advice, being a teacher, curriculum, MIEExpert15

3 Must-Do’s If Your School Purchases Curriculum

There seems to have always been pre-packaged programs available for districts to purchase.  Whether they came as a kit, a textbook, or just a set of ideas they have been a part of education for so many years and will continue to be as long as there are districts searching for the right answer, searching for guidance.  And there isn’t anything wrong with that.  I am not an opponent to the purchased curriculum, I am not an opponent of buying resources for teachers.  However, I am an opponent of buying a program, no matter how great it is, and then telling everyone to follow every single thing in it.

You see, we don’t teach the children that these researchers taught.  Our students will never share the same experience, nor the same background.  And that is important because if a program does not allow us to adapt it to our students, then it will not be as powerful as we need it to be.  If we are chained to a curriculum map based on other people’s students, then we are not teaching the students in front of us.

So by all means; go ahead and purchase the curriculum out there.  There are great ones out there that have a solid foundation,  but if you do, please make sure you do the following three things as well:

  1. Create an open dialogue.   Teachers need to know that they can question the program and that they have a voice.   There should be no sacred cow in our district.  Make sure that this is not a top-down decision and that you constantly assess whether this program is what you need.  Just because you spent money on something does not mean it is right for everyone.
  2. Allow teachers to modify, adapt, and change as needed.  That doesn’t mean compromising the program, but instead it means trusting teachers as the professionals they are to create an even better experience for their students.  One that allows them to teach the very kids they are supposed to teach.  That does not mean teachers are being subversive, it simply means that they are responding to gaps that they see and they are doing something about.  No program will ever be the perfect fit for all of our kids, all of our teachers, and all of our schools.  They are vast road maps, not step-by-step directions.
  3. Ask the students.  If students are losing their love of reading, writing, science, math or whatever program it is they are in, then we have a serious problem.  It does not matter that the program may be the best for creating deep comprehension if students hate doing it.  If a curriculum program is creating robots in our classroom then we should be worried.  And we should take action and we do that best by asking the students what is going on.  Then we listen and then we change.

So if you find yourself in the situation where you can tell that something is not working for your students, speak up.  Do it kindly, but do speak up, because administration cannot engage in a conversation that they do not know is needed.  Ask your students, involve parents, and collect your evidence.  Start a conversation before a program becomes an educational barrier to success.  Don’t stay silent if you see something harming students, the change starts with us and our courage.

PS:  And if you are using money to purchase curriculum but not using money to buy books, then the priorities need to change.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

curriculum, reflection

Sshh, Students Reading and a Teacher Too

image from icanread

I have always been a reader.  Some of my earliest memories revolve around books and when that book stumbles back into my life the memories flood back.  Sleeping Beauty was my first book that I read in English, not bad for a Danish 6 year old girl.  I just offered that same copy to Thea as she turned 4 and she gleefully accepted, well-knowing that it had something to do with a princess.  I always have a book going, sometimes more than one but I try to remain faithful.  I read whenever I can and have even been known to sneak books to school for my recess and lunch time.  Our home has many books and spend way too much money at bookstores and too much time at libraries.

So why is it, that I have always hated teaching reading?  At least, until today.

Teaching reading is a different beast.  After all, how do you teach that a book can feel like home?  That a book can make you less lonely when you once again move to a new place.  That a book will bring people back from the dead, if even for a short time.  That it will transport and transform an otherwise humdrum train ride, afternoon, or even class if snuck into a desk properly.  How do you teach that?  Sure, you can talk about it but books have to seep into the lives of children for them to full understand.

I can teach reading, sure; how to read the words, how to sound them out, figure out their meaning, but I cannot seem to teach the falling in love.  And yet, something has changed in my room this year; I have finally brought myself into the room as a reader.

I had never shared much of my reading life, sure I would tell the kids how much I read, but I didn’t share the stacks of books next to my bed, or the excitement over discovering a new book.  I never rushed into school just to grab a book I forgot or excitedly handed a book to a kid, knowing that they would love it as much as I did, telling them to hurry up and read it so we could talk about it.  I loved to read but my kids didin’t really know it.

This year our books take front and center.  We read and we read a lot.  We now share our books through Biblionasium and through conversation.  We swap books, borrow books, and abandon books when needed.  We keep our reading time sacred; not the first thing to be sacrificed in an otherwise hectic school day, but the last.  We talk about us as readers and just how excited we are.  I have finally brought myself into the room in all my glorious book nerddom and the students have embraced and cherished me as one of theirs; a fellow reader who happens to have a lot of books to share and sometimes have to share some lessons.

Sure, there are days where kids drag their feet.  Sure, there are days where my lessons fall apart and the kids talk too much and we don’t get to what we need, but then we read.  And when we read everything else seems to go back to being ok.

Today I watched in awe as 20 5th graders sat silently, not through threats, but through the power of books.  They groaned when I told them it was time to pack up.  They asked if they could read just one more minute and dragged their feet when the end was inevitable.  They are readers. And I am a reading teacher.

Be the change, curriculum, Student-centered

So You Keep Saying Authentic Learning…

In my last posts, I have thrown out the term “authentic learning” as if it is the new buzzword.  Well, for me it is!  I am sure others have coined this term before me but this is my definition, my revolution in my classroom, my new mantra for the year.

Authentic learning is what I plan on doing in my room this year.  One can argue that all learning is authentic if only applied to the right situation.  My problem therefore lies within my own style of teaching that seems to lack moments of relatability.  Few are those times when I was able to truthfully tell my students that “this skill you will use one day.” Why is that?  We are supposed to be the shapers of the future, right?  Everything we do or say in our classrooms should have a bigger purpose.  I agree that there are certain building blocks that do not lend themselves easily to authentic learning, but how do we go from that type of knowledge to packets, dioramas (I really hate dioramas) and longwinded spelling sorts?

