What are the Essential Practices?
Essential Practices are broad approaches that support building competence around the Essentials for Instructional Equity. The Essentials are high-level competencies that define Boston Public Schools vision for gap closing instruction.
By 2022, our aim is to have 80% of educators across the district competent at implementing the Essentials. We have defined what Essentials aligned practices look like in specific content areas in order to build a common understanding around what it looks like to enact the Essentials Practices.
The Essential Practices Guidance documents represent a collaborative process across central office departments and reflect current research on teaching and learning. The Essential Practices are designed to direct and shape the design of professional learning, the curation of materials, and coaching and feedback support. Finally, the Essential Practices support a common understanding of what quality in the student experience looks like.
The goal of English language arts instruction is to foster strong literacy skills--reading, writing, viewing, speaking, and listening, which are essential in developing responsible, self-motivated learners, effective communicators, and active participant in diverse literacy communities.
To achieve this goal, we begin by recognizing that students bring a range of knowledge and experiences that influence their learning and engagement. Our students live in a world demanding high levels of literacy in a variety of formats.
To build a foundation for college and career readiness, our students must read widely and deeply from among a range of high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts. In these texts students learn to focus on characters, interactions, context, scene, language, sensory details, perspectives, themes, questions, images, sensory traces, and predict outcomes based on evidence.
To build a foundation for college and career readiness, our students must learn to use writing as means of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating an understanding of content as well as conveying real or imagined experiences and events. This type of writing focuses on communicating ideas and considers the audience, purpose, and task.
To build a foundation for college and career readiness, our students must have many opportunities to engage in rich, structured conversations. These conversations will require students to analyze multiple sources of information, make comparisons, and synthesize multiple ideas.
To build a foundation for college and career readiness, our students must learn to use language to convey meaning. This will require that students acquire and accurately use academic and domain-specific words and phrases, master standard English grammar, usage, and conventions.
Instruction in English language arts begins with research-based strategies in the areas of reading, writing, viewing, listening, and speaking. Teachers encourage excitement about literature and language by allowing students to become successful readers, writers, and speakers in school and beyond. As a result of English language arts instruction, students read for pleasure, develop curiosity, and critical thinking skills in diverse and relevant cross-curricular opportunities. We need to develop cultural understandings of students within a particular social space. We need to broaden teaching and learning based on the reality of students experiences.
Differentiated instruction, as well as complex and engaging texts, which include increasingly rich vocabulary, are utilized to increase student interest and enjoyment in reading and learning.
An effective English Language Arts and Literacy Curriculum
- Holds extremely high expectations for all students;
- Develops students’ oral language and literacy through appropriately challenging and interactive learning;
- Builds on the language, experiences, knowledge, and interest that students bring to school;
- Provides explicit skills instruction in reading and writing emphasizing arguments, explanations, and narrative text types;
- Includes a variety of characters that extend beyond traditional standards of gender, race, etc. but not exclusive for one over the other;
- Explores socio-cultural frameworks, concepts of culture, and social capital, and
- Draws on literature and informational texts to develop students’ literary understanding of their own literary heritage and culture.
The Guiding Principles of the P-2 Department are that children:
- construct meaningful knowledge through robust interaction and high engagement.
- aspire to be visible and valued.
- experience, process, and interact with the world in unique ways.
- are experienced and capable agents of their own learning.
In P-2 classrooms, children simultaneously develop social-emotional and academic skills, guided by engaged and reflective adults. Teachers strive to frame cultural, linguistic, and developmental diversity as assets, rather than barriers, to quality experiences. Children develop flexible creative skills and the confident disposition of critical thinkers to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st-century citizenry.
Teachers are supported in a quality implementation of the FOCUS curricula with coaching and professional development. The implicit Guiding Principles are articulated through the following explicit instructional practices that are correlated to positive classroom and child outcomes:
A significant portion of P-2 classrooms is designated for children with special rights who are entitled access to the general education curricula in the least restrictive environment. We collaborate with the Office of Special Education https://www.bostonpublicschools.org/Domain/195 and teachers to appropriately adapt grade level curriculum materials.
We believe that students have equitable opportunities to engage in innovative, high-quality instruction in the least restrictive environment, empowering each youth to achieve at high levels leading to post-secondary success. Our mission is to eliminate the achievement gap by providing equal access to high-quality comprehensive services that support student achievement, family, and community engagement.
"The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world." (National Council for the Social Studies, 2008) Within the Boston Public Schools, history and social studies instruction provide students the opportunities to engage with rich content, develop historical thinking skills, and experience place-based learning. This approach “engages students in a comprehensive process of confronting multiple dilemmas, and encourages students to speculate, think critically, and make personal and civic decisions on information from multiple perspectives.” (National Council for the Social Studies, 2016)
Provide Structure for Routine Writing that Activates Prior Knowledge, Organizes Notemaking, and Supports Processing Information
Facilitate Civil Discourse Amongst Students to Foster the Development of Knowledge Necessary to Build Arguments Grounded in Evidence
Develop Student Civic Participation Through Simulated Democratic Processes and Opportunities to Take Informed Action
Our Vision of K-12 Math Teaching and Learning
The vision of the BPS Math Office is that the teaching of mathematics, rooted in the content and practice standards of the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks 2017, honors every student’s capacity to think, act, and communicate mathematically. Teachers of mathematics provide robust opportunities for all students to engage in and make sense of, rich tasks. Through participating and sharing their ideas within a mathematical community, students develop a positive and powerful mathematical identity.
