Re-Inventing the Wheel

The re-inventing the wheel phenomenon just plagues our schools and no where is that more apparent than in the area of curriculum. When talking about what 2nd or 3rd grade students should study in school, as a parent, I want to be able to know there is a trusted core curriculum is in place. As a former teacher, I know this is hardly the case. My experience was that most veteran teachers had invented or assembled their own units and lesson plans and they varied wildly in terms of  meaningful substance. I wasn’t satisfied with the type of lessons my co-teachers came up with, nor was I satisfied with what I came up with on my own.

I contacted a curriculum company in the Bay Area, Teacher’s Curriculum Institute that make the History Alive! program and they gave me some of their old units which they were revising. Their materials were a godsend. The units came with well annotated slides and clearly written lesson plans which led us through interactive activities based on actual historical events. Their suggestions and supports made teaching a pleasure. With these good, time tested lesson plans I could soar as a teacher. Without them, I will admit, it was a continuous struggle.

Some teachers may appreciate the “freedom” of writing their own lessons and selecting their own reading materials, and do an excellent job of it, but I was always uneasy that there wasn’t more of a catechism of information, if you will, for me to teach. I hope it isn’t the case that our individualized culture has made it impossible for us to agree on a clear body of knowledge for our kids to master.

The Common Core really is a noble undertaking in that it establishes a common standard. Many of the standards identify things that good classrooms are already accomplishing. One thing that may sound like a departure from the traditional language arts class is the inclusion of “informational text.”  It might sound off-puttingly technical, but it really just means articles about the real world, such as current events.

I can’t think of a better source of real world information than a local or national newspaper. I’d love to see stacks of papers in middle school and high school classrooms, or an online version, if that is preferred. The quality of the writing provides a great model for students and the articles will be full of specifics the students can research and investigate. If there is an unfamiliar word, then that is something students can search online, building that important base of knowledge.In one classroom I worked in, we received a stack of newspapers every day. My students, high school drop-outs returning to finish credits and earn their diplomas, loved reading about local issues and national issues. These things were relevant and meaningful to them.

Scholastic News magazines are another excellent source of “informational text.”   Scholastic does a great job with their news  magazines. They also produce magazines about science  and art and civics. These magazines are perfect for students and they perfectly meet that “informational text” requirement. The magazines give the students something specific to do. There are questions for them to answer and for the class to discuss.

Rather than have each teacher individually search the web for interesting articles and come up with their own activities around those materials, some of which may not fit in with any recognized course of study, I’d wish they’d have a class set of Scholastic news magazines, a local or national paper, with well-developed, well-designed lesson plans attached to them, available to every teacher. Those lesson plans should be flexible and adaptable but they really ought to be in place, at least as a reference, for teachers, students and parents to use.


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