Educators have spoken: What we teach and how we teach go hand-in-hand

by Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education


Read to be Ready, a series of statewide initiatives, has focused attention on the need to improve literacy instruction in the early years. Teachers play a critical part of leading this work as they focus on building students’ foundational skills while also improving students’ vocabulary and comprehension within the context of meaningful and interesting texts and materials.

We hear from teachers that they appreciate the need for high-quality, authentic texts as they grow students’ knowledge and understanding of concepts through reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Overwhelmingly, teachers have shared that they love this new way of teaching. They have embraced instructional practices highlighted in Teaching Literacy in Tennessee as they create units that engage students in authentic texts and high-level questions that build students’ knowledge of the world around them. Teachers have also embraced interactive read-alouds, shared reading, and a focus on foundational skills and writing as part of this work.

I am so encouraged to work with so many talented educators across the state who are committed to improving literacy outcomes for students. However, I recognize teachers are having to spend a significant amount of time sourcing materials to teach in this new way. According to the Tennessee educator survey, the average K-3 reading teacher spends 4.5 hours per week creating or sourcing materials for daily reading blocks. While I hear from teachers that they believe this shift in practice is the right shift to make, I also hear that they desire more support in accessing high-quality resources, materials, and curriculum. This is why the Read to be Ready Coaching Network created unit starters and text sets—with an initial focus on building students’ conceptual knowledge of science—to provide teachers with what they are asking for: high-quality units with interesting, rigorous texts, and engaging student questions and assignments that build reading skills and science knowledge.

Students, teachers, and school leaders alike have had resoundingly positive reactions to the unit starter materials and the classroom-level impact on students. Where high-quality materials are being used, we see students experiencing complex, quality, and content-rich texts. We also see more and better text-focused questions. Finally, high-quality materials have challenged teachers’ expectations for their students. And, students are readily accepting the challenge and rising to the higher expectations that teachers set. Teachers also share with us that student engagement has increased with higher expectations—students’ literacy skills are improving, and they’re interested in what they’re learning.

We also know that what we teach and how we teach it go hand-in-hand. National research shows that students whose teachers used quality textbooks gained as much as eight months more of learning compared to their peers. But, we also know that strong instructional materials are not a substitute for strong teaching— Even with high-quality materials, teachers must implement quality question sequences and tasks to support students in reaching literacy outcomes. This is why improved educator preparation, professional learning, and instructional coaching—along with high-quality materials—are so important.

In 2018, we have an even greater focus and partnership with our principals, teachers, and educator preparation faculty to ensure they have what they need to be successful. We know that the sequencing of high-quality instructional materials matters for teachers—having readily available texts that build meaningful, conceptual knowledge releases teachers to use their time to invest in planning and professional learning instead of searching for materials. And, we know that the Read to be Ready work and Teaching Literacy in Tennessee have sparked a hunger in our educators to have the best reading materials available for our students and then to pair these with new instructional practices that our teachers are already embracing. To this end, principals in our Read to be Ready districts are collaborating on these topics across the state, educator preparation faculty are beginning their network this month, and Read to be Ready coaches will be releasing additional unit starters and text sets this spring as we continue to implement the units already published.

Educators have spoken and have shared what they need—they are now leading the way in designing and focusing the state’s literacy work. And, as a result, it will be our students who benefit in 2018 and beyond.


To learn more about Ready to be Ready and to access the unit starters, please visit the Read to be Ready website here. You can also learn more about how teachers are building their own units with high-quality materials in the blog post “Building Knowledge Through Unit Design” by Karen Sadikoff, a Read to be Ready coach from Sweetwater.