Month: November 2010

All Aboard the Curriculum Ship

Is your child falling off the "Curriculum Ship?"

The Curriculum Ship leaves the dock in early September and keeps going forward until middle to late June, arriving at port somewhere on the other side of the ocean. This is not a ship that slows down, even if some of its passengers are tumbling into the ocean.

No, the ship must forge ahead.

Cara, age 9, is barely treading water while she is watching the ship leave her behind. Upset by what is happening in school, Cara’s mom said, "This week they are reading science stories about photosynthesis. Photosynthesis!!!! She can’t read or pronounce the word! She has no idea what’s going on. The teacher handed back Cara’s worksheet packet all marked up as wrong."

Looking at the sheets, I could feel that little bit of my blood pressure rising. Along with words like "photosynthesis" there were many other words on the page that Cara could not read on her own.

"She can’t handle these," I told the mom, "many of these words are far beyond her ability."

"I know," she said. "These took her two hours to complete last night, and she still got an F on the page, along with one of those unhappy faces at the top of the page. Can you imagine?"

"It’s the Curriculum Ship," I tell her. "The message is swim harder if you want to keep up with the ship. No support."

Tough waters, indeed.

Do whatever you can to keep your child afloat, even if he/she is being tugged along in a life preserver. The Curriculum Ship doesn’t bother to consider what passengers have fallen off and need rescuing. It must get to the other side. That is its mission.


Last week I reminded us of an “old school” educational concept that isn’t talked about as much as I think it should be – “task analysis.” (

This week’s old school concept is Instructional Levels.

In our Response to Intervention (RTI) world, I would like to hear parents (and teachers) more frequently ask the question, “What’s his/her instructional level?”  It’s an important question to understand, not just about school. 

The question isn’t asked enough.

Using a non-school example to illustrate, let’s say seven year old Patricia comes to you and says, “Mommy, I want to make my own lunch.”  On one level, you are thrilled that she is taking the initiative, on another you know she isn’t there yet to do this task independently.  You don’t want to squash her spirit, but having her work in a frustration level will have the same effect.  You know she will need some support and guidance.

I get confused when parents bring me their current standardized testing.  “Proficient and Barely Proficient,” as it reads on the report, doesn’t tell much.  For any task the child faces (reading a chapter book, managing a worksheet, sitting still in church, making lunch, making a bed, crossing the street), ask yourself the following as a guide.

  • Can the child (or adult for that matter) do the task without any assistance? If yes, that’s the Independent Level.  With reading, listen to the child read.  If she reads smoothly and understands what she reads, that’s the Independent Level.
  • Is some assistance needed?  That’s the Instructional level.  For reading, she may need some help pronouncing or understanding certain words or concepts. 
  • If the task is over the child’s head,  it’s the Frustration Level.  With reading, if the child reads in a labored and strained manner and seems to not to get many of the concepts, that’s the Frustration Level.

Too many of the kids I see are swimming in Frustration Level waters.  

Read the Signs:




Latest Posts