertically aligned content and skills for 13 grades: Kindergarten through Grade 12.


The content and skills are purposefully generic so that a curriculum can be uniquely designed to meet the curriculum-design frameworks and needs of the learning organization.


*If you do not use the CCSS, contact Janet to discuss your learning organization's specific ELA standards.


K-12 Refernce Guides TitlesThe Reference Guides consist of the following strands/substrands:


The CCSS for ELA front matter (page 4, emphasis added ) points out that:

The K–12 grade-specific standards define end-of-year expectations and a cumulative progression designed to enable students to meet college and career readiness expectations no later than the end of high school.


An exclusive feature in the ELA Reference Guides is the “blue equals new learning” differentiation that aids teachers in quickly discerning new learning in a particular grade level versus spiraled learning in black font that requires more difficult contexts and texts.


Take a few moments to study this sample of the Reference Guides' vertical articulated alignment across three grade levels.

Sample Section of Content Listings from Reading Literature Reference Guides


Fairy Tale Content Listings from Reference Guides


Aligned Skills for Content's Fairy Tale Listings from Reading Literature Reference Guides


Fairy Tale Skills Grades 2 & 3 RG


Here are a few questions to ponder after studying the horizontally and vertically aligned learning expectations:

1. Did you notice that the Fairy Tale genre is new learning in Grade 2 (indicated by the blue font), included in both blue and black font in Grade 3, but is not included at all in Grade 4? Why is the Fairy Tale genre explicitly included in these two grades? What does this convey to the teachers in these three grade levels when designing units of study and instructional plans?

2. What are the nuanced expectations in the Grade 2 and Grade 3 skills? Why do you think additional learning was added in Grade 3?


3. What do you think is the purpose for including examples (e.g.s) for these skills?

4. What do the small codes indicate underneath each skill statement? Why is this alignment information important when designing curriculum, assessments, and instruction?


To discuss the answers to these questions, 
or discuss your learning organization’s ELA curriculum design and instruction needs
please contact Janet Hale using this contact form, or by calling her at 520.241.8797.



Eastridge Logo


Our Experience in Creating Units of Study Using the ELA Reference Guides

By Jane Synder, Principal - Cherry Creek School District

With Janet Hale’s guidance and coaching, the Eastridge Elementary faculty has created incredible units of study, instructional unit plans, and lessons that are systemically aligned across all grade levels - Kindergarten through Grade 5 – using her standards-aligned ELA Reference Guides.

In transitioning to teach the latest Colorado Academic Standards we had been struggling to accurately interpret each grade level’s standards with fidelity and rigor. While many of our grade-level planning sessions were spent focused on trying to unwrap the standards, we lacked the comprehensive understanding of what students needed to know and be able to do from a horizontal, and more importantly, a vertical perspective. The ELA Reference Guides were the perfect fit for us! We no longer had to spend valuable time trying to figure out how to unpack the standards to determine the required learning.

The ELA Reference Guides allow a school or district to design units of study that are meaningful for their vision, mission, goals, and students’ needs. Not only do the ELA Reference Guides include content and skills for each ELA strand, they provide helpful “blue equals new” font differentiation so teachers know what to focus on with specificity each academic year. The grade-level teams also found the student-centered examples embedded in the skills extremely helpful in creating strong universal-design units of study and instructional plans.  

Janet was the perfect person to lead our challenge! She came to Eastridge in the summer for a couple of days to lay a foundation in the ELA Reference Guides unit-design process. She explained the step-by-step procedures with a core team of administrators and instructional coaches. She was diligent in making sure that the created units of study would reflect our beliefs and student population. As a collaborative team, we developed a strategic plan for our faculty to begin the unit-design process, which began the following week.
Eastridge Elem SchoolEach grade-level team consisted of four to seven teachers who were given the challenge of creating 12 three-week units of study. We had previously determined that reading would be the overarching focus for the units. Each grade-level team began their design process by meeting with Janet to read and study the structure and function of three ELA Reference Guides: Reading Literature, Reading Informational Text, and Speaking and Listening. Each team then analyzed each of these reference guides’ content and skills to purposefully group related skills from among the three reference guides to create meaningful units of study. Next, they cut out and placed the grouped skills onto large sheets of paper to form a drafted scope and sequence units of study.

Janet then worked with each team to study their drafted units of study, listening closely to their skill-grouping reasoning, and coaching them when areas of curriculum concern where apparent. Once this step was complete, each team worked collaboratively to create the first three units of study using an online curriculum management system. (Note: Using this type of system was new for our faculty, and they have loved it ever since! Their units of study, instructional plans, and lessons are all housed in one place, and can be easily accessed, monitored, and adjusted each year by the grade-level teams or across grade-level teams.)
Beyond the summer time work, each grade level had planned meeting times set aside to continue to enter and develop their nine remaining units of study and universal instruction unit plans that included essential questions, formative and summative assessments, as well as mandatory and suggested resources and lesson plans that focused on how to best teach the units of study. Janet came back during the fall to help with troubleshooting and coaching teams who requested additional assistance.

We began our design process started in July. By February, each grade level had completed a full academic year of reading-based units of study! We have since integrated science and social studies learning, and have one more phase to go: embedding writing and language skills using the remaining ELA Reference Guides.
Although it has been a lot of hard work, it has so been worth it! Janet lead us to develop rigorous, integrated, vertically aligned ELA-based units of study with a clearer understanding of the standards’ intent, and how we can best serve our students to be successful, independent readers, writers, and thinkers.


To discuss your learning organization’s ELA curriculum design, instruction, and assessment needs

please contact Janet Hale using this contact form, or by calling her at 520.241.8797.