Deb Krupowicz">

Ask the Teacher

I have been disappointed with the reading curriculum at my children’s elementary school. Kids are allowed to choose all of their own books, and what they select seems silly and rather simple. What can I do about that?

A great deal of emphasis has been placed on getting children to love reading, leading to a student-driven, student-selected literature curriculum. The theory is that the books that teachers select do not always meet students’ varied interest levels, which turns them off to reading. Less direct emphasis is placed on skill development and formal discussion of the material, with more time being placed on finding books that fit each child’s interest and reading level.

Kelly Gallagher, a renowned educator and expert in literacy education, addresses this very concern in his book, Readicide. The solution he offers is a combination of what would be considered a traditional curriculum that is focused on quality literature and important themes with a component of self-selected texts as well. The traditional approach develops more advanced reading skills by providing exposure to literature that students would often avoid; the self-selected books allows the student to explore his personal preferences in reading.

Impacting a school’s curriculum can be a burdensome undertaking, as most administrators believe strongly in the approach they are taking. If you are not interested in writing letters, attending school board meetings, offering findings contrary to the current approach and finding support among fellow parents, you can still influence what your child is exposed to. Encourage reading the kinds of texts you are referring to by developing your own complementary reading program at home. Consult your local librarian or websites that focus on classic literature for book lists appropriate for your child and begin reading them together. Regular exposure to high quality literature will help provide some of the balance that you seek.

Our school requires music education, but I would rather see this time spent on academics. Are kids really getting that much out of a music class?

Yes, they are. A direct link between students with quality music education and better core academic skill development has been clearly demonstrated – and this also includes increased IQ scores.

Students develop many skills important to all types of learning through music, such as discipline, confidence and concentration. Language development and listening skills are enhanced as well. Even standardized test scores have been shown to increase with music education.

Not only that, a music class can provide a type of enjoyment during the school day that is different from other classes students have. Consider observing your child’s music class for a firsthand appreciation of all that is happening during this time. Without a doubt, that is the best way to understand its value.

My son usually loves school and is very motivated to do well, but during February he is a completely different story. Why the change now? 

The beginning of the year is full of excitement: new teachers, new classmates, new curriculum and new projects. But by this time of year, the novelty has worn off. Your son knows his teacher well now. He understands that she cares for him and is secure about the commitment she has to her students – making it easier for him to step back a bit performance-wise. The relationship with classmates, both positive and negative, has gotten comfortable, moving from one that is developing to one that is more comparable to that of siblings. A great deal of curriculum has been covered, and the course of study more predictable. The review that happens at the start of the year has been done, and the new content presents more of a challenge. The pace picks up as students are well accustomed to the routine and expectations. The fun of school now seems like hard work.

To help your child stay motivated, renew your interest in what he’s doing – and not just his grades, which is something that typically wanes too as the year moves on. Pick up some library books on the topics he’s studying to reinforce what he is learning at school and to provide a springboard for conversation. Have him “teach” you some of the math concepts he is learning and work some problems alongside him.

Consider changing up the area where he does his homework. Add some new supplies. Offer some fun snacks during homework time. Post words of encouragement on the walls or surface where he works. This “slump” is normal and temporary, but you can influence a more invigorated attitude.


Ask the Teacher is written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four who holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Deb has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at [email protected]

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