Democracy Needs an Educated Citizenry

We need schools


We keep hearing that public education is broken.  That schools are no longer doing a good job.  That we need to stop sending taxpayer dollars to the schools.  People seem to think if we cut off the money, schools will improve.

I think there’s more to it than that.  I think we, as a people, need to decide what it is we want schools to do.  Clearly, public schools are seen as effective.  Everything anyone wants to see changed in our society is pushed onto the schools.  Want your child to be nicer?  Lobby the school district to put in more character education.  Want children to know about storm safety?  Send storm safety coloring books to their schools.  Concerned about bullying?  Pass legislation that schools need to develop lesson plans to stop bullies.

Given the obvious belief that public education can change lives, shouldn’t we be more supportive?

Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”  Without education, people cannot make informed decisions about their government.  We need students to see the value in education each and every day.  That way, they will grow up to be informed voters.

Thanks to our public schools, we have incredible inventions – like the computer, the iPod, the cell phone and more.  Thanks to our public schools, we’ve been able to cure diseases.  Thanks to our public schools, our children grow up to be productive members of society.

If we want schools to continue to create a vital citizenry, shouldn’t we be willing to support it, both monetarily and socially?

Are Scripted Curriculums All Bad? Scripted CurriculumThe newest educational reform is use of a scripted curriculum.  My district jumped on board the Reading Street train and implemented the program K6 (it only goes to 6th grade), along with the partner text for 7th and 8th grades.  We were directed to teach it with fidelity, so we did the best we could (the 6th grade teachers didn’t receive any training, so we had to stumble along using a lot of trial and error).  Mind you, as a taxpayer, I believe every textbook purchased (usually at teacher request) should be used to the fullest extent possible.  Think about how annoyed you are when you take a college class, purchase a ridiculously expensive textbook, then only use one chapter!

Along the way, we have done a lot of discussing the philosophical idea of using a scripted curriculum.  While I enjoy the freedom to teach my own lessons and the creativity involved in creating my own units, the scripted curriculum does have some benefits (believe it or not!).

First, it has forced us to teach everything – not skip over those parts of the standards that we are less comfortable with.  Believe me, I’d rather not ever have to teach the use of who/whom, past participles or irony to 6th graders.  However, having taught those very lessons for the past two years, I have to say it has made my students smarter and me a better teacher. scripted curriculumSecond, for teachers who are not well versed in the many parts of grammar, having a scripted curriculum can be very helpful.  While I’d like to think all teachers are strong in what they are teaching, the reality is just not so.  I’ve heard quite a few elementary teachers tell me they don’t like to teach grammar – just not comfortable with it, so they don’t spend much time on it. scripted curriculumI’ve also heard teachers complain that they don’t know how to teach writing, so they just do it every now and then.  With Reading Street, you have a new writing piece every week, so you’re forced to teach all types of writing.  In addition, the students are tested on grammar each unit, so you have to make sure you’re covering the grammar lessons (which often means reviewing the parts of speech before teaching them!)

Third, it has freed me up to do more differentiation.  With weekly tests already written, along with unit tests and an end of the year test prepared, I have been able to pre-test my high readers each week.  This lets me determine whether they already know the content (or even the unit!).  Then, I can offer them a more challenging assignment, like reading a novel that has a similar focus to our weekly reading in the textbook.  If I was making up all my lessons and tests, this would not be possible.  I’ve also been able to record all of the readings for my below level readers to listen to.  Again, this would have been difficult during my first years of teaching these standards, were I writing my own lessons and units.

The biggest advantage I see to scripted curriculums is that, as a 6th grade teacher, I will be able to count on all of my students having learned the same content.  In the past, by the time my students got to me, they had had so many different teachers, it was quite a hodge-podge.  Now, I can confidently remind them they learned about prepositions, last year with their teacher, since it happens during the same week with all teachers in a grade level.

While I can definitely see a need for a bit of flexibility in the scripts, I can also see quite a few advantages.  As I like to say, since I’m at the top of the food chain (grade level-wise), it’s helpful if all of my students have gotten the necessary content.

Now, the downside, at least in our district: the unit tests are the measure of student growth used for our evaluations.  However, our students haven’t had the full K-6 curriculum yet (it’s only been implemented for a few years and just this past year with fidelity).  Therefore, they aren’t as prepared as they could be for the unit tests  – which are HARD!  Also, I’m being judged on a curriculum not of my choosing.  What happens when, a few years down the line, it’s determined that Reading Street is not a sound curriculum?  Suddenly, I’m being judged by a poor tool.

In addition, the students don’t get any time to read novels.  We used to do book clubs all year and the students really enjoyed those.  I’m hoping I can add that in this year, while still covering the textbook with fidelity!

What do you think about scripted curriculums?  Good?  Bad?  Don’t care?  Do you use one?

The Way I Use Reading Street

Reading Street

Reading Street 6th Grade


There’s been a lot of talk in my district about how to use Reading Street – a scripted curriculum.  As teachers, we’re always looking for new ways to teach our content and reach our students.  So, I thought I’d share the way I divide up my time, make use of the enormous amount of content involved in using Reading Street.  If you use a scripted curriculum, please comment on the ways you use it – we can all learn from each other!

Reading Street First, it was halfway through my first year before I discovered that there is a clock at the top of the page at the beginning of each section.  That clock gives you their idea for how much time the section should take.  Boy, did that help!  Not that I can follow their timing exactly, but it’s nice to have some idea how much time to spend.

Second, the colors at the top of the page in the teacher’s manual are very helpful.  Knowing that I’m working on just getting the kids ready to read helps me remember that I need to activate their prior knowledge.  I know that’s teaching 101, but I still tend to forget that step.  Having it right there in my face is helpful.

Reading StreetNext, I use powerpoints.  Before I started teaching with this book, I went to a PD about it and the teacher there shared her powerpoints (she taught 1st grade).  It took quite a while, but I made powerpoints for each day of the units.  These have made all the difference for me.  I don’t have to keep checking the teacher’s manual, it’s all on the board.  Plus, for the visual learners, everything is in front of them.  One day, IT was working on my computer and I had to teach without the powerpoint.  Everything took a LOT longer!  I highly recommend powerpoints.

Reading NotebookI also used reading notebooks last year, which was an excellent choice.  I bought the composition style notebooks because they seem sturdier.  They definitely lasted better than the cheap spiral bound ones.  I had the students keep a running list in the back of the amazing words we learned.  In the front part, I had them take notes on reading skills and grammar lessons.  I also found a list of word parts with their meanings.  We copied these in a small enough form to glue into their notebooks.  That made looking up meanings of word parts SO easy!  I will definitely use these notebooks again.  The only change I plan to make is to have them use post-it flags to mark certain pages.  That should make it easier for them to find the right page.

Also, each unit test requires them to remember what they learned in the grammar lessons for the past 5 weeks.  Since they don’t get revisited, that can be tough. I started having them do some sort of project to review the grammar.  This worked wonderfully.  One unit, we made powerpoints, another time they made posters.  We also wrote short stories to demonstrate the grammar.  The students enjoyed doing the projects and it was a great review for them before the unit test.  

Finally, I made peace with myself for not doing the stations every day.  We had library once a week, and we do an All Done Club type thing each Friday.  Therefore, the stations only happened 3 times a week (less if we had snow days, assemblies, etc).   They were a good time for students to review what was coming on the weekly test, so I liked doing them.  I just didn’t have enough time to do more.  That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned after two years of Reading Street.  Some weeks, we won’t get to as much content.  I keep reminding myself that it keeps coming back, so they’ll get to it in time.

So, tell me, what tips and tricks have you discovered for Reading Street?