Because It’s Never Just A “Program!”

This week, I chatted with some teachers at school and online about different “programs” I use in the classroom. Based on student needs, I made the choice this year to use Lucy Calkins’ Launching The Writing Workshop as well as Class Act (a phonological awareness program). As I was talking with others about both programs, the question came up about how I use them. Questions such as, What’s the order of your lessons?, Do you deliver the mini-lessons to everyone?, What lesson are you doing next?, Where should I begin?, were all discussed. These questions made me realize that I may use various programs, but I don’t just deliver a program.

  • Yes, I teach mini-lessons, but no, they are not always the ones mentioned in the book. They are based on student needs, identified through daily formative assessment.
  • Yes, I have lots of writing choices and provocations around the classroom, but no, I don’t force students to go to any of them. I gently guide students to explore different options by enticing some of them with sharing opportunities, challenges, and topics of interest. Once one or two students go somewhere, others tend to follow.
  • Yes, I incorporate content from other subjects in the curriculum (e.g., Science and Social Studies), but no, they are not always based on just one strand or one topic. I try to look at student interests. When opportunities present themselves, I go for them. So technically, we just finished our first Science unit on Daily and Seasonal Changes, and our next one will be on Energy In Our Lives, but when a fellow teacher caught a class pet for me (a wonderful bug that the students love learning about), I couldn’t help but make the connection to Living Things. I don’t have to teach the whole unit now, but I will start having students think about this topic because it matters to them.
  • A program does not encompass all curriculum expectations, so yes, I need to know the curriculum well. I think that the more we understand the curriculum, the easier it is to make connections between expectations, student interests, and logical next steps. For instance, when I lay out the provocations related to Changing Roles and Responsibilities (for Social Studies), I didn’t expect students to start grouping the items by areas in the house or school, but when they did, it made sense to me to move onto mapping. Why not show the students how these areas connect? I added in a map provocation then, and pretty soon, students were creating their own maps and linking the responsibilities that they have in the different parts of the house or school.
  • Yes, students need to learn to read and write, but no, these skills do not need to be taught in isolation. Class Act is a very prescribed phonological awareness program, but I link the skills and concepts to shared reading texts or independent reading books. Then the students are learning the skills in context, which is supposed to help with retention and understanding.
  • Yes, we can — and I do — address skills with the full class, but small group instruction seems to impact the most. I may play a rhyming game with the class, do a quick phonemic awareness activity during transition times (e.g., Say “watermelon.” Now say, “watermelon” without the “water.”), or even look at segmenting words during shared writing activities, but I do the most teaching in small groups. Then the teaching is targeted to the individual student needs.
  • Yes, structured programs do not always seem engaging, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change this. By giving students choice over writing topics, linking our provocations to student interests, and basing our follow-up lessons/activities on what we observe each day, we’re changing the structure of the program to make it engaging. And sharing student work can also increase engagement, as then students know that they have an audience for what they do. My students love to take photographs of their work or have me tweet it out. They want this work to be shared, and they’re proud of what they create.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a program is a starting point. It provides resources. It gives lesson ideas. It helps with delivery of content. But it’s up to us to tailor this program to our students: making the learning meaningful and engaging while addressing curriculum expectations. How do you use “programs” in your classroom environment? How do you tailor these programs to meet different student needs? How do the students respond to these programs? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


4 thoughts on “Because It’s Never Just A “Program!”

  1. Way to go, here. I’m just realizing how dependent I’ve been on my AIM language “program” over the last number of years – it has LOTS of flexibility of activities built in, but…with a new curriculum, and a new pedagogical approach having arrived with CEFR, I am having to invent again. There is no “program” that has been designed to do what I want to do – integrate the communicative ideas from AIM and CEFR, and put everything into a real-world context – allowing for inquiry (challenging in a second language), and guided by student interests. Lots of publishers are trying to get “programs” out there, and we Core French teachers have always been great audiences for them, but right now, everything’s up in the air, and as much as that’s scary, it’s also kind of exciting.

    I am asking my grade 7’s and 8’s what they want to learn this year in French – what situations do they really want to develop vocabulary for – and then trying to hook those topics into what the curriculum requires them to be able to do. I totally agree that knowing the curriculum is key – and I’m finding that having learning goals, based on curriculum, posted in my room, is helping the kids know what skills we’re aiming for with the topic we’re working on.

    I do tend to do a fair amount of full-class teaching, at least as we’re learning vocabulary, because while my students can reinforce their learning with gamified computer games (matching English to French meaning, or picture to word) the combination of hearing, saying and using the word in context (we speak chorally as i’m teaching new vocabulary) is easiest to do in a full-class environment.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, as always.

    • Thanks Lisa for sharing your own experiences! I don’t know enough about teaching in French, so it’s great to hear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. While I think that programs can be a great place to start, as Louise Robitaille just tweeted, it’s so important that we “make them our own.” It’s clear that you’re doing this too. I’m curious to hear how others use programs in their classroom and how they change them to meet the individual student needs.


  2. Well put, Aviva.
    Your approach to programs reminds us all of the difference between a ‘Technician’ and a ‘Professional’……technicians follow a scripted and pre-sequenced operation….professionals assess the environment and make decisions based on data and needs, always ready to deviate based on minute by minute reflections on impact.
    Thank you.

    • Thanks for the comment! I really liked the comparison that you made. It’s so important that we are always reflecting and making these changes to better meet the needs of our students. Both through your tweets and blog post comments, thank you for inspiring me, and pushing me, to better assess these needs!


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