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Along the path to a more reader-centered classroom, it can be easy to veer off the road. Sometimes it’s due to distracted driving. Sometimes it’s a result of our longing for a short cut where there is none. But most often it’s due to navigational confusion as we strive to get things just right, make things more manageable, or feel a greater sense of control over our daily lives.

This post is the first in a series of six, exploring common detours, dead ends and shortcuts that can lure (even the most well intentioned amongst us) away from responsive, kid-centered teaching. Today’s focus is on Detour #1: The Curriculum-Centered Detour.

Detour #1 – The Curriculum-Centered Detour

If your reading classroom starts to head down the curriculum-centered detour it’s likely because you’ve experienced pressure (from yourself, from a colleague, from an administrator, or from a sales person) to believe false assurances that there is some magical curriculum out there and when you find it and begin to follow the script, step-by-step, lesson-by-lesson, all will be well. 

Wanting to be sure you’re true to the curriculum, you commit to carefully “deliver the lessons”, “cover the content” and “teach the standards”.

Because this detour tempts you with the promise of simplicity that we all long for in our lives, it can be very seductive, often giving the feeling of safety and freedom from complicated decision-making.

“At last!” You might say to yourself. “A plan you can just follow and know your kids are getting exactly what they need!”

Yet, whether you start to recognize it bit-by-bit or all at once, at some point on your way down the curriculum-centered road, you start to notice a problem.

The problem is you’re losing your students along the way.

They’re restless, disengaged, and disinterested. They’re resisting reading in both active and passive ways. Joy seems to be seeping out of the reading classroom for both you and your students.

On the road to a Reader-Centered Classroom . . .

On the road to a reader-centered classroom, you realize that success is more dependent on carefully studying your students than it is on carefully studying the components of a curriculum or program.

On the road to a reader-centered classroom you courageously embrace the idea of responsive teaching, committing to learn more and more skills that enable you to follow the lead of your students. 

Yes. You’re still crystal clear on grade level standards and desired learning outcomes. But instead of just following a scripted lesson or unit, you also carefully watch and listen as your students reveal their strengths, needs and interests.

You watch, you listen, and you leverage what you discover about your students in order to chart a path forward. You adjust and respond to what your students reveal in ways a scripted curriculum simply cannot.

It’s not that you disregard the curriculum. It’s that when your students show signs that something’s not right, you respect them and trust your instincts enough to follow where they lead.

  • You speed up and slow down in response to your students.
  • You rely on small groups and conferring to meet divergent interests, developmental needs, and variable progress of readers.
  • You value self-selection of texts from a rich and abundantly diverse classroom library to provide diverse readers with diverse books.
  • You empower students to make choices, set goals, and pursue interests that matter to them.
  • You rely on engagement and joy as your most powerful barometers of what’s working for your students and what’s not.

Most of all, you remember you’re teaching kids, not curriculum. Your primary goal is not to check off mastery of standards, it’s to transform lives through the power of reading.

Step-by-Step Isn’t the Problem

You find your way off of the curriculum-centered detour and back on the path to a reader-centered classroom when you start to realize that the only step-by-step solution that will work for your students is the one you and your kids take charge of yourselves.

The problem isn’t with taking a step-by-step approach to things. In fact, that’s just about he only way any of us accomplish anything; one step at time and one foot in front of the other.

The problem is believing that someone else is better equipped than you and your students are to decide which steps are right for you right now.

Don’t get me wrong. None of us can chart a path to success for all kids alone. We all need to be surrounded by a strong team of colleagues and mentors as well as quality instructional resources. Together we’re better is not just a clever slogan. It’s one of life’s most precious truths.

But things go wrong when you start believing in and depending on others more than you believe in and depend on yourself, the teacher, as the most critical variable for success in the classroom.

Inside your classroom, helping an increasingly diverse community of readers build thriving reading lives, depends your ability to navigate and respond to the unique gifts, challenges, and situations that reveal themselves, moment-by-moment and day-by-day.

That’s a tall order.

No wonder it’s so appealing to search for an easier way.

But on the path to a more reader-centered classroom, we humbly recognize that there’s no shortcut to developing the skills we must develop to nimbly respond to whatever our students need.

The confidence to welcome every student to our classroom community knowing that we can create the conditions to see them engaged, empowered and thriving, comes from one place only; a career-long commitment to keep reflecting and growing as teachers and human beings.

Students don’t thrive on curriculum. They thrive on responsive and personalized instruction from a caring teacher. One who understands them in ways someone on the outside never could.

The path to a reader-centered classroom is a built one reflective moment, one thoughtful next step, and one child at a time.

If you’re a K-5 teacher ready for your next step on the journey to a more kid-centered classroom then I hope you’ll join me for a 6 week online course beginning June 10, 2018.

You might also want to check the books I’ve written to help you on your journey . . .

Simple Starts; Making the Move to a Reader-Centered Classroom from Heinemann Publishing.


To Know and Nurture a Reader from Stenhouse Publishing, co-authored with Christina Nosek.

We also have a blog together all about conferring with readers.