Curriculum Review: How Language Arts Became Communications & Literacy

  • Academics
Brita Gaeddert

Exploring an aspect of our continuous improvement, I sat down with Joanna Weisel, part of our 3rd Grade Team and one of the department chairs for the Communications & Literacy (previously Language Arts) team.

First she told me about the curriculum review process they undertook in 2020. Every five years,   department chairs revisit each curriculum area. “Our [Eric Peterson & Joanna Weisel] focus was on the literature and books, making sure different races and cultures were represented in what we’re reading and that we had opportunities to include more of the DEI work that we are doing as a school. The curriculum developers for the Reading and Writing Project we use are very committed . . . constantly revising units and revising mentor texts and changing what they're putting out there for teachers. It aligned with what we were looking for in our classrooms,” shared Weisel

Weisel shared that our Language Arts program underwent a rebranding this past year as well. “Ultimately we changed from Language Arts, to Communications and Literacy (C&L), because, in large part, we feel like the traditional Language Arts label doesn't cover the discussion and public speaking and communication piece that's so important to develop.” The department chairs wanted to make sure they included that so teachers, students, and families all know what an important part those discussion and communication pieces are for our teaching.

Another main focus of this review was to look closely at classroom libraries and ensure they allow students a window into the world of others. Working with Lower School Director, Dana Kohls and Middle School Director, Corey Sampson, the C&L team were able to use points from the Scholastic Book fairs to purchase from their collections of culturally responsive books to continuously revise and add to our libraries. “We found we were lacking different cultures, different races, and different points of view in a lot of our libraries,” Weisel noted. Joanna was happily surprised that there do seem to be a lot of books out there, across the grade levels, that we could purchase and add. That really created a new element to our libraries.

Most importantly, with our curriculum, the Communications & Literacy teachers are working hard to expose kids to different points of view in different cultures and doing that through the lens of learning about reading and learning about writing. Students not only will see themselves in the books that they're reading, but we'll also get a view into what other cultures or other people in their community or around the world might also be learning, doing, and experiencing, which creates empathy.

“Every March, I incorporate a March Book Madness activity, the basketball bracket but with books. I use this as an opportunity to introduce a ton of different perspectives through picture books, since I don't always have a lot of time to just read really great picture books to the kids. Each matchup has a theme: books about kids with disabilities, books about families, books about different races, books about gender and identity. It gives me an opportunity to have these conversations that might not come up naturally in our classes or on topics that maybe would fall more in a social studies class. The kids vote on their favorites. Then when we get down to the final few, we have debates about them. This also brings in a way to incorporate the communication piece of Communication & Literacy. I just love that little mini unit, and the kids get so excited about it,” shared Weisel.

About the Author

Joanna Weisel, 3rd Grade Instructor, Communications & Literacy,
Student Leadership & Entrepreneurship Coach,
Communications & Literacy Department Co-Chair


Joanna holds a Bachelors Degree in International Studies from Dickinson College and a Masters Degree in Early Education from Lesley College in Cambridge. She has been teaching since 2012 and moved to Colorado and began at Aspen in 2014. She taught kindergarten for three years before moving into her current role with the 3rd grade. She loves the supportive community of teachers and parents at Aspen as well as the opportunity to be creative with her students. Outside of teaching, she loves running, hiking, camping and traveling around Colorado and beyond with her husband and their dog.