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?

Reading Street Powerpoints Uploaded to Google Drive

Logo_of_Google_DriveSo, I spent the past year getting all the powerpoints I’ve made for Reading Street 6th grade uploaded to Google Drive and shared publicly.  You can access them from my school webpage:


6th Grade

Power Points for Reading Street 6th Grade

I really like using the powerpoints.  I have the book available as a back up, but it frees me up to walk around while I’m teaching and not have to focus on the pages of the book.  It also makes it easy for students to catch up when they’re gone.  While they can’t understand everything from the powerpoint (job security for me, right?) they can at least see what we covered when they were home sick.



Picture Book Tournament

After seeing the idea of holding a picture book tournament during my travels around the internet, I knew this was something I wanted to try with my students.  You can see some other blog posts about it at: and at:

First, I had to collect the picture books.  Fortunately, I have a LARGE collection of my own (can we say I have a problem?).  I sorted through the books I have and pulled out the best examples.  I tried to make sure I had a variety of genre and authors.  I also tried to have multiple books from the same authors, so they could compare.  Believe it or not, I ended up with 32 titles!    Image

Next, I decided what reading strategies I wanted my students to practice as we went through this tournament.  Since it’s a review week in Reading Street, the primary strategies the book has them reviewing are “Author’s Purpose” and “Cause and Effect”.  I created a worksheet for them to fill out which would help them analyze the books they read.  Not wanting to have them get bogged down in the worksheet, I limited it to three books.  They’ll be reading many more, but will only fill out the boxes for three.


I also had to find a bracket to use – enter the internet!  There’s a great site which allows you to create a printable bracket with as many teams as you like:

Deciding 20 books would be a reasonable number to use, I made a bracket with 20 slots.  Image

As I explained the tournament, I brought in quite a bit of real world knowledge, since most of the kids didn’t know much about how March Madness basketball works.  We talked about rankings, seeds and byes.  Between the picture books and the sports analogies, I had most of my kids hooked.  They were champing at the bit, ready to start reading.

Once I handed out the books, there was a short amount of conversation as they exclaimed over some of the books, then, silence reigned.  I didn’t have to tell them to be quiet or to read – they just did!  For an hour!

They also did an amazing job on the analysis worksheet.  I never told them what sort of quality I was looking for, but they gave it to me and then some!  The answers they wrote down were well written, carefully thought out and very complete.  I was blown away by their work.

At the end of the hour, they filled out their top ten on the ranking paper.DSCN6747

After school, I sat down with their rankings and started figuring out which books made the tournament and how high to seed them.  After some consideration, I decided to just list the votes on a blank sheet and see where it took me (it basically ended up making a stem and leaf plot of the data). When I was finished, it was clear which books were the top seeds.  I crossed out the 12 books with the lowest number/ranking of votes and started filling in the brackets.  Interestingly, several books didn’t make it at all in one class, but had strong showing in the other.

Day 2, I helped the students fill in their brackets, which led to a discussion of choosing basketball brackets based on the color of the uniform or the cuteness of the mascot.  Since they weren’t necessarily familiar with all the books, they had to use some other method to choose.  We then did a mini review about cause and effect.  Today’s task involved filling out a paper with three cause/effect situations in one of the books.  They desperately wanted to read all the books that made it into the tournament, so, once again, it was silent in my room.

At the end of the hour, we started our voting.  I am lucky enough to have clickers, so they used the clickers and voted true for one book, or false for the other.  As I announced the winner in each match up, cheers would go up.  At one point, one of the students commented “Well, my bracket is shot.”

I’ve been updating the posters on the wall outside my door and it’s been interesting seeing boys study it carefully and discuss which one they would choose in the matches.

DSCN6743I would definitely do this again.  The students have been very excited to discuss the books, and are reading more than I’ve seen them read in a while.  Unfortunately, time kept it fairly short this time.  I would prefer to have more time for debating the books before we vote, but I only ended up with 3 days to complete the tournament, although I was able to use 90 minutes each of those three days, which helped.  Even with a shortened time frame, it was well worth it!

Have you used tournament style bracket lessons before?  What do you do?

Reader’s Notebook

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to structure my reading class this year.  Any of you spend lots of time planning your ideas over the summer, only to discover, in practice, they don’t work out the way you expect?  ‘Cause that happens to me all the time!


Reader's NotebookAnyway, my plan this year is to use notebooks for our vocabulary, skills ideas, etc.  I purchased the composition notebooks for my students.  They’re sturdier than the spiral notebooks I usually use, so hopefully they will last better.  Plus, it’s harder for them to pull out a piece of paper to use for their homework.

The organization of the notebook will include:

Students can draw pictures showing what they like, hobbies, etc.

Students can draw pictures showing what they like, hobbies, etc.

cover page with illustrations of student interests

two pages for each skill we will cover (20 total skills throughout the year)

a page for each week’s vocabulary words (30 weeks)

Roots, Suffixes and Prefixes8 pages for word roots, suffixes, and prefixes

That will leave some extra pages so that when other uses crop up, we will have some room

Do you use reader’s notebooks?  How do you organize them?  What do you use for the notebook?

Reading Material for the Teacher!

