Today was Day One in the script of the new reading program we started this year. Not to be confused with Monday (which, obviously, it wasn't). Unless school is cancelled due to bad weather, next Tuesday (Feb. 11) will Day One again in our five day reading cycle. But our county is having an instruction support day on February 18; students stay home that day, and when they come back on Tuesday (Feb. 19) it will be Day Five. Day One will get bumped to Wednesday...

Such are the joys of a scripted curriculum. We used to have spelling tests on Fridays. Now we have them on Day Five, whatever day of the week that happens to be. It took some getting used to, but it works okay now that everyone (including the parents) is used to it.

I'm a member of the International Reading Association. They have a listserv that I subscribe to and, frankly, the concept of a scripted curriculum has taken a beating there in the last year or so. Among the complaints:

  • The authors of this or that curriculum can't really know and understand my kids (all of whom are unique, different from other kids in the world).
  • A scripted curriculum curtails academic freedom (a complaint usually accompanied with a degree of emotion).
  • Educators in the classroom have more "real world" knowledge of what needs to be taught and how it needs to be presented.

You get the idea...

We've used our new, scripted reading curriculum (I won't mention the company) since the start of this school year. Personally, I think it's a step forward from the past. It provides a degree of continuity in an environment where a significant number of our kids are transient and move every few months to another school in the county. It provides some level of assurance that we are actually implementing recent research in our reading classrooms. For example, it scripts in tasks for building background knowledge related to a story – an essential (but sometimes overlooked) component of comprehension. It provides shared tools for monitoring student progress. It provides a measure of quality control.

It also, to be candid, makes it easier for an administrator to decide whether teachers are doing their jobs. If my boss comes in tomorrow and figures out that we're not on Day Two there may well be weeping and gnashing of teeth. At the very least, some profound explanation is likely to be required. Heaven help me if that becomes a regular occurrence. If I am at least on the right day, my boss can now easily assess whether I am teaching the script. It is not a word-for-word script; but it is pretty explicit as to what activities take place today, what graphic organizers get used, how much time students are to have for this or that activity, what assessments are to be employed, etc.

So to begin to evaluate my performance, my boss can ask a simple, immediate question: "Is he following the script?" In the past my boss had to ask, "Is what he's doing working?" That was a far more difficult question to answer.

Today we started a five day "week" that emphasizes the skill of generalizing and practices the comprehension strategy of prediction. Day One always includes a pretest on this week's spelling words. Day One always includes a read aloud that develops listening skills. Our question for the week has to do with how people adapt to their physical limitations. We introduced vocabulary for the story. We used our SmartBoard to begin a concept web that we'll return to throughout the week to help reinforce background knowledge. And even though we're trying to impart reading skills during this time, most of this week's content is science oriented in our daily reading block.

I understand the complaints that people have about working with a scripted curriculum. As we climb through the grades, I think those complaints are more valid in high school than they are in kindergarten.

After six months with our particular reading curriculum, at the moment I'm a fan of it. We'll see how the year finishes out...

Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger