Stop updating outdated boxed curriculums and trying to sell them back to us. Let teachers and students think for ourselves.
It never fails! Every year you show up to pre-planning and there's a new curriculum, a new program, or a new idea that is supposed to solve all of the problems of education. So as educators, we are supposed to throw out everything we know and jump on this new bandwagon (for a year or so, until something new comes along). Generally these are really repacking of an old idea. If you stay in education long enough, you see the same ideas cycle through every 8 - 12 years, branded as new and shiny.
But in reality what we did last year (and the year before that, and the year before that) WORKED. Can it be improved on? ALWAYS! But should we throw the baby out with the bath water? NO. In fact very often, I will find myself trying to put some supplemental material together to make this new program meet the needs of a group of students (because these lovely educational programs that districts spend fortunes on DO NOT provide everything) and halfway through I'll say to myself "I made something like this before." So I'll go dig through my stuff and lo and behold there it is.
Now I'm not saying that we should teach the same lesson using the same lesson plan for 30 years. We should always be on the look-out to learn and grow as teachers. But we should also be trusting OURSELVES to know how to teach. We went to school for this. We go to professional development. We spend hours analyzing what went well and what didn't on a lesson. We get to know our students and their needs. We KNOW how to teach.
Instead of teaching to a boxed curriculum, we should be teaching to the student and the standards. Yes, all kids need to learn how to read. But every first grader does not need to be read Stellaluna. Yes, all kids need to learn how to solve word problems, but every third grader does not need to build arrays using only red chips.
If I ruled the world of education (which obviously I don't) I would have 5 - 10 standards for ELA and 5-10 standards for Math, with very basic outlines for teachers and students to follow. Then I would allow teachers and students the freedom to choose the books that interest them. To choose the manipulatives that make sense for them to solve the problem. Freedom to get interested in learning. I taught 1st graders last year who already hated school. 1st grade! They have 11 more years to go and they already think of school as a chore. How sad is that?
But I have to follow the boxed curriculum with fidelity....
So I obviously can't make your school tell you that you don't have to use their shiny new program. However, I have learned how to "wiggle" inside the box you are given. First, use any "extra" time to your advantage - morning work, transitions, centers, etc. Second, use pieces of the curriculum in your own tried and true way. ie. Yes, we're reading Stellaluna, but we're going to act it out instead of reading it for the 12th time. Third, allow yourself to think outside the box - seek out creative ways to present the information from the curriculum. Fourth, listen to your students! Let them have some input and some choice into the activities they will be completing.
If you are able to find that wiggle room, or if you are lucky enough to NOT have a boxed curriculum, here are a few things that might work to teach the basics, while still allowing for teacher and student choice and outside the box thinking. For so many teachers bringing outside of the box ideas into a boxed curriculum classroom would take hours and hours of extra work. I hope that some of these resources will take that stress away from you.
Genre Book Reports - Students choose any book within the genre to read. This allows them to read in their interest area and reading level. After reading, they complete an organizer with the basic reading comprehension information. Finally, they APPLY their comprehension of the book to create a project of their choice about the book they read.
Read Aloud Journal - Read alouds are such a great way to work on various comprehension strategies. Teachers model their thinking, as well as good fluency. However which book you read is actually not very important. Using this journal, the teacher chooses the book, and the focus. You post a guiding question and students answer it while you are reading. This leads to discussion - where the read learning happens. Then students can APPLY their learning to independent reading.
Daily Vocabulary Work - We all know that learning and working with new vocabulary words is important. But just because the words are listed in a TE doesn't always make them important. Instead, have kids choose words from a book you are reading. Or pre-teach the words you think they might struggle on. Have kids practice - at home or in class - and then for the weekly "test", have students write down 5 words and give you a sentence showing they understand the meaning of the words. It works with ANYTHING and can give you the freedom to make it student or teacher led.
Year Long Country Study - Students LOVE to learn about other places. Let kids choose a country - any county - to research for a whole year. This project gives you a monthly focus so that students are doing research, creating projects, and learning more than just Social Studies all throughout.
Student Created Tutorial Videos - We all know that students learn more by teaching others. But who has the time to sit and listen to 20 different "teaching presentations"? Instead, have students create videos to show they have mastered a topic. Build a class library of videos that students can refer back to when they are stuck. Don't just talk about a community of learners, build one.
I know that all of these resources are a bit "outside of the boxed curriculum", but our kids are not all inside the box. We owe them some learning that is outside of that box. For the past 5 years, I taught inside the box (because I had to), but brought in as many of these out of the box ideas as I could. If you are lucky enough to have the freedom to teach outside of the boxed curriculum - please enjoy and run with these ideas for your students. I have many more inside and outside of the box ideas at my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I hope you find something to help make your day slightly easier.
The end of the school year is one of the hardest times to engage our students. One way that I engage my students at the end of the school year is with room escape games. At the beginning of the last month of school, we write ESCAPE ROOM in bold letters on our calendar for one of the last days of school. Students know that misbehavior can keep them from the Escape Room, so this helps give them a carrot to work towards during those difficult to focus spring days.
The Escape Room itself takes us about 2 hours and it's a very engaging 2 hours for the class. Even those who do not escape tell me they had fun trying. I have tried to make the experience as similar to an escape room puzzle that you would pay for as an adult, while still making it educational and appropriate for my kiddos.
For the escape room, I break my class into 3 groups. Each group has colored clues to follow. The clues I use are all math problems for topics they should have mastered. Once they solve the clues, they use them to unlock envelopes. Inside some of the envelopes are harder problems. The answers to these problems help students to unlock other envelopes, which have brainteaser type problems in them. These brainteasers lead them to the prize, which unlocks the classroom.
Students work on so many skills with the escape room. They do math. They work as a group. They strategize. They divide and conquer. I love watching the real thinking that happens. I also love that they think it's a party when they're showing me their thinking much more than on any test I've ever given!
Right now I have escape rooms available for 2nd grade math review and 3rd grade math review in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I hope to get some more made up during this summer vacation. What type of escape room would you like to use with your students?
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