New English Language Arts Curriculum Addresses Character, Knowledge and Skill Mastery, and High Quality Work

In September, Arlington Public Schools began the slow roll out of a new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum. Strong phonics and phonemic awareness programs were already in place in the early elementary grades. But interest in moving away from a balanced literacy program and going toward a knowledge-building curriculum was growing. It became clear that a new curriculum was needed, one that included explicit teaching of vocabulary, grammar, and integrated writing. Equity was also important, and the new curriculum needed to provide all students opportunities to work with complex texts.

The evaluation process that led to the choice of the new curriculum began in 2021 with a committee that included cross-sections from all content areas as well as district leaders and literacy coaches. The group began with nine possibilities and chose three–El Education, Wit and Wisdom and MyView– to review on a district-wide basis during 2022. Hill for Literacy provided a curriculum review rubric. Every educator in grades Kindergarten through five was given the time to complete the rubric in their review of each possibility.

The final decision was made by calculating all of the evidence found in the rubrics to see which program had the highest rankings in the areas of most importance to the district. EL Education was found to have the cross-curricular connections, explicit teaching of vocabulary and grammar and mechanics, the use of protocols to promote a high level of student discourse and high quality work that APS was looking for.

As described on their website, “EL Education empowers students to achieve multiple dimensions of success: mastery of knowledge and skills, character building, and high quality work.” The ability of students to “...Apply their learning, Think critically and Communicate clearly” are paramount. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills are emphasized. High-quality literature is blended with hands-on experience and meaningful, engaging projects and students are encouraged to ask questions and take part in real-world problem solving. 

After being trained in the spring, fourteen teachers are currently implementing EL Education in their classrooms. Over the course of the year, they will continue to work with the APS Literacy Coaches, with representatives from EL, and with each other to share their experiences and continue their learning. As the chart illustrates, there will be children in each grade in the district that have been using the new curriculum by the end of the year.

Bishop, Grades 1 and 4

Brackett, Grades 1 and 3

Dallin, Grades 2 and 3

Hardy, Grades Kindergarten and 5

Peirce, Grades Kindergarten and 4

Stratton, Grades 1 and 5

Thompson, Grades 1 and 3


As other subjects are integrated within the EL framework, APS moves toward a comprehensive approach to teaching and learning. Social Studies and Science have constructed units that will extend the learning beyond the time spent on literacy. For example, students have gathered knowledge about topics such as weather wonders, animal adaptations, and biodiversity in the rainforests. They then completed performance tasks that included writing imaginative weather narratives, creating a freaky frog narrative with trading cards, and completing a rainforest adventure ebook. These tasks measure student understanding and application of knowledge and skills in authentic contexts. Math and Visual Arts will soon be integrated as well

The EL Education launch has been very successful, and the teachers have made many positive observations, some of which are shown in the chart below. .

Curriculum Characteristic


Emphasis on engaging, hands-on learning with meaningful, real-world projects

Increased student engagement

Committed to fostering character development by focusing on core values

Changes in students’ attitudes, behaviors, and relationships

Rigorous academic standards paired with focus on character development

Students being problem solvers and critical thinkers

Encourages collaborative approach in teachers and staff

Teachers working closely with their colleagues and coaches in support of EL Education learning

EL Education will be implemented throughout the district next year. The rest of the elementary teachers will be trained in the spring, and they will have the benefit of interacting with and learning from the educators who have been involved in this year’s implementation.