At Naples Elementary School, Aneka Tanner sits cross-legged on the grey carpet of her classroom floor as her kindergarten students surround her in a circle. All eyes are on Tanner as she reads about Little Bear and his Lakota Sioux tribe as they prepare to hunt buffaloes.
The focus of the lesson is main characters and new vocabulary, but through the story, they are learning new words and putting sounds into practice. One graphic on the wall shows the type of knowledge they are learning, including environment, clothing, food and shelter.
“They hunt buffalo,” Tanner tells her 20 students. “Who hunted buffalo?”
“Men and boys,” one boy responds.
Tanner agrees and points to the group – boys as young as 5 years old hunted. A few students said their ages.
“What did they do to train the horses? Do you remember?” Tanner asked, checking knowledge from a previous story.
The students and Tanner work out that boys on horseback throw spears through hoops for target practice. They differentiate between buffalo and buffaloes and pronounce each.
The students learn that the Lakota Sioux followed the buffalo, setting up camp where the herds were.
They understand that the buffalo are the food supply of the Lakota Sioux. Tanner asks if anyone has tried buffalo and several students say, “Yes!”
Tanner reminds them that the Native Americans used all parts of the buffalo: hide for warmth, bones for tools and hair for rope.
“What do women do?” Tanner asked.
Students said that women “made teepees” and “set up camp.”
Tanner shows the students a drawing of a hide stretched on a frame. Another illustration shows teepees and moccasins.
One student remarked that in the last story, a man unpacked and checked the gear. Tanner responds that the women and kids do set it up – he just checked it.
Other words pop up, including horizon, succulent and nuzzle.
After the reading part of the class, Tanner checks knowledge by having students interact and stand or squat if they believe an answer to be true or false. Students respond in complete kindergarten sentences.
In another classroom, at Discover Elementary in Vernal, a second-grade teacher, Heather Heath, stands in front of her students, who are sitting on the floor in groups of threes or fours, looking up at the projection. She stands next to the projection and introduces information about the digestive system.
Words include cells, tissues, organs and systems. Students already know the connection between the words.
Heath adds to the lesson, connecting real life to the new concepts. She says that babies don’t have teeth, so they have a liquid diet. She asks if anyone in the classroom has lost teeth, and several students raise their hands.
One by one, Heath goes through the types of teeth and tells the students to put their tongues on each of the teeth as they discuss them.
The discussion turns to salivary glands and one student says that means “mouth waters.” Heath holds up a measuring container with six cups of water in it. She says that is the amount of saliva a person creates in a day. Students respond with faces and “ew!”
Later in the discussion, Heath asks what could happen if the liver doesn’t work properly.
One student said, “You could die.”
Despite the topics being different in each classroom, knowledge was built and skills were practiced. Students were focusing on phonics, and also building background knowledge, through learning stories.
The Core Knowledge Language Arts program builds like blocks from kindergarten up. After the lesson, students apply what they learned through drawing or journal entries.
The CKLA program is in its first year, but the administration, principals and teachers seem excited about the way the students are responding.
“This new curriculum was difficult to implement,” Uintah County School District curriculum director Jayme Leyba said. “Change is tough, and it was a controversial process, but the teachers and students seem to like it.”
“This (program) has brought a great deal of continuity in our language arts instruction and it has increased the level of rigor in our classrooms,” UCSD superintendent Rick Woodford said.
Deanna Martineau, principal of Naples Elementary School, and Tammy Christensen, principal of Discovery Elementary, have both seen the implementation of the program and how it impacts both teachers and students.
In the hallways at Discovery Elementary, art, including paintings of Greek faces, sketches of owls and three-dimensional solar systems, lines walls between classrooms. The implementation of the curriculum shows the diversity of ideas and topics covered.
With each grade level, students are building on the knowledge base.
“The rigor is up, but the kids can meet it,” Christensen said.
According to Christensen, the is more discussion at home based on discussions with parents. She appreciated the facts the students shared about Helen Keller and Ray Charles.
Martineau and Tanner shared that the biggest thing for them was that everyone was on the same page across the district.
“The rigor is up,” Tanner said. “But the level of proficiency has dramatically risen.”
Leyba and literary specialist Tawna Baumgardner say the comprehensive program allows students to read, use and gain comprehension while also aligning with test standards. The user-friendly information is tied to core knowledge students will need to be successful in upper-level classes.