The 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.
Second, 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.
I’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?