This is guest blog post by Tarah Taylor, a dedicated middle school teacher in Ohio. I knew her experience with diversifying and adapting ELA scripted curriculum would be helpful because one of the most frequently asked questions about the ELA ideas on my site is: But what if I have scripted ELA curriculum? It’s a valid question and one that I have no background in, so take it away Tarah!
In my 8 years of teaching, very few things have triggered me as much as the words “district-selected curriculum.” I have worked with a range of mandated curricula, but the most frustrating BY FAR is a teacher-centered, scripted system. If you’re anything like me, you feel the life drain from your body as soon as you think about “another thing” your district expects from you. Another box to check. And it’s likely one that you dread because it feels 100% inorganic. As teachers, we pride ourselves on the creative opportunities we have and our insight as professionals. So trust me, I understand the frustration when it feels like that’s been stripped away. Here are a few thoughts I have that may bring some life back into your ELA classroom, if you’re looking to make the most of your ELA scripted curriculum.
How to diversify and adapt ELA scripted curriculum
Check in with the class
Students need to see themselves in texts. We’ve heard this tirelessly as a means of encouraging us to incorporate more diverse texts. While I love this stance and stand behind it, I think it’s more important to emphasize that students need to feel seen – in general! Teaching within the bounds of a scripted curriculum can lead us to overlooking the most important ones in this whole operation.
I approach every prescribed lesson as a starting point, not a final destination. There’s often so much more “meat” than what we see at first glance. Keeping in mind always that I teach in a predominantly Black and Latino community, I try to find ways to, both, expose my students to new and different concepts, while also reaffirming who they are and giving them a chance to be the experts.
A simple “Has anyone had a similar experience?” or “Who can relate?” following a portion of scripted material can open the space and encourage dialogue between students. My students are usually willing to stretch themselves if they see I’ve intentionally set aside time to care. Text connections don’t have to be forced, but when you read the room and sense your students drifting into apathy, it’s worth it to take a minute and push these moments to the forefront.
Other strategies to consider:
- “See This Through My Lens” Conversations- Students do text to self reflections exploring their own beliefs and backgrounds in relation to the text (Middle schoolers LOVE these!)
- Quick Discussion Opportunities (Jamboard is the perfect quick write tool for this!)
- Creative Writing Prompts Connected to the Lesson – Students share personal thoughts/information in writing (Gives them a much needed outlet!)
Choose differentiation when possible
A prescribed curriculum tells you what to teach, and will often try to tell you how to teach it. The reality, though, is that you are the expert. Some of my most effective moments in the classroom have happened as a result of something else that didn’t work. See your curriculum as a guide, not a one-stop shop. From time to time, I am surprised by the high-quality instructional strategies provided in a given lesson. I challenge myself to take what I can and leave what I don’t care for. The curriculum-provided strategy may work one day, but not the next. It may also work for some of your students and not others. Give yourself permission to add to, and mix things up. It’s taken some time, but I now understand that the curriculum does not account for who I am nor who my students are as learners. Adopting a “this AND that” mentality has helped me make things work much more effectively for me and my students.
Here are some ideas to differentiate scripted ELA curriculum:
- Allow students to form small groups and discuss question sets (Find fun discussion ideas here: How to Liven Up Your Socratic Seminar)
- Create interactive slide decks (LOVE me some PearDeck!) using the scripted lesson as a guide (Add videos, links to additional websites, etc. to differentiate)
- Give students choice whenever possible (Think: choice boards, Tic Tac Toe boards, RAFT writing, etc.)
CREATE A COLLABORATIVE school CULTURE
School culture means so much and when all subject areas aim to help students flourish, it’s a beautiful thing. For example, perhaps there is no flexibility in your scripted ELA curriculum, but you believe in the power of free choice reading. Could your school work together to create a reading culture?
By no means is this taking the easy way out or passing your responsibilities off on a colleague. It’s playing smarter and working together. Other teachers (namely, non-tested subject areas) often have the time and space in their curriculum to do what us English teachers cannot. Don’t be afraid to provide a video, an article, or any other supplementary materials and ask your colleagues if there’s space in their plans for fitting it in. I don’t know a single curriculum that can’t be enriched through rich, diverse texts and more exposure for our students. You might even be surprised by how your ideas fit neatly into their plans. Likewise, you may find that adding a few cross curricular activities to your lessons may enrich your ELA as well.
