Beyond Textbooks

Fountain Hills High School has partnered with the Vail School District (AZ) to provide our teachers access to essential state standards, lessons, and resources. This partnership allows FHHS to collaborate with districts across the state and provide our teachers a professional community to share best practices. The end result is a focused curriculum with innovation at its heart, and ultimately higher student achievement.

Over the past decade educators in Vail School District have and continue to develop a philosophy of teaching and learning that transcends textbooks and state standards to strengthen support for communities of teachers, facilitate teaching and learning, and improve student achievement. In practice, Beyond Textbooks, a comprehensive program of curriculum development, instructional improvement, student assessment, and multi-level interventions, is the result of this philosophy of planning, teaching, and sharing.

Vail has used the Beyond Textbooks approach to increase student achievement in math and reading from levels near or below state averages prior to the advent of the program to pass rates that are now consistently 20% or more above state averages and greater than 90% year after year at most grade levels.

Beyond Textbooks is not only a feasible, effective approach for improving student achievement in Vail, but it is also noteworthy that Vail is now partnering with over 100 school districts and charter schools across Arizona, California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Kentucky who are currently implementing the Beyond Textbooks program to move the needle on student achievement for its own students.

The name Beyond Textbooks does not refer to an abandonment of traditional textbooks, but rather refers to a philosophy of teaching and learning that transcends textbooks and state standards to strengthen support for communities of teachers, facilitate teaching and learning, and improve student growth and achievement. This comprehensive approach begins with a "shoulder to shoulder" rather than "top down" curriculum development process.

First, Vail teachers and the Curriculum Department collaboratively review state content standards to identify core sets of essential standards that establish what students must learn in each content area at each grade level. These are the standards that will provide students with knowledge beyond just a test date.

Teachers within a grade level and subject then collaborate to "unwrap" the standards to determine big ideas, key vocabulary, student-friendly language, essential questions, and performance tasks that prove mastery. The documents produced in this process form the foundation of the core subject curriculums at each grade level and establish district-wide expectations for what teachers should teach and what students should learn and be able to do in relation to a specific standard.

The teachers and Curriculum Department next work together to develop curriculum calendars, facilitate the administration of common curriculum-aligned assessments, and encourage collaboration among teachers at the same grade level.

The capstone of the curriculum framework is an electronic delivery system, Beyond Textbooks - a web based tool that allows for the collection of digital curriculum materials, support materials, and other digital resources accessible to all faculty. Teachers use the wiki to review the curriculum and calendars, locate and/or share resource materials, and to communicate and collaborate with peers across the district and state who use the same curriculum but who would not otherwise be available to share resources and provide other support.

It is a time honored teaching tradition to beg, borrow, and steal ideas from one another. Beyond Textbooks takes sharing to a whole new level. We are excited about partnering with districts across the state to better educate the students of FHUSD.