How to Deal with Bad Writing Curriculum

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“It’s not me! It’s the curriculum!”

Have you ever heard a pitch for bad writing curriculum? You roll your eyes thinking, “Yeah, that’s not gonna work with MY kids.”

There are a number of reasons a certain curriculum would not fit certain students. Classroom teachers are usually the first to identify whether or not their students will struggle with the curriculum.

Students aren’t the only ones who struggle with curriculum that doesn’t fit their needs. Both parents and teachers struggle as well.

(Also check out Jessica Fisher’s post for parents titled What to Do When You Don’t Like the Curriculum. It has great ideas that you can do as a parent or guardian if you find that your child’s curriculum isn’t working.)

3 Problems Caused by Bad Writing Curriculum

Problem #1 – Too many curriculum changes in a short period of time. 

How many of you have been in schools that seem to change curriculum every year? You know that there is more to the curriculum that just getting your students to score well. There is, built into each curriculum, an entire culture with its own language, rituals, customs, and traditions. 

Any traveler knows that, in order to thrive in a foreign country, you need to be able to comfortably navigate its customs and language.  There are about 180 school days, and if students are taught every subject every day (which ABSOLUTELY does not happen) then your child will get 180 hours of exposure to your writing curriculum’s culture in one year. 

It sounds like a lot until you divide that by 24 hours. That equals 7.5 DAYS! That’s a week! Now imagine if you changed cultures every 7 days. Right when you start to get the hang of one culture, it switches, and then switches again the next week. 

That’s what happens when curriculum changes too often. Students aren’t given enough time to master the culture of the curriculum, which is essential to thriving in a culture as well as in curriculum.

bad writing curriculum stresses teachers

Problem #2 – It’s Either Too Easy or Too Hard

You like playing basketball? How would you like it if the hoop was five stories high? Or if it was hovering somewhere around your knees? We lose interest in things that are too easy or too hard for us.

Students are the same. Teach curriculum with a long, complicated writing process and the students will tune the lessons right out. Teach curriculum that seems like it is written for small children and they’ll lose respect for you (unless you happen to teach small children, of course). Or worse, they will get a false sense of achievement that will be dashed to pieces when things like state tests come along.

I’ve experienced both types of curriculum. Both cases required extra work from our grade level teachers to raise or lower the rigor level of the curriculum to match our students’ abilities and styles.

Problem #3 – It’s Not “Parent-Friendly” Enough

Parents and guardians are just as important to a child’s learning as the teacher is. They pick up their children expecting to know what they have learned in school AND if they need any help. When curriculum is not parent-friendly (like if its strategies come from a foreign country) parents don’t know how to help their child.

Bad writing curriculum not parent friendly

When parents get frustrated with curriculum, that frustration is often passes (usually unintentionally) to the student. And their frustration with the curriculum will eventually find its way to you. Or at least it will make for good “rant” videos about common core.

The biggest issue when it comes to curriculum is in its need to be marketable. It must be…
  1. “Innovative” enough to be sold as the next big solution,
  2. Specific enough to meet learning standards, yet
  3. General enough to allow all types of teachers and learners AND THEIR PARENTS to access it.
Many times, the third item is put on a lower priority because of the first two.

Now the part you’ve been waiting for…

How to Deal with Bad Writing Curriculum…

First, work with your administrators:

  1. VOICE YOUR CONCERNS to your grade level or department lead, curriculum coordinator, coach, or administrator.
  2. AGREE TO DO THE CURRICULUM “with fidelity” at first.
  3. SCHEDULE A FOLLOW-UP MEETING to discuss the effectiveness of the curriculum.
    • If the curriculum worked, then it works! And your higher-ups would be glad to hear it.
    • If it doesn’t work, then be prepared to
      1. Suggest ways to improve its delivery.
      2. Ask for suggestions to improve delivery.

Most of the time, the curriculum is non-negotiable. But you can usually negotiate its delivery, especially if you have data that the prescribed method of delivery is ineffective with your group of students.

Discuss bad writing curriculum with admin

Second, communicate with your students and their parents:

(note: It would be unwise to change the curriculum behind your administrator’s back, so don’t do that.)

  1. BUILD A SOLID RELATIONSHIP with your students. You are more important than the curriculum.
    • There is a very popular and overused saying that states “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” As cliche as it sounds, it is 100% true, especially with students who are still trying to figure out whether or not to trust you.
  2. BE HONEST WITH YOUR STUDENTS. Tell them that the program that the school is using may be difficult at times. There may even be times when they’ll want to give up.
  3. PROVIDE EXTRA SUPPORT. Promise them that you will be there to provide the support they need. In Jessica Fisher’s post for parents titled What to Do When You Don’t Like the Curriculum, she called this “Bridging the Gap.” Here are some things you can do to help to bridge the gap.
    • One-to-one and Group Conferences
    • Tutoring
    • Extended office hours
    • Additional resources (like YouTube videos and helpful sites)
    • Extra breaks
    • Fun writing activities in addition to the curriculum
  4. DON’T HIDE YOUR EXTRA EFFORTS. Let your students see the extra work you are putting in. Sometimes they need to be made aware of it. Make a chart. Have a heart-to-heart. Send a letter home to parents. 

Your students will appreciate your honesty and the fact that you are putting in extra effort.  That extra effort they see you put into difficult curriculum can be used to motivate them to put in a little extra effort to learn from difficult curriculum.

Conclusion:

Let’s face it…sometimes the problem is the curriculum. And while most times you can’t do much about it, there are several things you can do…

  1. Work with your administrators to evaluate the curriculum and come up with possible adjustments.
  2. Communicate with your students and parents so that they know that you are giving your best despite the curriculum.

Taking these steps will definitely help you, your students, and their parents overcome the problem that bad writing curriculum can sometimes cause.

Tried it out?

Tried something else?

Leave me a comment and let me know how it went. I’d love to hear from you.

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