How to Fit in Projects with Benchmark Advance

Spoiler Alert: The key to fitting in all the Benchmark Advance curriculum is … you don’t! I’ve been hearing lots of frustration and worry from teachers in my group lately surrounding this exact topic, so I wanted to address it on the blog.

I don’t have time!
How do you find time for the fun parts of learning??
My planning time is sooo limited I can’t get anything done. 

There’s just too much to do. 

Sound familiar? 

I get it! This was me during my first year with Benchmark Advance. 

So first of all, deep breaths. You are not alone. In fact, it may make you feel better to hear that all your worrying is actually a good sign. It means you care, and you want to do the very best for your students!

Let’s address some of that worry and hopefully alleviate some stress with advice from me and other Benchmark teachers. 

The curriculum spirals back around. 

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but this curriculum is designed to keep spiraling standards, skills, and concepts. That means that while you will introduce key details and main idea in Unit 1, your kids don’t have to become masters in the first three weeks. Teach, support, and move on. You’ll come back to it! And bonus: the kids will be better at it each and every time it comes up again. 

Drown out the mixed messages. 

Has your district told you that you have to “teach to fidelity,” but the Benchmark trainer told you it’s more “a menu of options?” Confusing, right? Remember: your job is to teach the standards and develop positive relationships with the children in your class. The curriculum is a guide. So, yes, you may be asked to “teach to fidelity,” but at the end of the day, you are the teacher in the classroom, and you have choices on your day-to-day activities. The more experience you have with BA, the better you’ll be able to pick and choose with activities to complete. 

Model, model, model. 

One teacher in our group shared how helpful it was to watch a model lesson by a BA trainer: 

It was very enlightening and helpful. She did the lesson in 30 minutes for the shared reading/annotation part of the lesson. She basically told us that all you’re doing in the beginning is thinking out loud and modeling as the students copy exactly what you’re doing. I was a bit puzzled by the last page of the lesson which led to the writing, but she said they didn’t need to do any further writing and completing this Venn diagram was enough. ? I feel they need to write more, but it took the pressure off as far as writing with this curriculum.” – Debbie

So rather than guide your students through each and every assignment, to completion (impossible!), remember that the value is in the modeling and the strategies they are practicing. 

You’re learning too! Be kind to yourself. 

Whether this is your first year in the classroom or your fifteenth, being handed a new curriculum is challenging. Each unit you teach, each year you complete, you’ll feel more confident and capable. 

Teaching with Benchmark for the first time is a bit like trying to see the whole forest from the base of one giant Sequoia tree. You just can’t. You can try and wrap your head around it as best you can. You can look at a map, and ask other hikers what it’s like, but until you’ve hiked through the whole thing and gotten a birds-eye view from above, it’s hard to know how to tweak and customize and pace your lessons. And that’s okay! Remember, it all spirals back around!

First-year teacher, this is for you: your first year of teaching is like nothing you’ll ever do again. You’re excited and enthusiastic and also so overwhelmed. So give yourself grace. Find a planning buddy to lean on – if not in person, find one in our group! Remember that it’s okay to not do all the things. You are only one person. You got this!

Don’t forget the fun stuff – and here’s where the projects come in!

One of the biggest worries I see teachers have is that it’s difficult to add in engaging projects that make learning fun. The last thing we want to do is beat our students over the head with curriculum and take all the fun out of learning. 

Some advice for incorporating projects with Benchmark Advance: 

  • Plan ahead with something that will enhance the overall unit theme & essential question, while connecting to social studies and science. 
  • Allocate time outside of your ELA block. If your project enhances social studies or science concepts, or even writing concepts, it can be done in one of those blocks. I typically do all my projects in the afternoons, after BA, in place of social studies, science, art, etc.
  • Extend to four weeks, but only with the units you love. The units that you’re not as excited about, move on. In that fourth week focus only on projects, and also administer the unit assessment in small chunks each day. It’s a week of culminating everything. During that week, you can also take time to introduce and front load the next unit using anchor charts and other fun exploratory introductions.
  • Include projects in small group center time. Perhaps half of the class can work on writing, then rotate to project time. Related: Small Groups with Benchmark Advance
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Be inspired by fun projects you see other teachers post about, but don’t fall into the comparison trap. Do what you can, and you can always use ready-made resources to save time
  • Start small! It doesn’t have to be some life-changing PBL unit to help the unit come alive for your students. It can be as simple as an art activity or a fun task to complete in teams. Simple idea for grades 2+: group kids in teams and assign them part of your weekly text. Have them work together to make a poster that presents the key details and main idea. They can write, draw, and cut up the student magazines to create their poster. Bam! There’s your key details & main idea lesson!

What kinds of projects have you incorporated with BA? Or are you still overwhelmed with fitting it all in? Head over to our Facebook group, or leave a comment here, and let me know how I can support you!

Hi! I’m Toluca from Markers and Minions, where I help teachers feel more effective and confident with high-quality resources and an awesome teacher community!

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