Karen Hoffman: Include Parents in Discussions about ELA Curriculum

discover-who-is-in-chargeThe Issue: Our curriculum director has instructed ELA teachers to follow the [mandated] units exactly as they are with no changes to their content or sequencing.  The[se] units do not reflect best practice for reading and writing instruction and do not allow for variations in student populations or abilities. Having served on our district’s ELA Curriculum Committee for over three years, I have studied these units extensively, piloted them in my classroom, and advocated for major revisions to them to no avail. The most serious flaws in these units are the separation of reading and writing instruction; the lack of opportunity for ongoing, low- stakes practice; and the failure of the units to meet students where they are at academically, assuming all students across the district should receive the same instruction.

Strategy for Addressing the Issue: Since appeals to the curriculum director and administration have been ineffective, my strategy is to better inform parents about what best practice is, what it looks like in the classroom, and why th[is] curriculum does not meet the instructional needs of students.  I hope to rely on the “gossip factor”- that parents will tell other parents what is happening in my classroom and spread the word. I confess that in the past I was much more focused on sharing both with students and their parents what best practice was and why it was important to reading and writing achievement. Over that past few years, however, as more and more was being demanded of my time, particularly in the form of documenting extensively, I devoted less and less time to reaching out to parents. In effect, I’ve come full circle: I’ve come to the realization that the only way to fight against the[se] units is to return to best practice both in the classroom and in communicating that practice to parents. My hope is that parents will become advocates for best practice, and as a result, eventually voice their unhappiness with the units to administration.

Karen identified the decision maker for her issue (the ELA director) and tried working as a member of the ELA Curriculum committee to influence how reading and writing would be taught—to no avail.  As a new approach, she’s hoping to engage parents as allies whose voices can be heard in ways hers cannot, recognizing the potential influence of these parents on decision makers.