Ideas for cross-curricular collaboration:
- Analyze texts in a whole new way with charts – If you are able to adapt some of your analysis activities, consider tapping into math and science skills by using charts. You can read all about it here: Literary Charts: Interdisciplinary ELA Activities
- Add meaningful movement in PE – If your PE teacher is open to the idea, there are plenty of ways to incorporate ELA movement strategies into PE class. Here’s a big list: 10 Ways to Add Movement in the ELA Classroom
- Practice real-world skills in computer class- Technology teachers often welcome engaging cross-curricular ideas. Perhaps pitch an idea like designing a tiny house for a character to your colleague. You can find the project idea here: Tiny House Design for ANY Character: Reading project for inferences, symbolism
Consider pushing the limits
Another old saying, a Buddhist proverb, goes something like this: If a seed will not grow, we do not blame the plant. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly.
Hear me out… As educators, we have to learn to trust ourselves. Our success depends on it. And, more importantly, our students’ success depends on it. I’m a firm believer that once you’ve done all you can (and then a little more after that!), it’s time to push back on what feels wrong to you as a college-educated, experienced professional. We all know the importance of making informed decisions with regards to our students, so I will always encourage you to keep a detailed record of your efforts and outcomes. However, contrary to popular belief, teaching is an art – not a calculated science. Strategies need to be tested and tried, but still allowed grace and room to grow. Language used to convey ideas in the classroom should be consistent, but moldable to fit the needs of your students. I’ve seen many situations where district leadership can and will hear your concerns if met with passion and purpose. Come prepared with sound reasons and potential solutions and see what happens! At the end of the day, every adult in your building should be (and likely is) concerned with the achievement and success of your students…
Don’t ever forget your rights to academic freedom and your obligation to be the voice of the young minds before you. Both are more important than complying with something that simply does not work – for you or your students.
Crowdsource ELA SCRIPTED curriculum hacks
Ashley here for this last tip because I crowdsourced the ELA teacher IG community, and added even more great tips for making the most of ELA scripted curriculum. Here’s what English teachers had to say:
Calling fun things “formative assessments” – Haha! I loved this one not only because it’s funny but also because it’s true! Fun and functional aren’t mutually exclusive. For example, in this post I give lots of examples of creative poetry writing that can be used as formative assessment to check for understanding. Check it out here: Teaching Poetry in Curriculum Context
Supplementing the required anchor texts with more diverse enrichment (poems, speeches, excerpts, TED Talks, podcasts, etc.) – This is great! Would you like to audit your scripted ELA curriculum to see which voices may be dominating your classroom? Find out here: How to do a Diverse ELA Curriculum Audit
Pairing mandated anchor texts with more diverse or contemporary texts – Here’s another response in the same vein. While I have never had a scripted curriculum, I did have a set British Literature curriculum which on the surface might seem like it would be difficult to diversify, but with a little creative thinking, here are some ideas: How to Diversify Your British Literature Class
Lastly from Tarah: While teaching within the restraints of a scripted curriculum can be less than pleasant, to say the least, there are ways to think outside the box and maintain the originality and freedom of voice you and your students need and deserve. My hope is that this, at least, inspires you to think about your options and get creative. The script doesn’t have to stop everything that makes you, you…. Let it be the challenge that stretches you and proves to you how capable you are…
Thank you Tarah for your insight on making the most of ELA scripted curriculum! Going into this topic, I had a mostly negative association with scripted ELA curriculum. However, by listening to other educators and researching the pros and cons of scripted curriculum, I found that some teachers actually prefer it! For some, it decreases decision fatigue, keeps them on track, and allows them to “just teach.”
So, whether you love or loathe your scripted ELA curriculum, I hope this post inspires your teaching in some way. If you would like to apply as guest blogger for Building Book Love, fill out the application here: Building Book Love Guest Blogger Application