A Teaching Framework for Mathematics
“Eight Mathematics Teaching Practices provide a framework for strengthening the teaching and learning of mathematics. This research-informed framework of teaching and learning... represent(s) a core set of high-leverage practices and essential teaching skills necessary to promote deep learning of mathematics. “ (NCTM, 2014, p. 9).
The graphic below highlights the relationships between and among the eight effective teaching practices:
from the series, Taking Action: Implementing Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices (NCTM, 2017)
A Vision for K-12 Learning in the Science and Engineering Disciplines: Science for All
It is the vision of the Boston Public Schools Science Department that every student, from preschool through high school graduation, is entitled to learn by actively engaging in the science and engineering practices and making sense of scientific phenomena, using their observations and data through talk, reading, and writing. Each and every day, students work with materials and ideas to explore and deepen their understanding of the disciplinary core ideas of physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, and engineering. Lessons focus on the “big ideas” of these disciplines by integrating natural phenomena and providing opportunities to construct knowledge by asking questions and carrying out investigations, as well by defining problems and designing solutions. Students explore science in their everyday lives and come to realize that they are capable scientists and engineers, whether they pursue a career in these fields or not. The diverse knowledge and skills that students bring from different backgrounds and cultural experiences provide rich perspectives and are assets upon which new understandings can be built. Students graduate ready to be critical consumers of science -- capable of analyzing data and critiquing arguments and participating in scientific discourse as citizens making informed decisions about the challenges that confront society.
A Vision for K-12 Learning in the Visual and Performing Arts
The arts have always served as the distinctive vehicle for discovering who we are. Providing
ways of thinking as disciplined as science or math and as disparate as philosophy or literature,
the arts are used by and have shaped every culture and individual on earth. They continue to
infuse our lives on nearly all levels—generating a significant part of the creative and intellectual
capital that drives our economy. The arts inform our lives with meaning every time we
experience the joy of a well-remembered song, experience the flash of inspiration that comes with
immersing ourselves in an artist’s sculpture, enjoying a sublime dance, learning from an exciting
animation, or being moved by a captivating play.
The fact that the arts provide important touchstones confirms their value to the development of
every human being. Nurturing our children, then, necessarily means that we must provide all of
them—not just those identified as “talented”—with a well-rounded education that includes the
arts. By doing so, we are fulfilling the college and career readiness needs of our students and
laying the foundations for the success of our schools.
The Context for Arts Education
Arts education has had a formal place in American schools at least since the early 1800s. The unique
and essential contributions of the arts to every child’s growth and development continues to be clear
and identified as important. Unfortunately, children’s access to arts education as part of their core
education continues to be uneven across our nation’s nearly 14,000 school districts. This is especially
true for students from urban, lower-income schools, where analyses show that access to the arts in
schools is disproportionately absent, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America's Future Through Creative Schools. The status of arts education in federal law (and, more importantly, in
American schools) has also evolved over time. While arts education has been subject to less
data-gathering than subjects such as math and ELA, we do know enough to present a relatively
accurate picture of the status of arts education in today’s schools. The Department of Education’s
Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) report, Arts Education In Public Elementary and Secondary Schools1999-2000 and 2009-10, affirmed that there is a real and robust infrastructure of arts education in
American schools. However, it also revealed extreme inequities in students’ access to arts education,
indicating that arts education is not universally available, is too often limited to music and art, and is
inconsistent across grade levels.
The 21st Century Arts Map published by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills begins with a key
observation: “Anyone who has ever seen a student become excited, energized, and confident
through artistic exploration has seen first-hand how arts education engages children and
contributes to their overall development. The arts—dance music, theatre, and the visual arts, which
collectively include the media arts—are recognized as “core academic subjects”. While each of the
arts disciplines have its own unique set of knowledge, skills, and processes, the arts share common
characteristics that make arts education powerful preparation for college, career, and a fulfilling
The National Core Arts Standards, released in 2014, integrate the processes, skills and knowledge,
sample assessments, and criteria for successful learning into a single organized system that spans
PreK-12. Rooted in backward design, this outcomes-based approach to teaching and learning in the
arts emanates from four artistic processes, eleven anchor standards, and PK-12 performance
standards articulated by each of the five arts disciplines. The standards provide a structure within
which educators can give all children key arts experiences. Through creative practices, these
experiences will help them understand what it means to be artistically literate, and how literacy
can enrich their education and lives with 21st-century skills developed through the arts.
The Boston Public Schools World Languages Department adheres to the ACTFL Statement of Philosophy on the Standards for Foreign Language Learning as follows:
"Language and communication are at the heart of the human experience. The United States must educate students who are linguistically and culturally equipped to communicate successfully in a pluralistic American society and abroad. This imperative envisions a future in which ALL students will develop and maintain proficiency in English and at least one other language, modern or classical. Children who come to school from non-English backgrounds should also have opportunities to develop further proficiencies in their first language. "