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.



Reading Street Powerpoints

6th Grade

Power Points for Reading Street 6th Grade

In the interest of sharing what I’ve done (and hoping that readers out there will tell me what they’ve done!) I’ve uploaded my powerpoints to Google Drive.  I use the powerpoints each day.  They’ve been really handy when someone needs to take over for me for a few minutes, or if I have a substitute.  They also work well when a student is absent – the student can read over the powerpoint and get an idea of what we covered that day.  My plan for the fall is to try recording the presentations as I teach them and post them on the class website.  That will give students a better picture of what they missed (or allow them to watch a class again).

Here are the powerpoints for Unit 1.

Unit 1 Week 1

Unit 1 Week 2

Unit 1 Week 3

Unit 1 Week 4

Unit 1 Week 5

Unit 1 Week 6

Let me know what you do with Reading Street.  I’m still learning how to go about teaching it, so any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated!  (My dad, a teacher for 30 years, always said it takes three years to get good at a new curriculum, so I’ve got two more years of this!)

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?

Challenging Gifted Students While Teaching From a Scripted Curriculum

This year, I have two gifted students in my classes, as well as another 10 high achieving students.  In the past, I had more freedom in my curriculum to try to meet the high level students’ needs.  However, this year, I am required to follow a scripted reading curriculum with fidelity, so it has been more of a challenge.

The first thing I have done is begun pre-testing the high achievers and gifted students each Monday.  If they can pass the weekly test before instruction, they are free to work on a separate project during the week.  If they don’t pass, they can work through the assignments and readings at their own speed and re-test when they are ready.  If they pass at that point, they can move on to working on a different project.

This has worked out well, mostly.  I have a few students who, after working through the week’s assignments, still don’t pass the test.  Still figuring out what to do about that.

The projects I have assigned started out more demonstrating the week’s topic on a poster or in a piece of writing.  However, this time, the first half of our unit is focused on various types of survival, so for three weeks, they have been reading other books about survival and will create a diagram showing the parallels of survival in different environments.

In addition, I discovered which has wonderful ideas for challenging students to think more deeply.  He sends out a list of idioms each week with ideas for how to use them.  So, my advanced students are also learning idioms and working on projects related to them.

Student Goal Setting with Data

I’ve been using a new textbook this year that sets a high standard with the rigor of its text and tests. Each week, my students take a test over the skills and vocabulary they have been learning. So far, they’re not doing very well on these tests.

This is one filled out.  :)

This is one filled out. 🙂

In an effort to improve their scores, I recently worked with them to examine their data and set a goal for future test scores. To introduce it, I explained my approach to goal setting. I’m a runner (a SLOW runner!) so I shared my goals with them. I also shared my action plan to meet those goals. The students were very excited to set their own goals and action plans after hearing about mine.

We also discussed making the goal realistic. If they are currently getting 30% on their tests, setting a goal to get 90% is probably not going to happen overnight. Using my running as an example, I pointed out that setting a goal to take 2 minutes off my mile in a month is just not realistic. Nice if it happens, but not likely. This seemed to make them feel better about the idea of setting a goal.

Then we discussed reasonable action steps to plan. I asked them to mark just one or two of the steps suggested. I also pointed out that completing all of their assignments and studying for spelling tests would not only help their test scores, but help their grade. (You’d think they could see that themselves, but they are sixth graders, after all!)

The action steps I suggested were designed to help them increase their reading comprehension skills and their word analysis skills. These are the two areas the class, as a whole, struggle with. Utilizing these steps will help them overall with their reading and word skills. Since the tests don’t cover specific content, but instead skills, these are steps that should help them overall.

I am very encouraged by the response I’ve had from this process. Many of the students immediately put their steps into action and were quite proud of themselves. As we’ve gone along, I’ve been sharing my successes and frustrations in running. They love hearing how I didn’t want to get out and run, but I had made a pledge, so I did. Sharing my work has been helpful in encouraging them to work towards their goals.

Weekly Test Score Goal for

I also asked them to have their parent sign the goal sheet. After explaining that this is not a case of “get them in trouble”, but more a need to keep their parents involved in their learning. The parents have been very receptive, as well. Many have written notes on the page sharing how they will help their child reach the goal.

When they take their next weekly test, we’ll graph the results and celebrate anyone who reached their goal. My plan is to give them a “goaled star” – get it? Gold/goaled! I crack me up!

How do you help your students improve?

Helping Students Organize Their Writing

After teaching writing for a number of years, I’ve finally discovered a method that seems to help them put coherent paragraphs and passages together.  The special education teacher I co-teach with created guides for his students.  Each week, as we progress through a new piece of writing, he gave his students a paper with specific ideas for each paragraph (and, at times, each sentence).  I tried it one week, when we were working on a problem-solution essay, which always gives my students problems.  What a difference!

Student Sample

Student Sample

Student Sample

Student Sample

The students felt more confident in writing their rough drafts and were much more pleased with their final result.  I was happy that I didn’t have to wade through essays which are more first grade than sixth grade quality.  These guides have made all the difference.  As we progress through the year, my plan is to pull back and offer less support.  By that time, however, they should be able to organize their writing on their own.

Reading their mysteries, I’m encouraged by the success.  In the past, when my students had to write a mystery, they had a hard time getting started and then their stories tended to ramble.  The final drafts I scored this weekend rarely were hard to follow (unfortunately, no strategy is foolproof!)  A few needed some help rearranging their paragraphs, but otherwise, they had a good beginning, middle and end.  Next, we’ll need to work on their climax.

I have attached a couple of the guides I have used to help them in their writing.  We’ll see, as we continue through the year, whether they need the support all year, or if I can pull it back and let them write on their own.

Guide to Writing a Mystery

Writing a Movie Review