Thinking Outside the Curriculum Box

09/03/2009  |  IRENE D. H. SASMAN
choosing curriculum

Each year millions of dollars are spent on classroom instructional materials, but how is it determined which curriculum materials are the right ones?  Are the decisions based upon quality and effectiveness or convenience and past practices? The new school year budget and additional stimulus money gives school districts an opportunity to buy materials that make a difference for students, their teachers and parents.

What to Look For

v WOW!

“Buy what you’d get for your grandchild.” That’s one Principal’s secret on getting the “wow” into the curriculum.  Award-winning books and educational materials engage the learner, motivate the teacher and foster discovery learning.


Research shows that Literature develops literacy. Books written in authentic authors’ writing engage the learner and lead to lifelong reading enjoyment. Formula books reduce vocabulary options resulting in books of little interest to the reader.


Literature-based materials, thematically organized, present content in a multi-modal approach using trade books and other book formats to read, listen, touch, and talk about. They engage the learner and impact learning by using several senses and presenting several “book” options incorporating interactive books, audio, hands-on manipulatives, and multimedia.

An example is THE Learning Connection’s Caterpillar to Butterfly PAK. Students experience the life cycle of a butterfly first-hand as they observe a live caterpillar change into a butterfly. Hands-on manipulatives provide tactile learning experiences. A read-along audio book provides both sight and sound at the listening center. A Take-Home Backpack provides a parent involvement component. THE Learning Connection was the first publisher to develop Thematic Units to teach curriculum content using trade books.


An example is the Family Literacy program that was customized for a New York City School District. THE Learning Connection developed “Partners in Reading” , a series of take-home backpacks with classic award-winning literature, and matching hands-on manipulatives.  Parents, teachers, and students appreciated the high quality which resulted in the district’s most successful Parent Involvement program. This was the first time a publisher created a backpack program for parent take-home, an idea now widely endorsed.

Sorting Through the Wide Variety of Materials

“If I had the time to put my ideas together, this is exactly what I would want.” Educators make this statement when they see materials that work. The literature-based, high-quality, award-winning, interactive instructional materials increases student interest. Becoming an “expert” of available materials and sorting through them to pick the best ones for the curriculum is time consuming.  Besides content, the ages, interests, and abilities of the students must be considered.  The good news is that there’s help from companies who specialize in curriculum packages. For example, THE Learning Connection has developed over 500 Curriculum Materials Themes and Libraries. Check to see if the content you are looking for is already available and if not, ask if it can be customized.

How to Choose

v Determine the content, topic or theme you are targeting.

v Check to see if there is already a program available that fits your budget.

v Is it real Literature? Is it Multimodal? Is it high-quality? Does it have a “Wow” ?

v Will it engage the learner? Will it assist the teacher in achieving the objective?

Irene D. H. Sasman is president of THE Learning Connection. For more information, visit
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