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Creating a Curriculum of Change


“Books should change you. They should make you think and feel differently.” I told my kids. I told them that, but I am not sure if I really showed them that. I think instead my emphasis was placed on reading goals such as stamina, volume, independence, and skill work.

In our last post Monique and I wrote about race–a huge complicated issue in our world. Maybe it doesn’t need to be so complicated. And when we think of a curriculum centered around change, it does not have to be complicated. Last post, we discussed a difficult issue that we all are seeing and hearing about it. It’s not going away. So teaching a curriculum with change in mind, we are in essence saying “I hope one day we can live in a world where people are kind to one another without judgment, without complication.” In order for this to occur, why can’t we as educators take a fresh look at our year–long literacy curriculum? Why can’t we look at it through the lens of “change”?   In this post, we are attempting to do just that. After all, I believe it is our job as teachers to help kids wrestle with this very complicated world so that it becomes a little less complicated for them.

She has read the plot, has studied characters and how they change, has noticed symbols and nuances, all leading to her then creating sophisticated themes that she can argue. This work gets to most of what the Common Core State Standards mandate. However, the CCSS also states that we should read and write with a level of discourse. When we have discourse we are hoping to create change for a better world. In order to meet the rigorous standards around discourse we have to help kids see that this work is much bigger than a standard. A standard doesn’t impassion you. A standard doesn’t empower you. A standard doesn’t change you. That is why if kids are really to meet this standard of respectful discourse, they have to know why. Do we really know why? Do we really believe that helping kids to understand their world so that they can figure it out, break down barriers, find themselves in it, celebrate their uniqueness, and to know they are not alone are the most important reasons to teach? That when doing so it creates a kinder, calmer, more empathetic being? One who is at peace instead of at war with themselves and others? That’s what we believe.

Once we agree that this matters, how do we go about teaching a curriculum centered around “change” ? Here are five tips from the two of us to support a curriculum of change:


Book selection:

Quality of book matters; genre doesn’t. Certainly issues pop up in most any book. One thing to look for is how the author complicates the issue by presenting both sides.

Wilbur is a pig…many of us eat pig…bacon is my favorite scent in the world and one of my favorite foods. However, when we see Wilbur through Charlotte’s eyes, it makes us think twice (and maybe even three or four times) about our favorite smell.

Harry is smart, and sweet, and sensitive….he only reluctantly kills dragons, so we accept his sensitivity…his parents were killed. He has never mourned. Yet he has lots of anger. Whatever, his parents were killed. He’s a young boy growing to be a man. It’s ok for him to fight. What about Hermoine? She doesn’t really fight like Harry. She wants to, though. Does that mean she is tough, and not feminine or pretty? Why does it matter that she is smarter than Harry? How about the fact that she is a “mudblood” (not from a wizarding family)?



Room 105–Miss Stretchberry


September 13


I don’t want to

Because boys

Don’t write poetry.


Girls do.


Pg. 1 of Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

I don’t care what anyone says, this is one of the greatest first pages of any book–right up there with The Great Gatsby in my view. Look, Jack says to Ms. Stretchberry (or writes it at least, but I think the words are spoken…or conveyed through actions). This is my understanding of boys in the world. They are tough, they don’t cry and they definitely don’t write mushy poetry…you need to talk about feelings in poetry, and boys just don’t do that. That first page takes my breath away every time I read it at summer institutes. Gorgeous. So let’s learn how to teach it.


“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

James Baldwin

 We teach kids how to study books in a way that changes them. We teach empathy.

Ask these questions of books:

  • Who has power and why? Who gave them power? How did they get it?
  • What groups are represented? Groups of race, gender, class…smaller groups such as groups dealing with issues—issues of divorce, death, birth order, job status, intelligence, etc…dig into these groups, developing a deeper more complicated understanding of the character.
  • What perspective is being told? What perspective is left out?


We do that through…

Interactive read aloud:

When we plan for read aloud, we can plan a few skills to interactive with–one skill can be around perspectives, groups, and power.

Might sound like this (let’s use Love That Dog as our anchor text)

Pause after reading the first page and do a think aloud. Say something like:

Wow, Jack has definite feelings about boys (groups). He believes they don’t write poetry. I wonder if he has other beliefs about boys? As we read, let’s look for that and think about whether we agree or disagree with Jacks feelings. (You might say you strongly disagree about this or maybe save it for later as to not influence the kids thinking.)

