The Intersection

Inside the Instructional Materials Taskforce, Part 2: (Unexpected) Lessons Learned

July 9, 2015


It has been eight months since the Instructional Materials Taskforce (IMT) met for the first time. In that time, the six district teams that make up the Taskforce have accomplished much of what they set out to do: engage in training to deepen their understanding of Common Core alignment, learn how to use the Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) to support their review work, and build their capacity to train their own district teams. It’s what they didn’t expect – specifically, the connections they hadn’t foreseen between this and the other aspects of their work – that has proven especially notable.

Reviewing materials is valuable whether you’re purchasing or not.
An impending purchasing cycle certainly provides clear motivation for doing instructional materials reviews, but by no means is it necessary to be in the process of purchasing new materials to benefit from training reviewers and conducting an instructional materials reviews. Several of the districts on the Taskforce do not have immediate plans to purchase, but they have seen tangible benefits of learning to use the IMET. The districts that have used the IMET to review their current materials have identified gaps that they can address immediately by adapting or supplementing their curricula to better meet the Common Core Standards. For example, one of the IMT districts found that its current curriculum didn’t include sequenced texts on the same topic – something that is necessary to help build content knowledge as called for by the Standards. To address this problem, the district plans to supplement its curriculum with free Text Sets developed by other teachers (available on; Group Name: Text Set Project. Group Code: sma265).

Aligned instructional materials can change classroom practice.
Another surprise was how much the process of reviewing instructional materials has led directly to changes in classroom practice for the teachers who were IMT members. A number of the teachers had been involved in previous materials reviews for their districts, but reviewing with the IMET fostered a different experience that pointed directly back to classroom instruction. While learning to identify the specific features that make classroom materials Common Core-aligned, the IMT members also recognized weaknesses in their own instructional practice, such as a lack of evidence-based questions in English Language Arts (ELA) or an overemphasis on memorization and procedural skill in mathematics. They were able to apply what they learned to their classroom practice immediately and saw concrete results for their students.

Collaborative materials reviews are powerful professional development opportunities.
Though the IMT members initially saw their training as a means to an end, as they engaged in group learning, they realized that this experience would be valuable professional development for all teachers – not only those training to be curriculum reviewers. When IMT participants saw the connections between what they were learning about the Common Core Shifts and their own classroom practice, they recognized that this work could help their colleagues as well. “While the project was initially considered a curricular one…we recognized quickly that our work with the IMT would provide tremendous support for professional learning,” said a district leader from Washington. “The rich experiences of the review team transformed our plans for district-wide professional development in ELA for the upcoming school year…We’re planning to move from a workshop approach to one that brings participants together in collaborative, grade-band teams on a regular basis.”

At the start of the IMT work, it seemed that the incentive for districts to participate was the opportunity to find aligned materials and to build their internal capacity. What has become clear is that a collaborative instructional materials review process, driven by a tool that puts the Shifts at the center, is not just an investment in finding the right textbooks, but an investment in coherent implementation.

You can read more about the Instructional Materials Taskforce, including reflections from the districts, articles highlighting training materials, and advice from the experts involved, on Student Achievement Partners’ Aligned blog.

Read Part 1: Inside the Instructional Materials Taskforce

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