Broad Curriculum: Part 2

Backwards planning or “unpacking” standards into discrete skills focuses on the end, like sprinting to the finish line.  “Race to the Top” tests standardize and narrow curriculum; struggling learners get left behind.

Teachers should focus on curricular goals (where we want them to go),  but equally consider instruction (how we get them there) and assessment (where they are now). Curriculum, instruction, and assessment should all align (Biggs).





Baker, E. L. (2004, December). Aligning Curriculum, Standards, and Assessments: Fulfilling the Promise of School Reform [Scholarly project]. Retrieved from

Biggs, J.B. (1996) Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment, Higher Education, 32: 1–18.



Broad Curriculum: Part 1

There are essentially two types of curriculum documents: 1) those that narrow curriculum with a focus on unpacking curricular goals into discrete skills; and 2) those that align curricular goals with differentiated instruction and assessment for various phases in the Scope and Sequence of SLA.

  1. Narrow, Unaligned Curriculum

In traditional models, curricular goals are obsessively teased out as standards are  mapped out in rigid detail.  The focus is only on the “finish line”: rigidly pre-planned, standardized student outcomes.

“Teaching with the end in mind” is important, but so is teaching to the students here and now in the four walls of our classrooms.   Rigid pacing guides leave no room for differentiation through ability-appropriate instruction and assessments.

This is particularly troublesome for language education.  Language is acquired by receiving comprehensible input (Krashen, 2004).  To provide comprehensible input, teachers should not “teach” target structures, or allow themselves to write, talk, or think in this way.  Otherwise, there is often pressure to skill-build in order to master language skills demanded by a rigid timetable (Krashen, 2016).


  1.  Broad, Constructively-Aligned Curriculum

Broadly-written curriculum documents offer road-signs to keep teachers on the right path.  Teachers walk steadily toward curricular goals on the horizon, instead of ploughing through overly-detailed pacing guides or curriculum maps and leaving students  behind.  Teachers have autonomy to use professional judgment and fair formative assessments to meet children where they are at with ability-appropriate comprehensible input.


Baker, E. L. (2004, December). Aligning Curriculum, Standards, and Assessments: Fulfilling the Promise of School Reform [Scholarly project]. Retrieved from

Biggs, J.B. (1996) Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment, Higher Education, 32: 1–18.

Krashen, S. (2004) The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Krashen, S. (2016, July 26). Targeting 1 and Targeting 2: Working paper [Web log post]. Retrieved from

My Classroom, My Curriculum: Post 2

I like Dr. Krashen’s curricular model for its simplicity:

First stories.

Then Free Voluntary Reading.

Finally academic language.



I believe in simplifying and lightening the load for teachers.  Yet, sometimes writing curriculum out for stakeholders can show teachers’ intentionality and expertise.  This gives teachers increased professional autonomy to use the curriculum we know is best for students.  It is not for everyone and is just one tool to reclaim our craft and protect students with ability-appropriate programming. Continue reading My Classroom, My Curriculum: Post 2

My Classroom, My Curriculum: Post 1

Administrators like to shove all ESL students in one class with no ability grouping.  To argue my case for better scheduling, I wrote out a set of Scope and Sequence documents that align back-to-back on a continuum so administrators could see how each phase of learning is distinct.  Here is more information on these documents.

However, I prefer Dr. Krashen’s simplified version.


1.  Stories

Continue reading My Classroom, My Curriculum: Post 1



Stephen Krashen writes, “If there is major pressure to ‘master’ a given rule so that it can be used in production, and when this cannot be accomplished in the amount of time/comprehensible reps provided, teachers may be tempted to force production, resulting in pseudo-acquisition: either highly monitored or memorized language, not genuinely acquired language.”

Pressure.  I’m so glad that word is out there.  Thank you, Dr. Krashen, for saying what every teacher surrounded by traditional, targeted curriculum is feeling right now.

“Pressure to ‘master’ a given rule” is intensified by targeted assessments and targeted curriculum maps.  The real problem is a focus on individual words or points of grammar that must be acquired within a given time-frame.  This creates the urgency to memorize parts of language.

Though it has been “pseudo-acquired,” on the surface (test) it looks like “mastery.”  At our data meetings, we are asked why we aren’t doing the same.  “Where is your ‘data’ to ‘prove’ your kids ‘mastered’ this point of grammar or that word list?”

Get rid of the tests.  Get rid of the grammar and word lists. Get rid of the pressure.

You knew you hated pacing guides, but Dr. Krashen is spelling it out in a scholarly way for us to explain to administration:  plotting out when students will be able to master given structures is not how language acquistion works.


Krashen, S. (2016, July 26). Targeting 1 and Targeting 2: Working paper [Web log post]. Retrieved from


Curriculum. Simplify, Simplify.

Curriculum “experts” are constantly making the process of curriculum planning more and more complicated.  They are always adding items to teachers’ to-do lists with little or no evidence as to their necessity.  Of course, it must be complicated…otherwise the “educational consultant” might not need to be consulted.

Here’s a list of some of the things to scratch off your curriculum to-do list:

1. Forget “unpacking standards.”

Continue reading Curriculum. Simplify, Simplify.

Find What Children Love


My son loves Pokemon cards.

He got hooked on the game in the way reading should progress.  It started on the bus with other kids, reading as a low-pressure way to get his feet wet in a high-interest “content”-driven (decontextualized or unfamiliar) world of strange creatures.  No tests or drills in skills, just reading surface-level text to understand each creature.

This progressed into a Pokemon card collection which he categorized based on criteria he determined from understanding of the text and input from his peers. He compared and contrasted dozens of little characters of different varieties with different powers, and of course read several handbooks and the comic book series.


He built background knowledge and confidence in the content area. He used those schematic constructs to show off what he knew with friends in a social way. With Aspergers, looking other children in the eye or playing less structured games makes him feel nervous.  With a high-interest content area he feels knowledgeable about, he can make friends and engage confidently with peers.

As he traded cards with friends, he used co-textual support to evaluate and draw conclusions. He proudly justified his trades with peers using text evidence for support.

He was reading deeply and narrowly in a high-interest content-area…

Until the bus stopped and he got to school.  There, the teacher handed him a textbook.

Granted, there are more appropriate texts for classrooms. But too often our desire to “do school” gets in the way of reading.  Instead of building skills, when and how we want them to be built, let children come to text naturally through a love of reading.

Instead of building skills, find what children love and build them up.