In the fall of 2014, the Plato Courseware team started working on a brand-new series of courses for middle school English. We had just addressed some challenging design problems for the new high school English curriculum released in 2014, but middle school is different. The team needed to dig into what strategies, tactics, features, voice, etc., work most effectively to engage middle school students, especially in English language arts (ELA).
During research and design, our core team of four ELA instructional designers and four subject matter experts split up this work. They dug into best practices literature for both general middle school and ELA-specific learning. They interviewed teachers in widely differing instructional situations. They visited classrooms. They interviewed students.
As a result of this effort, we believe that these new middle school courses achieve a new standard of quality. You will clearly recognize them as Plato courses, but they will contain over a dozen new elements of style, structure, and pedagogy. Here’s a quick snapshot:
- Content layout and presentation – Lesson screens use a larger font than in past courses, providing more image space, shorter paragraphs, and more frequent section and sub-section headings to lighten the visual load on the screen.
- Scaffolding – New skills are built in a highly structured, scaffolded manner appropriate for middle school students. This design supports students as they progress through higher levels of comprehension and fosters greater independence in the learning process.
- Lesson maps – Rich curriculum often requires lessons that make connections across multiple concepts and skills. Robust lessons like these may span multiple days, even though individual activities within the lesson are short. To help students gauge their progress through lessons, they are shown a “map” at the beginning of each lesson, with milestones to mark their progress along the way.
- Reflecting before analyzing – Lessons often ask students to reflect on their own reactions before analyzing new material.
- Consistent writing process – The new courses provide clear instruction and a consistent model for organizing and writing longer works and simultaneously support students in designing their own structured process.
- Choice – For long-form readings, especially novels, students are given a choice in the literature selection.
- Focus on language and writing – Most lessons contain specific sections focused on either writing or language.
- Mentors – A diverse cast of mentor characters introduce and close each lesson. These mentors are not classroom teachers but instead young adults from different walks of life who can provide content connections while also implicitly communicating the value of their ELA skills and experiences.
- Test review – These courses will feature an online test review prior to each unit test.
When Edmentum starts a major new curriculum project, the team develops new design features to address new or recurring challenges. Some of these innovations are specific to that project and remain unique; others naturally extend into subsequent course projects. That’s how Edmentum’s curriculum continues to evolve and improve over time.