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Creating a Curriculum for a High School Reading Course
No Money For a Package? Create Your Own Program
When I was hired by my school district as a Reading Specialist for the high school, I was given a mandate to create my own curriculum. There was no money for a “canned” package, and my resources would be limited, but I would have the autonomy to create a research-based program for helping struggling adolescent readers.
I was so excited and I could not wait to get started. My undergraduate work was in Elementary Education, and with the wealth of information and resources on the internet for elementary literacy, I thought it would be a breeze to just pull ideas from the web and put it all together.
WAS I EVER MISTAKEN!
There was very little on the internet to help me create a program for high school kids that struggle with reading. So, I began to read every article and book I could find on the subject.
The U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences put out a very helpful document, entitled “Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices.” The authors of this document, Kamil, Borman, Dole, Kral, Salinger and Torgeson (2008), are leaders in the field of literacy. This document provided a framework of research and evidence-based recommendations to use in middle and high school classroom.
The five practices that were recommended by the project were:
Provide explicit vocabulary instruction
Provide direct and explicit comprehension strategy instruction
Provide opportunities for extended discussion of text meaning and interpretation
Increase student motivation and engagement in literacy learning.
Make available intensive and individualized interventions for struggling readers that can be provided by trained specialists.
Searching for Research Based Sources
After studying the recommendations of the Dept. of Education, and my state's standards for learning, I began to look for help from researchers who had written on these areas of need.
The first book that I adopted as a guide for my curriculum was Bringing Words to LIfe, by Isabel Beck, Margaret G. McKeown and Linda Kucan. This book has been the cornerstone of my vocabulary instruction. It has given me the tools to teach words so that the students really know them, not just for a quiz on Friday, but truly own the words, recognizing meanings, and uses.
I also read Readicide, by Kelly Gallagher and Igniting a Passion for Reading by Stephen Layne. Both of these books addressed motivation and how to get kids to want to read by making reading relevant and meaningful.
Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman and Strategies That Work, by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis were indispensable resources for explicitly teaching comprehension strategies.
The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller was another valuable resource for helping me with structuring my classroom and activities to promote reading
By combing the internet, and looking for adolescent literacy resources, I found www.adlit.org to be particularly helpful for research based practices and a wealth of information and direction for working with struggling adolescent readers.
Another online resource was the Florida Council of Reading Research. Their site, fcrr.org, is full of ideas and activities to teach and strengthen reading skills in all areas of reading. While most of the site is devoted to elementary literacy, much of it can be adapted for use with high school students.
Writing the Curriculum
The first step in my class had to be identification of the literacy needs of each student. In my graduate studies in reading I had used the Qualitative Reading Inventory 4th edition. This is a comprehensive individual reading assessment that identifies strengths and weaknesses in decoding and comprehension skills. I decided to use this instrument as a pre-test, benchmark and post-test to measure growth. I kept individual student's scores in an Excel spreadsheet and used the data to determine where to focus my instruction. For some classes, there was more need in the area of decoding, and others needed instruction in comprehension strategies.
Keeping the data in a spreadsheet allows me to create a chart that is a visual for each student of their growth. I prepare bar graphs for each student that are sent home with their final report card for the semester. I have found that when my students can see their growth they are more motivated to try to to do the things that I ask of them.
With a reliable instrument for measuring growth in place, I turned to the state standards to see how I might meet those standards, while focusing on teaching skills for reading. Virginia has not yet adopted the Common Core State Standards. Although I have read a book on the CCSS, and feel familiar with them in the area of literacy, I still use the VA standards, as required. It is not hard to overlap both the CCSS and the VA standards of learning.
Using the standards as a guide, and my own reading and research, I developed a curriculum map that is a general outline of what I want to teach my students. These are malleable and frequently change throughout the semester as I learn what specific needs my students have.
Lesson plans for the semester are based on my curriculum map, however, the plans change almost daily, again, depending on the needs of my students. Each day, plans attempt to incorporate the five areas recommended by the U.S. Department of Education:
- vocabulary instruction
- comprehension strategy instruction
- discussion of text meaning and interpretation
- increase student motivation
- individualized interventions
Worth the Effort
Even though it is time consuming and often difficult to write your own curriculum, there are big payoffs.
- Autonomy - If you like to work without a lot of supervision, then this is the way to go. As long as you can show that you are using research-based methods and materials, you have unlimited possibilities!
- Student Interaction - because you have to conference individually with students, you really get to know them well. This is a key component to being a successful teacher.You have to know your students to be able to address their needs. Plans can change daily based on the specific needs of your students.
- Self-Confidence - It is very rewarding to see students grow from the instruction you have developed. There is a level of self-confidence that comes from knowing you were able to help students with their literacy, using a curriculum and lessons completely designed by you. Your passion for literacy really shows.
- Marketability- Because you have had the experience of designing and writing your own curriculum, you have more value as an educator. If you should ever apply to another district, your skills at writing your own curriculum will stand out.
It is so worth the effort to write your own curriculum, when you see the results and you can demonstrate the growth of your students to them, their families and to your administrators.
It is a lot of work in the beginning, but once you have the framework developed, every year brings new possibilities.