Teaching Students, Not the Curriculum

Screenshot 2016-01-27 10.13.41

Thanks to Heather for sharing this timely quote!

I often say, “I teach children – not the curriculum, program or standard”. I can’t remember where I first heard this statement, but I love it and I truly believe this. My children – the ones I’m teaching RIGHT NOW – are first and foremost in my mind as I plan, set up invitations and provocations and determine the next steps in my instruction. I use a wide variety of resources provided by the state, my county, my school, my colleagues and my own professional library – but I believe they are resources, not a prescribed script to follow. My plans are constantly changing and evolving, in response to the five and six year olds in my classroom. This doesn’t mean that I wing it. Not at all! I spend a lot of time planning the framework of our day, looking at individual students and where they are in their ZPD and making instructional decisions based on my research, beliefs and philosophy of how children learn. But I don’t consider myself a “Responsive Classroom” teacher or a “Units of Study” teacher. You will see much of the philosophy of Responsive Classroom because I believe in a constructivist approach and that the social curriculum is at the heart of what we do; you will see a balanced literacy approach and you will see Writer’s Workshop and Reader’s Workshop because I believe (and have believed and taught this way for 24 years) in a framework of time, choice and response. But within that framework, every year looks a little different – based on the kids in our room that year. It’s kind of like building a house. The framework stays the same on most houses, but what’s inside is different depending on who lives there. The framework of my teaching is the same – a workshop approach, balanced literacy approach, constructivist, inquiry-based learning – but the details of how it looks each year is different, based on who lives in our classroom that year.

I worry that in today’s climate of one-size-fits-all instruction, with increasing kits, units and books that pre-plan lessons down to the minute being hailed as the “answer” to educational problems, that teachers aren’t being challenged to think. Are we reading the script or lesson that another teacher used with her kids, blindly following what “the experts” say to do?

Or are we reading the lessons carefully, reflecting on how it will work in our classroom, with our students, discussing and collaborating with colleagues about the lessons, and then planning a lesson that we own, along with our current students? I hope we are. I hope we are trusting ourselves and supporting each other. And I hope our schools are providing the time and support for all teachers, and especially our new teachers, to think deeply about instruction.

We can’t stop thinking, reflecting, questioning and challenging our own best teaching – and the resources we use. And we can’t forget that we teach children – not a curriculum.

2016-01-20 10.28.07

A project coming to life in Writer’s Workshop.










  1. What a great post! I have looked at this numerous times and stood on my soapbox to share with colleagues and administrators over the years. No longer a classroom teacher (I retired in June 2015) I still shout this out from the roof tops of social media.

  2. Dear Ms. Keier, I am an instructional coach that works with K-5 classrooms. We have been advocating the workshop model of literacy instruction at my campus and training teachers in the practice for the past two years. Our K-1 teachers, and even some upper grades, are conflicted about how to do workshop and “guided” reading groups at the same time. How do (or do they?) small, homogenous group instruction which has come to be known as guided reading fits in the workshop model? I really appreciate any research, literature or advice you may have on this topic.

    • Hi Susan, Thank you for your comment. I’m so happy to hear your are advocating for a workshop approach! I do guided reading groups every day in kindergarten usually starting in November (but depends on the group). This year, what works best for me is to meet with my guided reading groups during Explore (our free choice play time). I have this time in the morning and afternoon, and I find I can meet with 3-4 groups each day during this time. I am (almost) never interrupted, as kids are engaged with activities and projects they have chosen. I confer with kids during Reader’s Workshop – when they are reading independently or with buddies. In past years, I have used the independent reading time to meet with my groups, but I’ve found in K and early 1st grade that conferring is more effective during this time. Floating throughout the room, meeting with readers, works quite well while kids are reading independently or with buddies. I strongly believe that we need to meet with kids 1:1 and in small groups, and I agree it is a challenge to find that time. I wish you the best of luck!

      Also: This site is a tremendous resource (although it doesn’t really address your question of when – it has great resources for guided reading and other components of a balanced literacy approach) http://readingrecovery.clemson.edu/index.php/reading/guided-reading

  3. Thank you for your reply! Do you meet with all of your students in homogeneous guided reading groups or only those that are lagging behind in expected reading behaviors? If those students who are reading way below expectation are leaving the classroom to work with a specialist, do you still meet with them in small groups or just conferring during independent reading time?

  4. This is going to be one of “those posts.” The kind that gets bookmarked and referenced in a coaching session, a consulting conference, or a collaborative team meeting. Thank you for writing down what has been hard to express clearly.

  5. Another great job Katie!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this very discussion with people & how frustrating it is when a teacher says (in June) … Well my lesson plans for next year are done. Makes me crazy!!! Hope you are having a fantastic year!!

  6. Gosh, I wish I had written this post! Perfection. How do we get this message to those who need to read it and reflect on their classroom practices? This is my current question for myself. How do I share these views with colleagues who have lost their way and continue to teach from a text or manual and wonder why students continue to struggle? I find myself realizing that to continue to “preach to the choir” serves only me and my students. It certainly gives me the support I need and fuels my passion, but I now wonder, don’t I also have a responsibility to try and educate others on the value of these best practices? How do I do this in a way that is supportive and positive?

  7. I agree with you. My struggle comes when I’m on a team of five 3rd grade teachers and our administration wants to see the standards we are teaching and we are asked to create common assessments together and then use that data to drive our grade level instruction of our remediation/enrichment time. Then I start to feel my beliefs moved to the back burner…
    Any words of wisdom??

  8. Thank you so much for this blog post. I am a Literacy Coach in the Virgin Islands. In two days I will be conducting an all day Balanced Literacy Framework Demonstration and Worshop with my Kindergarten Teachers. I plan to read them this blog pot when we meet. You explained teaching children not the curriculum so well. Thank you !

  9. Pingback: Our Day in K | Catching Readers Before They Fall

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s