If you’re here because your district adopted the Benchmark Advance curriculum and you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re going to want to read this.
And you may want to join this Benchmark Facebook group for planning, organization, and tips!
Adopting new curriculum is always tough. As teachers, we tend to know what things work for us and the kids. But we’ve all been there. We’re told that we are to start using a new program, and before we know it, our classroom cabinets are packed to the brim with god knows what.
During the 2015-2016 school year, I volunteered to be on the adoption committee for my school district. I decided that I was going to embrace the change and confront it head on by having a say in the decision. During the year-long adoption process, we were pitched by several large publishers, including McGraw Hill, Houghton Mifflin, and National Geographic. After months and months, we finally voted on our new language arts curriculum – and Benchmark Advance won by a landslide. A landslide, folks. It truly is a far superior program. Here are 10 reasons why.
10. Benchmark used to be a guided reading company.
Before they became a full-blown language arts curriculum, they were a guided reading company. They specialized in small, leveled readers to differentiate. You can find these readers included in our curriculum. All the readers are leveled by guided reading levels (A-Z) and by Lexile level.
9. The Benchmark Advance curriculum was written after the CCSS were adopted.
This was definitely evident as we did side-by-side comparisons between all the curriculums that were offered to us when we were adopting. Every other curriculum was basically the same program we’ve all seen a million times, except “now aligned to Common Core!” Benchmark wrote their Advance curriculum after the standards were published. Every single text and every single lesson was designed with Common Core objectives in mind.
8. The texts are rigorous.
This can also be intimidating for teachers – I get it – but this is actually a good thing. Yes, a lot of these texts will require lots of scaffolds and supports, but as someone who taught this program to a class of second and third graders last year, I can definitely say that the students grew leaps and bounds in their reading. They also learned effective strategies for reading complex, rigorous texts, and most of all, they learned to persist and actually attempt to close read a selection even if it was difficult for them. I’ve made bookmarks with text-dependent questions that pertain to all the short and extended reads in every single unit. The text-dependent questions hit every Common Core standard for reading informational and literature texts. These questions help guide my lessons and our class discussions, and they work well as independent tasks for a workstation.
7. Benchmark has everything you need to differentiate for small groups.
This program is really big on whole-class mini-lessons and small group instruction. The Texts for Close Reading are great for analyzing sections of texts whole-class with a specific reading task/focus. For small group instruction, students can continue working in their Texts for Close Reading on their task, apply their reading skill to a small, leveled reader, or practice reading in leveled Reader’s Theatre book sets. They can answer text-dependent questions or work on spelling and grammar skills.
6. Benchmark has a strong online component, including a virtual writer’s workshop.
All of the above mentioned small group resources are also available online, and for many of the texts, there is an option to have the text read aloud to the student. This is helpful for a listening or technology workstation. On the website, there is also a virtual writer’s workshop, called Benchmark Writer’s Universe. Here, students are guided through a prewriting task (where you can actually create a specific graphic organizer for them to complete!), a drafting stage, a revise/edit stage, a publishing stage, and finally, a reflecting stage. Each time a student completes a stage in their writing, the teacher has to unlock the next stage in order for the students to proceed. This way, you can monitor where their writing is taking them. Here is a screenshot of what this looks like online.
5. Benchmark gives kids access to a huge variety of both nonfiction & fiction texts.
The texts included in the program are roughly 50% fiction and 50% nonfiction, and they switch back and forth with each unit. I have loved switching from 3 weeks of fiction and storytelling to 3 weeks of informative, rich texts. It’s a wonderful balance and there’s a little bit for everyone.
4. The reading strategies in the program really help kids learn to close read.
You will notice that the students are asked to apply the same reading strategies over and over again, with different texts. For example, there isn’t a week that goes by where the kids aren’t looking for key details or key events. These reading strategies that they learn really help them analyze text and become reading detectives. We always approach the stories with three reads over the course of two days – the first read as a read-aloud, the second read is for the students to read on their own and annotate, and the third read is for close reading.
3. The texts are consumable.
This is a big one! The student texts are amazing because students can annotate all over that bad boy! They can circle, underline, draw arrows, draw, write questions, and jot down thoughts all over their textbook and this is extremely valuable when they’re learning to analyze text, and it’s also very helpful for teachers because we can assess their learning based on how they annotate.
2. The unit themes are consistent across grade levels.
Every single grade level is focusing on the theme of government for unit 1, characters for unit 2, and so on. This is wonderful because if kids have siblings in other grades, they can go home and connect their learning based on these common themes. This is also amazing if your school collaborates and has school-wide events that align with the themes of the units.
1. At the end of each unit, there are Inquiry Based Projects (Project Based Learning).
This is by far, my FAVORITE part of Benchmark! I am huge on project-based learning, and I absolutely love that I don’t have to plan these projects out. At the end of each unit, there are several Inquiry-Based Projects students can complete, and they incorporate science and social studies! Last year after each 3-week unit, we took the 4th week off to just work on these projects. We had A BLAST!
Some of the projects we did were: working with the mayor to fundraise for our local temporary aid center, design our own Pokemon cards using famous historical figures, and design our own cell phone apps and pitch them to our class “Shark Tank.”
I hope this list helps you feel excited and inspired about the new curriculum, and that you approach this new journey with an open mind!
For support and inspiration, join my Benchmark Facebook group!