Engaging Curriculum

"Why do we have to learn this?" It's a question that teachers dread, and it speaks to a curriculum that, for whatever reason, doesn't engage students. Maybe it's a curriculum that is outdated. Perhaps it's presented in such a way that it lacks luster. Maybe it's devoid of any emotional connection for a student.

Simply put, sometimes a classroom management problem stems from the curriculum, or the way content is facilitated.

Meet Regina Flores-Kincaid. She is Chair of the English Department at Lawndale High School where she teaches a 9th-grade English intervention class, 10th-grade Honors English and 10th-grade AVID. She describes her school as making strides to meet state standards, improving scores on state tests, and producing college-ready graduates.


Look For:

  • What is the "hook" that grabs students' attention in Regina's curriculum?
  • After the curriculum grabs them, how does Regina go deeper with the graphic novels and connect it to the real lives of her students?

Go Deeper:

Teaching for Social Justice

In this essay in Rethinking Schools, Herbert Kohl offers teaching advice from a career that spans over 30 years.

Reflect On:

  • What does it mean to "teach against your conscience"? What forces in your professional life guide, or force, you to "teach against your conscience"?
  • What does Kohl mean by "full of passion and effort but deficient in craft"?
  • How are we fed the myth of the perfect strategy, the perfect curriculum or that "one size fits all"?

Ready Resources:

Ideas for Engaging Students in Active learning

Relevance Matrix

Find out more about Socratic Seminars


Being Culturally Responsive

We are all born, raised and enveloped in culture, and it is central to learning. It informs how we communicate with each other, the way we receive information and helps shape the thinking process of groups and individuals.

Culturally responsive teaching recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning, enriching classroom experiences and keeping students engaged.

Corona High School teacher, Marcos Torres, talks about being culturally responsive in his classroom.


Look For:

  • Marcos says that his brown skin is important in his teaching brown students. But what if you have white skin and are teaching students-of-color? Does it matter? Why or why not?
  • What is something that Marcos says that middle class Caucasian students often have as a result of their position that working class students-of-color often don't have as much?
  • How do networks help us professionally?
  • What is your best guess about what a "middle class classroom" looks like? What about an "executive elite" classroom?

Go Deeper:

Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working-Class Children in Their own Self-Interest

This short piece by Adrienne Mack is a review of Patrick Finn's book Literacy with an Attitude.

Reflect On:

  • What is "domestic literacy"?
  • What kinds of skills are taught in domestic/functional literacy?
  • What kinds of skills does the author believe are taught in middle and upper class schools?

Ready Resources:

Understanding Culture and Cultural Responsiveness

Culturally Responsive Teaching


Silent Fails

There are all kinds of students. It seems like some students were made for school success. They have cracked the code of academic success, make A's and B's and live on the Honor Roll. Other students fail. Sometimes disruptive, these are the students teachers get frustrated by and worry about the most.

But what about those students that don't fall into these two easily defined categories? What about the students who never disrupt the class? They are gracious and polite, on-time and prepared. Yet, still they don't succeed. They are the "silent fails" that often slip through the cracks. What can teachers do to reach them?

Meet Chris Morales, who teaches mathematics at Lawndale High School in Calif., and listen as he speaks about the "silent fails" in his own classroom and strategies he uses to engage them.


Look For:

  • In Morales' video, to whom does he give the blame for the "silent fails" in his classroom?
  • Name at least three strategies that Morales mentions that help him reduce the number of "silent fails" in his classroom?

Go Deeper:

Teaching Methodologies – WICR

WICR - or writing, inquiry, collaboration and reading - forms the foundation for the AVID Program. AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and is a national program that concerns itself with the academic middle to make sure they don't become "silent fails."

Reflect On:

  • After exploring the 4 WICR domains – writing, inquiry, collaboration and reading – what is the difference between collaborative learning groups vs. traditional learning groups?
  • How might you incorporate a Writing Learning Log into your own classroom?



Motivated students want to learn and are less likely to be disruptive or disengage from the work of the classroom. Motivation stems from numerous factors: interest in the subject matter, perceptions of its usefulness, general desire to achieve, self-confidence and self-esteem, patience and persistence, among them.

Students also are motivated by their individual values, needs, desires and wants. Some students are stimulated by the approval of others; some by the academic challenge; and others by the passion of the teacher.

All of these factors have a role in how the behaviors of students play out in a typical day in the classroom.

Hear Marcos Torres, a teacher at Corona High School in Corona, Calif., speak about his strategies for motivating students to more fully engage in the learning process.


Look For:

  • What type of student does Marcos identify as his biggest challenge?
  • How do you motivate students like the one Marcos identifies in his video clip?

Go Deeper:

"Can We Learn From You?" - A Review of Herbert Kohl's I Won't Learn From You and Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment

In this review by Susanna Sheffer, she addresses the student who deliberately goes into "not-learning" mode.

Reflect On:

  • What are ways listed in the review that students actively practice "not-learning"?
  • What does "not-learning" do for the student's sense of self?
  • What is the difference between "not-learning" and "failure"?
  • How do your own students "not-learn"?

Ready Resources:

Teaching to Encourage Motivation (pdf)



Raising Children in a Socially Toxic Environment ($16), by James Garbarino, explains how we can make choices and decisions that strengthen children and work against the social toxicity that surrounds us. Jossey-Bass Publishers. ISBN 0-7879-5042-4

Teaching to Transgress ($18.45), by Bell Hooks, speaks to how we can rethink teaching practices in the age of multiculturalism. Routledge Publications. ISBN 0-415-90808-6

Lisa Delpit's The Skin We Speak: Thoughts on Language and Culture in the Classroom ($12.21) is a thoughtful exploration of the varieties of English we speak and the layers of politics, power and identity those varieties carry. The New Press. ISBN 1-56584-544-7

Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working-Class Children in Their Own Self-Interest ($20.95) is Patrick Finn's groundbreaking work on the resistance of working-class children to the kind of education they often receive. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-4286-1

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes ($26.56), by Alfie Kohn, is about how rewards are manipulative and ultimately do more harm than good. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-395-65028-3

Susan Ohanian's One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards ($18) is a defiant, witty commentary on an overblown pro-standards movement. Heinemann. ISBN 0-325-00158-8

"Learning for Justice new fall issue out now."

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In promoting diversity and fighting racism, inclusive education programs forged pathways toward building equitable societies. Now, as our nation confronts multiple assaults on democratic values, we hold firm in the fight to protect—and to expand—democracy through social justice education.

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