I am about to start my 3rd year in my room and I finally feel like I know a little bit about the curriculum.  I know what the goals are and where the students should be at the end of 4th grade.  That allows me to change the journey and the tools we use to get to that point.  So here is what I propose to myself:  Study the goals and then base learning on getting to that goal, not digging up more worksheets to really make it stick.  So, if you want your students to know the difference between a verb and a noun – send them on a scavenger hunt and tell them to film the nouns and verbs they come across.  Students need to learn how to research – research something that they would be interested in.  You need to teach geometric shapes – find them in your school, count their angles, build your own.  Most of all, make it relevant!

I know there will be days where this will simply not be possible, I will hate those days, but recognize them as a necessary evil.  There are certain curriculum areas that I cannot create authentic learning experiences for; difference between a linking and helping verb – still thinking about that one.  The important thing is that I can still fulfill all of my duties as a teacher but do it in a way that I would have loved to have been taught in, and that I hope my students will remember.  I hope to make it meaningful, to help them connect it to their own lives, to help them see what the purpose is and that school is not boring or something to dread.  Am I a fool?  Probably, but at least I am fool with great aspirations for all.

Do you believe in this type of learning?  Can it be done under our standards and requirements?  Will my students benefit or will my parents revolt?   I will spare no details this fall.

Be the change, curriculum, grades, homework

But We Worked So Hard On It…

Those words, uttered by a parent disagreeing with their child’s grade has made my hair bristle more than once. You worked hard on it, meaning you and your child? Wait a minute, this was not meant to be a parent and child homework assignment but rather a well thought out learning experience for your 4th grader. And yet, parents decide to help. At first, I thought it was because they were helicopter parents, obviously not having severed the proverbial umbilical chord, marching their child toward a successful life always monitored by the parent like a shadow. Then I thought the parents were suckers, after all, nothing can ruin a weekend more than a child whining that they don’t want to do their homework. Maybe these parents lacked self-control, discipline, dreams, a life? Maybe they just really wanted to re-do 4th grade curriculum because it was so much fun. Oh, those illusions kept me and my irritation going for two years.

This summer, on my Twitter revolution I started reading more about parent involvement, grades and their effect on classrooms, all posted by the formidable force that is Alfie Kohn. And yes, I had an epiphany, an ugly one; one that I hoped not to have, and yet it was so necessary. These parents, who obviously had to do the work with their children, did it because my assignment was too hard, too all-involving, too removed from learning and not based in real-life. So all that frustration should have been directed toward another source; myself. After all, the puppet-master of the homework strings is me.  So this year I am making a change:

  • I will not assign homework because I need something to add to my grades so that I can do a bigger average.
  • I will not assign homework because I was long winded and didn’t get to the point, leaving no work time.
  • I will not assign homework just because the book tells me that I should.
  • I will not assign homework because my team members assign this piece or someone else who has taught the same unit.
  • I will not assign homework because it is a long vacation and who knows what sort of trouble student’s need to be kept out of.
  • I will not assign homework because the learning did not happen in my classroom.
Instead, homework will be limited.  It will be re-evaluated and contained within my room as much as possible.  I am changing my grading system, more on that in another blog, and no longer feel the burden of needing enough things to grade so that I can fall back on it for my report cards.  My mantra for the year is “Authentic Learning” and with that comes the responsibility of teaching students within my room, within my time, within the standards, but also within their capabilities.  Learning has to be relatable for them for it to stick.  No more dull repetitious packets, no more book report dioramas, but rather conversation, blogging, hands on experience.  Maybe then those parents will find something else to do, something that they want to spend time on, and maybe I will finally get a clue.

So why do you assign homework?  How do you not assign homework?  


So Instead of a Book Report…

How many of us read a book and then create a craft project to show our friends all about what we read? I don’t, and I have yet to find anyone that does. Maybe those adults do exist but still why is it that I was under the impression that book report meant diorama or a puppet show?

So this year I am taking a leap of faith; having students read for the fun of it and share their opinion of the book – novel idea I know. So instead of a craft project, how about…

  1. Create a genre bulletin board where students can add a review about their book
  2. Have students read two books within a genre and do a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the two books? Or read two books by the same author?
  3. Blog about your book; reflect, ask questions, see if others have read it
  4. Create a wordle about the word associations you had with the book
  5. Write a Haiku about the book
  6. Use glogster to create a collage about the book and references in it
  7. Read aloud the most interesting part, trying to get others to read it and then explain why you chose that part
  8. Do a book talk with a partner or the teacher
  9. Prove to the class in 5 minutes or less that you really read the book
  10. Sell the book to your classmates, how can you get them to read it – written or oral – try this even if you did not like the book, can you still convince others?
  11. Act out your character
  12. Write a letter/email to the author (even if no longer alive). Tell them what you thought of their book.
  13. Blog about what you learned from the book.
  14. Surf the net looking for pictures of references made in your book
  15. Do a book review in the style of a movie critic – thumbs up or thumbs down
  16. Venn Diagram characters in your book
  17. Do an author study alone or with a partner
  18. Create a VoiceThread discussing your book’s message
  19. Pretend you are the author on a Voki and tell us about your newest project
  20. Search for reviews of the book on the internet and add your own review
  21. Write to a penpal about your book and why you chose it
  22. Participate in the Global Read Aloud Project
  23. Create a book trailer
  24. Video tape the book talk
  25. Use Shelfari to post the book and then explain why you chose to post it
  26. This idea comes from Mrs. Pilver – use a Voki Book Hook , so cool 

Anymore ideas?  My students will greatly appreciate them…