When Kids Can't ReadI started reading a book over the weekend and I have to share it!  It’s called When Kids Can’t Read by Kylene Beers (awesome last name, huh?)  You can find it on amazon here:

I’ve only gotten through chapter 4, but I think it will make a huge difference in my teaching for next year.

As I’ve written about before, my district has directed me to use Reading Street for my reading/writing/grammar instruction.  It’s not a terrible textbook, but since the idea is that students use this text from kindergarten through 6th grade, the 6th grade text seems to gloss over some things.  My students last year had used it in 4th and 5th grades.  Not enough time to have gotten all of the skills from the years prior to that.

What I really like about this book is that it is written by a teacher who has been there, done that.  She’s not standing in her ivory tower telling all teachers how rotten and lazy they are.  She’s not coming in from the outside saying she has all the answers.  Instead, she uses her prior experience and her copious research and study to guide the reader through how best to help our students.

I’ve noticed, having interns, that it’s tough to explain why you do what you do.  I have gotten better over the years, but this book gives me much more to pull from.  I can see using the information from this book to better interpret the reams of data that we generate on each student.  By being able to give concrete diagnoses for the parents (not just, your child doesn’t understand what he or she is reading), and then being able to give specific, parent-friendly suggestions, I look forward to helping my students and their parents.

As I read, I keep picturing how I can make this work, using the scripted curriculum that I have been given.  I think it will go a long way toward making the weekly skill and strategy more concrete and visible for my students.

As you can see, I’m very excited about starting the school year, using what I’ve learned from this book.  What books are you reading this summer?  What do you hope to accomplish in the fall?

Fluency With Poetry

poetryHow to help students develop fluency in reading – that has been a huge focus for me this year.  The text that I am using includes a short paragraph or two each day for students to practice reading out loud.  However, as I looked into fluency practice (6 Minute Solution, Readers’ Theater, etc) it seemed as if it was more important for students to read the same passage several days in a row to improve, not a new passage each time.

I also noticed my students weren’t truly practicing reading together with their group when we did the fluency practice.  They didn’t see a purpose to it, so they just pretended (or refused).

I tried to explain the purpose behind the practice.  They were unimpressed with the need to read faster.  The teacher pleasers nodded and smiled as I talked, but the others, the ones who don’t see a need to practice what the teacher says they should, just sat quietly.  I could tell I hadn’t reached them.

To combat these problems, I tried having them read poetry out loud.  Bingo! I typed up some fun poems (Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Dr Seuss) and had each group practice a different verse.  At the end of the week, I had each group stand and read their verse in order.  Then, I awarded a prize to the group that I felt did the “best”.  I didn’t ever tell them what constituted the best, just picked a group that seemed to stand out to me.  Sometimes the group would read with lots of expression, sometimes it seemed as if they really read in unison, other times the group included movements to go with the verse.  I just picked whatever moved me that day.

This had an immediate and dramatic effect on the fluency practice.  The groups were suddenly rehearsing the verse over and over.  Desperate to be the “chosen group”, they worked hard to pronounce each of the words, add expression and read in unison.  They also told me they really enjoyed the fluency practice (something they never said earlier in the year!)

The only downside to this method is typing up the poems.  A new poem for each week is a lot of poems!  However, it is definitely worth the time.

How do you help your students gain fluency in their reading?

Giving Students Leadership Opportunities Part 1

This last week, my class began a spontaneous experiment in leadership.  My current curriculum is 90% direct instruction, which I follow “with fidelity” by using powerpoint slides to lead the discussions.  As we got started, I made an offhand comment that they could do this class without me.  At that point, several of them excitedly offered to be the teacher.

I agreed, pulled a stick for our first teacher, and so began a class period with more students engaged than ever before!

It was pretty powerful.  Each student “taught” one slide, then pulled a stick to choose the next teacher.  Since the information was on the slide, they could handle presenting it.  I sat at the back of the room, available to answer questions (although there wasn’t much need).

The students did a great job.  They kept the students on task, at times calling on raised hands, at times drawing random names.  They even counted down from 5 to get the class’ attention and took points when things got a little noisy.  The class was engaged and on task nearly the entire time.  The students helped the teacher pronounce unfamiliar words, assisted with figuring out what the assignment should be and generally were very understanding about the teachers.

The next day, they eagerly asked if they could do it again.  I agreed and they were off.  I was even able to joke that I could get them into trouble by talking in the back of the room!  Some of the students asked, nervously, if they would have to do it when they didn’t want to.  My answer was yes.  I explained that part of our requirement is speaking in front of a group and this would help meet that part of the curriculum.  While they weren’t thrilled, even the quiet ones got up and did it, without argument.

The students, as a whole, see this a fun.  As we all know, fun can go a long way toward engaging our students!

As we go forward, I’m hoping to give them a larger role – not just reading what I put on the slide, but actually preparing something to teach.  The challenge is that I am required to teach Reading Street as handed to me.  This means the powerpoint slides come from the teacher’s edition.  Having them create the slides wouldn’t really give them an authentic teaching opportunity.

For the moment, we’ll continue with allowing the students to present information and see how things go.  It’s only been 2 days, so the whole thing could go off the rails on Tuesday.  Let’s hope it continues to work!