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A working sixth grade teacher responds...

Posted By: Paul Rigmaiden on August 2, 2009
Dear John Wills:

I read with great interest your article on curriculum narrowing and social studies instruction. I am a sixth grade teacher at a central California school. I am very familiar with NCLB and some of the effects it has produced so far. One of those effects is the constriction of curriculum your article describes. I think it is unfortunate that too many teachers let things happen to them, rather than see the opportunity in often-confusing changes in school policy. The opportunity with NCLB from a teaching standpoint is that it has prompted me to realize that I teach reading all day long. When we use the social studies and science textbooks, the students are still READING them. I think this is often overlooked by teachers and administrators who often appear to have a very narrow concept of what reading is and how it can be taught. I know a teacher at another school who got into a loud argument with his principal because he was using his social studies book at the school's "reading time." The principal said that the teacher "can't 'do' reading with the social studies book." The teacher argued, "Why not? It's a BOOK ISN'T IT?!" I am glad the teacher defended himself.

A review of the test used for school accountability in California, the STAR test, will show that many of the reading passages are non-fiction in nature. If anything, the STAR test represents a powerful argument that teachers and schools provide a comprehensive curriculum, not a narrowed one. That is probably one reason why textbook publishers include passages from the entire curriculum in their basal (banals?) reading texts. They use an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach in their offerings now, what I call the "Walmartinization" of reading programs. In my district, we just got a new English-Language arts program that includes materials for reading, spelling, and English instruction, even though we already have an English curriculum in place. The teacher manuals, reproducible workbooks, etc. make a stack that is at least two fee tall! I can tell you that a lot of that stuff will never be used; it will be pushed to a corner or hidden away in a closet somewhere.

Yours truly,
Paul Rigmaiden

I am what I refer to as a "jazz-informed self-empowered" teacher who is crunching the data for the analysis chapter for my dissertation as part of my doctoral studies in education. My study is on the effects of structured question sets on student knowledge and thinking in the area of sixth grade social studies.

Lubliner, S. (2004). Help for struggling upper-grade elementary readers. Reading
Teacher, 57(5), 430-438. Retrieved August 2, 2009 from the Academic Search premier database.
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 A working sixth grade teacher responds... by Paul Rigmaiden on August 2, 2009
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