Day One: Are You Following the Script?

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

12 Responses to “Day One: Are You Following the Script?”

  1. Could you tell us what curriculum you are using, and what you are using before?

  2. We are using the Scott Foresman “Reading Street” curriculum. We were using Scott Foresman previously, but the new reading Street curriculum is much more scripted than the previous version of their material was…

  3. We tend to condense or expand the week so that we take a week per story no matter how long that week is. So if you have a four day work week you still finish a story that week.

    Although the activities are often prescribed we don’t read directly from the manual or follow it like a script. I prefer to think of it as prescribed rather than scripted.

  4. What happens if the students don’t get things in the time slotted? What if they need more time on certain skills? What if they already know how to do things and are bored with the amount of time spent on certain skills?

    These are my concerns with a scripted curriculum and I’d be curious to know how it is working for you. I’ve never used one so I don’t have a sense of how much teachers can individualize to meet the needs of their students.

  5. Hi Matthew,

    What curriculum are you using?

    Hi Jenny,

    The script continues. The concept is that of a spiral curriculum where skills and concepts are returned to – over and over again, across grade level.

    http://gregcruey.blogspot.com/2007/12/spiral-curriculum.html

    If half the class doesn’t “get” compare and contrast as a skill, or if they don’t understand fully what it means to generalize by the end of Day Five, you move on anyway. Both those things will be taught again – probably soon.

    Teaching to mastery THIS TIME is not necessarily a goal. And the hardest thing for teachers to do when they first have to teach a spiral curriculum is to simply move on when almost no one “got it” this time. It’s tempting to hang around on Thursday’s lesson for three or four days. When you get caught, the central office’s monitoring team may put your pacing guide through the shredder and feed you the little strips that come out…

    If, week after week this or that child never “gets it,” you refer them for interventions outside the Tier I reading block.

  6. “Is what he’s doing working?”

    I hope your boss is still asking that question!

    This is a key question for any school that is seeking to improve. Yes, that is a tough question to answer, but answering that question should be the main task of anyone in charge of quality. What if the script is not working?

  7. Hi Roger,

    LOL. I think she does still ask that question. But with many teachers where the answer to that might be “no,” we don’t necessarily get to that question anymore. If an administrator walks into a second grade room and the teacher isn’t using the script, insubordination becomes a more measurable symptom of incompetence and makes the problem easier to quantify.

    If I am on script, we can go on to look at how well I doing on particular tasks or how prepared I am, etc. The script is something of an equalizer. The difference between a first year teacher and a veteran nearing retirement is minimized to some extent.

    Of course, there’s also still the question of whether THE SCRIPT itself is working…

  8. My first reaction is “Ick”. My more thoughtful reaction – how much of the day, how does it adapt for local and cultural backgrounds, how much can you go ‘off-script’, what is being measured, what is not being measured, is it measuring what is important? You get the idea. Parts of me would love a script, I can blame the program. Other parts of me would detest the script, the part of me which is always experimenting, always questioning, always wondering. I’m not sure I can model those things with a script. Or can you question the script with your students, probably not recommended.

    I fear better answers are simply more expensive – more educated professionals with fewer students. I’ve heard good things about language programming in Sweden and certainly it’s not a script.

  9. Hi Susan,

    How scripted? We start our fifth grade reading each day with 10 to 15 minutes of spelling. All 25 words this week have a prefix (either sub, super, over, or under). We had two specific words to point out to the kids that are commonly misspelled (I don’t remember them at the moment). Then today the kids had to use at least three of the spelling words to write a journal entry about something they wanted to do.

    We do spelling first because the law in our state requires a 60 minute reading block for 5th graders. We have 90 minutes, and when the spelling is not phonics related (like this week) having it first means we can still say we have a 60 minute block without including the spelling in that calculation.

    From spelling we are in the habit of moving to our concept web. The web starts on day one with a design created by the curriculum. On day two the kids start adding ideas to it. We spend about 10 minutes on that. It builds background knowledge and makes life connections.

    Today, after the web, students were groups in to small groups and they read the story (seven or eight pages this week on kids with cerebral palsy) aloud in the groups. (Yesterday during this time the followed along as the story played on a CD, with stops for discussion – so this is a second reading). At the end of this time the kids answered the reader responses questions as a group. While this was going on I circulated from group to group to monitor while the general ed teacher pulled students one by one from their groups for a one minute cold reading fluency test that we do each week. The process took about 20 minutes.

    At the end of this process the kids spent about 10 minutes looking over a selection test we’ll give tomorrow. About half of it is vocabulary.

    The skill this week has been generalization and we had a discussion time to model the difference between a generalization and more specific statements that don’t qualify as generalizations.

    We played a game with vocabulary cards. The words are placed face down on index cards, the definitions are face down on index cards. The kids turn over two cards and them put them face down again. When they can pick a word and it’s definition, they keep the pair. One with the most pairs wins.

    We copied an essential question from the board and speculated on an answer for it in our reading journals.

    The order can be shifted around if you like. There’s grammar, but it gets down outside the reading block. There is not an actual script per se to read. But the particular activities and exercises are “non-negotiable” according to our central office.

    We monitor fluency, testing each child every two or three weeks. We have a weekly selection test. We have a unit test after five weeks; that test evaluations the sills being taught without reference to the stories we read.

    For the Tier I reading block, scripted is a misnomer, I suppose. It’s guided, but we express it in our own words.

    The interventions on the other hand, 30-45 minute sessions outside the reading block, have chunks of actual script you read through. Interventions are designed to match up with what’s happening in the Tier I block. And a big selling point for this curriculum is that it is designed to be a single product that lets you have reading and interventions together in a single package, along the lines of the Richard Allington suggests I mention here:

    http://gregcruey.blogspot.com/2007/12/response-to-intervention-new-model-for.html

    I find a curriculum of this nature more palatable in reading, at this grade level, than I would with English Lit in high school or with middle school social studies.

    Our math curriculum, the University of Chicago’s Everyday Math program, is much the same…

    http://everydaymath.uchicago.edu/

  10. Thanks for the example. Interesting. It looks like it’s based on good research and provides a positive framework. I don’t know if I’d like the straightjacket but I can see that it might make life easier. I don’t know if I want it to be that kind of easier. Interesting.

  11. I’ve done a whole post on this here: http://mizmercer.edublogs.org/2008/02/16/writer-wheres-my-script/

    Highlights:
    @ Scripted curriculum is great at getting kids to Basic proficiency, and no farther
    @ It’s not authentic teaching to be on script, and doesn’t meet the needs of language learners or others students (my experience)
    @ The big divide between skills (which scripted programs emphasize) and strategies (which they need to get to higher order thinking.
    @ I finish up with suggestions on how to deal with this gap if you teach with these programs, because frankly just criticizing is boring to me. I point out Matthew Needleman (hey, he commented here) has some great suggestions.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts this past week Greg, and wish you luck with your program.

  12. Hi Greg,

    I’m a writer working on an article about scripted teaching, and I was wondering if you’d be willing to allow me to quote some of the lucid opinions you offer here. I haven’t been able to find an email address for you, but I’d love to hear from you if you get this comment any time in the next few days (my deadline is next Friday).

    Thanks!

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