Massena Central School Board Approves New English Language Arts Curriculum

Aug. 30, 2020

MASSENA — An online program that was tested by teachers and students during remote learning in the spring is now a part of the Massena Central School District’s grades six through 12 curriculum package.

Board of education members agreed to purchase Actively Learn at a cost of $33,000. Curriculum Director Stephanie Allen said they have about $25,000 in textbook money each year to help cover the cost.

English Department Chairman Michael Violi said Actively Learn can take the place of outdated textbooks and offer a variety of other sources such as newspaper articles, short stories, poems, essays, videos and novels.

“There are over 19,000 sources available to us. It’s pretty impressive. What also pleases me is the department does not have to bring in all of the materials. There are so many things in there that we already teach. The teachers can pick and choose. There is so much that they’re going to want to liven up their curriculums,” Mr. Violi said.

He said teachers had an opportunity to experiment with Actively Learn during emergency remote learning in the spring. The vendor provided the full version of the product until the end of July.

“As we were separating from the physical building last year, my department was scrambling to find ways to get materials to students. We did set up a distribution at the school, but we needed more material beyond that,” he said.

That’s when Actively Learn entered the picture.

“My teachers are constantly looking at technology and where they can use it effectively. The hardest things that we have to do are gathering materials for instruction. We’re always trying to find materials. It’s a gathering act. A few of the teachers found Actively Learn and started to initiate some work through them on a trial basis,” Mr. Violi said.

The reviews were positive, he said, with English Language Arts teachers in grades six through 12 unanimously agreeing to adopt and fully implement Actively Learn as the curriculum for all students.

“It’s a chance for us to try to improve our ELA instruction in the district,” he said.

The program not only offers materials, it also has a text to speech mode to help students. It has a dictionary and translation function. Students can take notes on pages and, if they want, print the pages out. Information is current and modern, “something you don’t always get with a textbook,” Mr. Violi said.

“It also offers controlled discussions between teacher and student. They offer formative assessments and standards-based lessons. There’s a lot to this. We can use what we want to use and modify and adapt to our own style,” he said.

In addition, the program allows teachers to compile data on students.

“It offers almost like a dashboard for each student. We’re able to see their reading proficiency, how much time they’re taking on reading, what they’re getting and what they’re not getting. It tries to measure it out so we get another read on that student,” Mr. Violi said.

While there would still be a need for printed material, he said it would be minimal.

“We really wouldn’t need for much, maybe a stray item,” he said.

“The fee is not even in comparison when you look at the plethora of resources that come with this product. We could not afford all of these products that they offer. To have a six to 12 ELA department agree that this will be their curriculum is worth its weight in gold,” Ms. Allen said.

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