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Asking Questions and Envisioning Instruction for the ELAR TEKS

by Lori Gracey

The K-8 ELAR TEKS (English Language Arts and Reading Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) adopted in 2017 will be implemented in the fall of this year. Educators are digging into the strands, the knowledge and skills statements, and the student expectations to ask critical questions that will guide the planning and delivery of instruction in 2019-2020 and beyond. Let’s consider practical approaches for reading and understanding the philosophies and intentions of the TEKS.

Reading Within the Strands

The seven strands should be considered individually to develop an understanding of the academic expectations related to a particular area of focus.

Example: Reading within Strand 3, “Response skills,” means reading the standards within the context of the knowledge and skills statement. Doing so leads to an understanding that students must engage in “listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking” as they encounter and consider “a variety of sources” and generate a range of responses, from describing “personal connections” to demonstrating “understanding of texts, including comparing and contrasting ideas” to applying knowledge gained from texts by responding “using newly acquired vocabulary.”

Questions to ask as you understand the standards within a strand:

  • What opportunities for learning must be offered for students to understand, apply, and master the standards?
  • Why is it important to keep the standards within a strand nestled with their knowledge and skill statements (versus cutting them apart and treating them as individual standards)?
  • Considering your current instructional approaches, what attention do you give to the areas of focus identified in the strands, and how might that focus change as you envision instruction of the new TEKS?

Reading Across the Strands

It is important to consider how the strands can be interwoven to create meaningful learning opportunities. The seven strands, when conceptualized as forming a whole, suggest that literacy development is most effective when the content-specific domains are integrated rather than isolated.

Non-Example: The “Composition” and “Research and Inquiry” strands are not to be pulled apart from the other strands and taught on certain days of the week or by “the writing teacher” down the hall. Teaching the ELAR domains in isolation leads students to regard reading, writing, speaking, and listening as separate acts.

Example: Teaching that integrates the ELAR domains means that students come to understand that the development of literacy skills is a cognitive process in which, for example, reading shapes and challenges our perspectives, speaking causes us to clarify our own thinking, listening to others’ ideas challenges our own thinking, and writing—modeled on our reading—allows us to explore craft and to add to our writing toolbox.

Questions to ask as you look across the strands:

  • How does instruction that moves across the strands, rather than isolates the strands as separate parts, provide students with opportunities to view literacy development as a cognitive process rather than as tasks assigned and graded by the teacher?
  • How do the knowledge and skills statements reveal the intentions of the strands, and what research-based best practices are they founded on?
  • Considering your current instructional approaches, how do you plan instruction that integrates the ELAR domains, and how might envisioning instruction that moves across the strands provide students with meaningful opportunities for literacy development?

Reading Across the Grades

Reading across the grades allows educators to develop an understanding of how the instruction of ELAR concepts and skills is logically sequenced as students advance grades.

Example: Reading the student expectations at the grade below the one being taught helps to conceptualize how instruction in the previous grade should prepare students for the literacy work to be accomplished at the instructional grade level. Reading the standards at the grade above helps to conceptualize the level of mastery of the current grade’s standards that will enable students to be prepared to do the work of the next grade level. Thus, reading below and above helps to illuminate the depth and rigor at which ELAR standards should be taught at the instructional grade level.

Questions to ask as you read across the grades to learn the strands, knowledge and skills statements, and student expectations:

  • How will the instruction planned for a particular grade level build on the literacy experiences students have had previously as well as prepare students for instruction students will receive the next year?
  • How does vertical alignment emphasize recursive teaching without needless repetition or overlap?
  • Considering your current instructional approaches, how do you leverage students’ literacy histories that they bring to your classroom, and how do you design instruction that enriches those literacy histories that students will take with them to the next grade?

Preparing to implement the TEKS means participating in a shared vision across the state for meaningful and authentic ELAR instruction that fosters students’ literacy development during the implementation year and beyond.


As an ELA writer for Mentoring Minds, Charles’ goal is to fully equip teachers with a toolkit that helps their students become critical, enthusiastic, and confident readers. Charles’s passion for education was cultivated during his tenure as a classroom teacher and then through his work earning his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. Visit Mentoring Minds at the upcoming TCEA Expo in booth #858, or online at mentoringminds.com.  

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