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?

Edmond Dixon: Six Keys to Success with Middle-School Boys

My principal sent us this in an email:

Six Keys to Success with Middle-School Boys 

In this article in AMLE Magazine, Edmond Dixon says it’s not lack of passion and energy that keeps adolescent boys from learning – it’s teachers not figuring out how to direct it. Drawing on his experience as a parent of boys and a middle-school teacher and principal, Dixon offers these suggestions for eliciting motivated engagement and focused effort:

• Movement – It may seem contradictory that boys are restless and fidgety in class and yet can play video games for hours, but these have the same source – a need for constant action. Classrooms that ask boys to be passive and sit still for extended periods of time will encounter problems.

• Games – Boys get powerful psychic rewards from setting goals, competing, improving their performance, and winning. “However,” says Dixon, “if they don’t think they can win in school because they aren’t smart enough, they will often refuse to play the game.”

• Humor – Boys’ love of funny stuff can veer into the inappropriate and crude, but teachers can take advantage of this trait to capture interest and spur learning.

• Challenge – Posing difficult problems can motivate boys to commit energy and mental tools to improve their performance. Marshall Memo 541 June 16, 2014 10

• Mastery – “Success for any boy ultimately comes when he takes ownership for his own learning,” says Dixon. Part of this is understanding why it’s important to learn something, how things work, and how to control them.

• Meaning – “Why do we have to learn this?” is a perennial boy question in middle-school classrooms, and it’s not about being lazy. “It is essential for him to understand the importance and meaning of the task at hand,” says Dixon. “If a teacher can help him see how his learning fits into the larger picture, a boy will increase his interest and commitment in the classroom.”

Dixon believes that the first three – movement, games, and humor – are the beachhead to getting boys engaged in the classroom. Once engaged, they’re ready for the next two – challenge and mastery – increasing the chances that they’ll reach the ultimate goal – seeing meaning in what they’re learning in school. This helps a boy attain his “heroic individual potential… an outcome he secretly longs for, but fears he is not worthy of.”

Dixon’s website has examples of strategies in each area and a three-minute quiz:

“Six Secrets for Success in Teaching Boys” by Edmond Dixon in AMLE Magazine, May 2014 (Vol. 1, #9, p. 28-30),; Dixon is at


I think it makes a lot of sense.  Now, I’m thinking about how to incorporate these ideas into my classroom next fall.  So goes the life of a teacher.  One school year is barely in the rear view mirror and we’re already making plans for the next one.  This could be why I love my job!

Inspiring Creativity

creativityI ran across a video recently that is amazing.  Check it out here: High Diving Giraffesgiraffes

Go ahead, I’ll still be here when you get back.  🙂

I’m planning to use this video to spark some creativity with our final Genius Day.  This will be the third Genius Day we will hold this year.  We’ve kind of settled into a once per trimester schedule for our Genius Days.  We invited 5th graders to our first one, 7th graders to our second, and 4th graders will be viewing the results of this one.

For our second trimester Genius Day, we added some parameters: the students had to invent something to solve a problem.  This led to some interesting presentations!

This time around, we’ll be encouraging the students to demonstrate their creativity.  That’s where the video will come in.  My hope is this will inspire students to think outside their normal boundaries.  The idea of having giraffes in a swimming pool at all is pretty outside the box, then having them do tricks off a diving board, well, there’s just nothing more that needs to be said!

Do you do Genius Day with your students?  How do you inspire them to create something new?

100 Word Challenge


100 Word Challenge Test 100words

One thing I struggle with is keeping my advanced students challenged and busy.  They pre-test on Mondays and then (depending on their score) either learn the week’s content and re-test, or work on an independent project.  I generally find a book for them to read that follows the theme of the week.  While this keeps them fairly busy, they are very fast workers and periodically finish with time to spare.

To the rescue: the 100 word challenge.  I found a list of words that you should know when you graduate from high school.  I shared it with my advanced students and challenged them to learn as many as possible by the end of the year.  I then wrote a multiple choice test for them to take using a portion of the 100 words (they knew the test would not include all 100 words).

It is amazing to me to see my students willingly looking up definitions in the dictionary. They go back to this throughout the year whenever they have a few minutes.

This works really well because I don’t have to keep finding more things to give them to work on.

At the end of the year, I give the multiple choice test.  I don’t grade it, just mark wrong answers.  They were really excited to be learning something this difficult and many of them showed the list to their parents, then proudly reported that the parents didn’t know many of the words!

What do you do to challenge your students?

Genius Day Part 2

Well, we had a Genius Day at school about a month ago.  It went so well!  The students had been asking about having one all trimester, and the Monday before Thanksgiving seemed like a good day for it.  It was the end of a trimester, we had two days of school that week, and we were planning to hold our Read-a-thon on Tuesday.

After spending time doing our planning with the kids (more on that in a bit), the day arrived.  In addition to the 6th graders who were learning, studying and experimenting, we had some 7th and 8th graders who were using the opportunity to film a documentary about Genius Day.  During our intervention/extension period each morning, these students participate in filmmaking.  This seemed like the perfect extension of their learning, so I encouraged them to make a plan, then film and edit their work.  You can see the results here:

In order to prepare our students, we had them fill out several charts and questionnaires.

By having students think through their individual characteristics and ideas, we could help guide them to a successful project.  This avoids students ending up with too ambitious a project (like one idea that required a welder!) or too limited a project (like the cliched baking soda and vinegar volcano).  Often, it is a matter of guiding them to take that idea and either tweak it or revise it to be something more line with what they can and should accomplish in the time allotted.  We plan to hold one at the end of each trimester.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can do in the future, now that they had a chance to see it in action!

Do you do a Genius Hour or Genius Day with your students?

Take a Break (a Brain Break, that is)

I’ve been using brain breaks with my students for the past year and it has worked out really well.  My students are in my class for 2 hours of reading/writing instruction, most of which is direct instruction.  After a while, the students start to get that glazed look on their faces.  Brain breaks wake them back up and help them re-focus.

Brain Break Bucket

Brain Break Bucket

DSCN6523I took a bucket and some ping pong balls and made my Brain Break Bucket.  Basically, I just wrote the brain breaks on each ping pong ball.  When it’s time to break up the monotony, I have a student choose a ball from the bucket and we do whatever it says on the ball.

The kids have really enjoyed it.  There’s a renewed energy in the classroom when they go back to their seats.

What sorts of things do I do for brain breaks?  I’m glad you asked!

Brain Breaks

Line up alphabetically by last name, silently

Line up alphabetically by first name, silently

Make a train around the room

Switch seats with someone else

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Youtube dance videos for kids

Use a beach ball and play “Keep it off the Floor”

Would You Rather?Questions

Simon Says


Wink one eye and snap the fingers on the opposite hand (hard to do but fun to watch!)

In my classroom, the students are in their seats listening to me (my curriculum requires 90% direct instruction) for up to 2 hours at a time.  This makes it hard for them to focus on the lesson after a while.  By breaking up the time with these Brain Breaks, it helps them to re-focus on the lesson.  I know when I sit in a Professional Development session, or attend a conference, I have a tough time staying focused after a while.  Pretty soon your brain is wandering off into “I wonder what’s for lunch”, “How am I going to accomplish all the tasks in front of me today?” “When is this over?”  Having a chance to get up and move around is so helpful.

What Brain Breaks do you do?

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?