The Benchmark Advance Language Arts Curriculum can be a shock to the system! It’s an extremely thorough program with an endless amount of resources to use to teach, but it can be overwhelming trying to navigate all the pieces and fit them into a regular school day. I have come up with a way to break down and simplify the components of the program by unit, week, and even by day. You can download my free planning templates for grades K-6 here!
In addition, here are 4 of my best tips for fitting everything in.
Tip #1: Master the mini-lesson
Train yourself to teach mini-lessons. This was probably my greatest challenge during my first year of implementing the program. I was used to teaching 30-45 minute lessons to my second and third graders. With Benchmark, though, the lessons are meant to be quick and mini, and no longer than 15-20 minutes. This takes some getting used to; you’ll have to have a shift in mindset. We are not teaching to mastery in this time frame. I know that a big concern is that students will not ever learn a concept to mastery, but if you trust the program, you will see that each skill you teach spirals again and again throughout the curriculum. Each time a skill “spirals,” the topic is revisited with increasing depth and is taught in different ways with different examples and texts. This helps a skill become embedded in a student’s memory and ideally makes it so that it won’t be forgotten. Research shows that when students are exposed to a skill over and over throughout the school year, they have a better understanding of what they’ve learned. To help train yourself to teach mini-lessons, preview your lesson, keep the objective at the forefront of your mind, choose a small amount of text to use to teach the skill, and set a timer. When that timer goes off, let the kids know that you’re out of time and that you will be revisiting this later. Then move on!
To watch a mini lesson in action, click here.
Tip #2: Implement small groups
A huge part of Benchmark’s curriculum is the implementation of small group instruction. I personally wait until Unit 2 to implement small groups in my classroom. I teach my whole class mini-lessons back to back, and then meet with one group a day for 30 minutes at a time. We spend the first half of this time reading the leveled reader and the second half applying the close reading skill. Most of my class is reading at or above grade level this year, with my lowest readers being RSP students who get an additional 60 minutes of RSP support a day. Because of this, I can justify meeting with only one group a day for that amount of time. If my class had more of a range with more struggling readers, I would probably make sure to see my groups more than once a day/week, and for about 15 minutes at a time. However you decide to structure your small groups, it is important to get them up and running so that you can reinforce those reading skills (taught in your whole class mini-lesson) in your small group using a leveled reader that is appropriate for that group. The text that you are using whole group may not be entirely accessible for all your students. Of course, through scaffolds and good teaching practices, we can make it more accessible, BUT, the leveled readers are what you’re going to use to REALLY differentiate for each student and to meet their individual needs.
Tip #3: Break down your unit, week, and day by lesson type
My Benchmark lesson planning templates will help you break down and categorize each lesson. By breaking it down, it allows you to see the program in more manageable chunks and helps you understand the layout better. You’ll learn to categorize lessons by close reading skills, phonics, grammar (language), vocabulary, and writing. You’ll learn to look at a day as three main mini-lessons: close reading, writing, and phonics/language.
Tip #4: Don’t feel like you need to teach EVERYTHING
Once you get a feel for the program and have looked over a few units, you’ll notice the patterns and the way it all fits together. You’ll see which skills spiral every single week, and which only spiral every few units. You’ll be able to prioritize the lessons and make them work within your schedule and time frame. It also may help you to prioritize by looking to see what skills from the week will be assessed. If you look in your TRS at the lessons for the week, some lessons have check marks by them. These are the skills you will find on the assessment. For me personally, I only have an 80 minute ELA block, assuming there are NO interruptions (ha!). About half of my class is also pulled out during this block (at different times) for RSP or RTI. Because of this, I try to combine lessons wherever possible. I spend less time on certain lessons, more time on certain lessons – and I even omit lessons, based on my students’ needs and our time together. And I don’t feel guilty about it. I remind myself that the curriculum is a RESOURCE, not the Bible. I am the teacher and I know my students best. I use this (fantastic) resource how I see fit, and trust that I am making good decisions. And so far, my students are doing pretty darn well! 🙂