Behind the Scenes: CKLA in Action

By Amplify Staff

Elizabeth Wade joined Amplify in 2013 and serves as Senior Education Consultant on the Core Knowledge Language Arts team.

Q: Tell me a little about your role on team CKLA.

A: Like all members of Amplify's Center for Early Reading, my primary goal is to help students learn to read and love doing so, because we know that students who experience reading success in elementary school are much more likely to succeed in lots of different ways later in their lives. I work on the content and pedagogy side of things, so a lot of my time is spent thinking about how to continue making CKLA the best curriculum possible. That means everything from selecting rigorous texts that students will love reading to designing tools to better support teachers.

Q: What is it about this work that energizes you the most?

A: I think the first moment I really fell in love with CKLA was--appropriately--in a classroom. I listened to Grade 1 students excitedly naming ancient rivers (Tigris! Euphrates!) and explaining why these waterways mattered to the civilizations that developed on their banks, and I realized that kids are capable of grasping much more than we often imagine. I'm a big believer in the importance of background knowledge as a means to improving comprehension, not just because research shows how effective it is, but also because I've seen it in action. I'll never forget the child who interrupted a conversation about animals to tell me proudly, "By the way, I still remember what a habitat is!" I get excited because kids love knowing things, and working on CKLA lets me help them acquire that knowledge.

Q: What is one idea/thought about teaching writing that you would like to share with teachers?

A: In my non-CKLA life, I've spent over a decade teaching college literature and writing classes, along with publishing my own writing. And in both my own writing practice and in my classrooms, I've learned that it's crucial to remember that writing is a skill, not a talent. That means that with guided practice, anyone can learn to write effectively.

Q: Outside of your CKLA work, what other interesting things are you involved in?

A: I think everything I'm involved in is interesting; otherwise, I wouldn't do it!

As I mentioned, I am a teacher and writer, and both of those are important to me. But perhaps the part of my life that most surprises people is that I volunteer at a zoo near my home. I work in conservation education, which means that each month I tell several hundred zoo visitors about reptiles and amphibians, teaching them about these animals (many of which are critically endangered) and why it's important that we protect them. Sometimes people say, "but you're a poetry teacher! Why do you care about snakes?" and I get to let them in on my real secret: a poem and a snake aren't that different to many people. Every single time I share either one, I encounter somebody who's nervous, because they find themselves looking at something that behaves in unfamiliar ways and that they therefore find kind of frightening. It's a huge thrill to get to teach people about both of those things, helping them learn enough to understand and appreciate it.

Elizabeth is pictured above with a Komodo dragon on Komodo Island in Indonesia.


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