Continue to read a few pages, and then stop at pg. 5

Say: Hmm. How does this page fit with Jacks feelings of boys? Think about what just happened on this page (he wrote the beginnings of a poem but doesnt want to share it) turn and tell your partner…how does it fit in with Jacks feelings of boys…and do you agree or disagree with Jack?

Continue to read and stop at pg. 19

Say: What new information have you learned and how does that go with what we know about Jack and his feelings about boys or even your feelings about boys–stop and jot on a post it.

The next day…

Have a grand conversation connected to the read aloud:

To start place your kids sit in a circle with a talk partner (I often pair up kids that you know are more introverts and seemingly extroverts—building on each other’s strengths).

When I introduce grand conversation, I let kids know their role…to be a great listener and a great talker. I discuss a bit what that looks like. Then I say, “let’s get started…who wants to get us started on conversation today?”

While they start talking as a class, I transcribe the conversation trying to catch every word and trying to keep my voice out. If they do not bring up Jack’s idea of what it means to be a boy, I might say something like…

Why did Sharon Creech start on the very first page this line…boys don’t write poetry, girls do?

Mini lesson work:

That same read aloud, we can use to refer to in our mini lesson pushing into this particular perspective of boys in the world and how we can try on both sides and see where we fit in it.

It might go…

Sometimes in books authors pose a situation, a spoken word or thought against the norm…what has always been … stereotypes.

For instance women are meant to take care of kids and the home and be pretty. Some women don’t want to have kids, or be home all day cleaning, or care to place a huge amount of time on their appearance

Women can’t play sports as well as boys? Well, there is actually a female wrestler who is beating every man she comes across. And the best pitcher in Little League baseball is a girlMoNe Davis.

When we notice that a character has strong feelings about a topic that feels one sided, we need to pause and ask why? What is that telling me about the character? What motivates them, and how they handle issues? We try to understand them and push ourselves to be changed…if we agree–try to disagree…if we disagree– try to agree.


We make it transferable to independent work.

We can say to our kids during independent reading time, “a big goal for all of us is to be changed by the books we read. Make sure to have at least one post-it showing how YOUR thinking has changed because of a book.”

A possible post it:

I used to think poetry was more of a “girl” thing, but now I realize that poetry is a powerful tool to help anyone who is hurting. Sometimes it can be hard to find help and we need to heal. What if Jack didn’t have poetry? He would have to lock up the sadness forever. Witnessing the death of your dog–how do you deal with that?


We create a kinder world that is in our classroom and beyond.

How to do that? Notice how your kids treat one another. When it’s kind, take notice. When it’s not, take notice. It doesn’t need to be with grand gesture, but it needs to be recognized, celebrated in a way. It says, this is what we value, this is what we honor in this class. Of course, the teacher is always the first and best model for this.

Also, there needs to be a discussion mid- year and throughout on how to keep this going when you’re not in this room. When you are in the harsh hard world. What do you see now? How to adults respond? Once when I went to join a taxi line at the airport, two big guys raced to get in front of me. A teenager was with them. He looked at me like he was sorry for their actions. It was so sweet. So kind. I mentally thanked his teacher, because I’m sure that’s where he learned to be kind.

Let’s look at the teaching of reading as greater than skills and even finding depth. Let’s remind ourselves, and our students of why reading really matters. It gives us a place to find ourselves, and to understand others, so we can be more compassionate people in the world. So we can create a world where ALL are accepted and loved.

Let’s create change, actually~

Christy & Monique





5 responses »

  1. I love that you always remind me of the power of books, Love That Dog being a great case in point. As the mother of a boy, that first page just took on a whole new meaning for me. It’s important to recognize and consider many different perspectives and ways that groups to which we belong influence how we see ourselves fitting into the world. Thank you!


  2. christycurran

    Thank you, Anna! Always great to hear your insights.


  3. Pingback: Your Heinemann Link Round-Up for the Week of May 17–23 - Heinemann

  4. Your post is a timely coutribntion to the debate


  5. Beautiful painting! I'm once again inspired; this time, to do more plein air painting. I'm dreadfully out of practice. Lovely dog story. We used to have a dog who went blind about halfway through her life. Luckily for her, she had a doggie companion, who, at the vet's suggestion, wore a bell on her collar. It worked like a charm!



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