Open Court

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Nov 2006

We're very impressed by our local public school (Glenview Elementary) and considering it for our daughter for next Fall. Our question is about the Oakland Unified Open Court curriculum. On some accounts of open court, it seems uninspired and it seems to take up the majority of the day so there's not much room for other subjects (at least in the kindergarten). But others have defended it as a way to ensure that all children in the class learn the basics, and have suggested that good teachers are able to integrate it into their teaching styles without impeding the educational experience. I'm not familiar with other districts so I'm not even sure if such curriculum restrictions are unusual. We're interested in hearing experiences from parents and teachers who have experienced Open Court, in Oakland or elsewhere - are kids still inspired and able to receive a rich and varied educational experience? We'd also like to hear from parents and teachers with experiences in schools without open court, or who have experienced both settings. Are there any major differences in the nature of the educational experience? Thanks! anon

Our son is in Kindergarten in OUSD. Our school is good, and our teacher is very sensitive to the needs of the kids and has lots of experience, but both she and we find Open Court extremely frustrating. It does take up a large amount of time, and it only works well for some kids. For our son, it does not work well. He fought practicing the sight words (like a, an, the, is, the, here...) for weeks because ''those words don't mean anything.'' And you know, he's right -- they don't mean much.

He is telling us he does not like school and does not want to go, because he dislikes all of the worksheets so much. This is a very smart kid who has all the pre-reading skills, and absolutely LOVES to be read to, and identifies letters and words in stories all of the time. But he hates having to do endless circling of things on worksheets, and he hates the (very uninspired) little booklets he is supposed to be ''reading.''

Frankly, I hate those booklets too -- they are all but worthless, no story involved at all. The teacher shares our frustration, but is required to do all of these things, and it does not leave enough time for many of the very imaginative and inspiring things she would otherwise be doing. We are frustrated enough that we are considering moving to private school.

In my opinion, Open Court works best with new teachers, who are comforted by the fact that they can ''teach'' a class by simply following the script, without having to plan or think much of anything through. Good teachers are simply stifled. If they are particularly good, they can ''incorporate'' it, sure -- and what that mostly means is just work around it. Do enough of it to obey the rules -- and then get on to the good stuff.

We are not in Oakland but our district (W. County) has adopted Open Court. It is used in districts throughout the U.S., in Canada, and in some private schools such as the Meher School in Lafayette. It has been in place for several years and there are pluses and minuses to the curriculum. My son was a reluctant reader and he found it helpful to have a solid research-based basal reading program that gave him the tools he needed to learn to read. The teachers at our school find ways to add a little something here and there to make reading fun. In 2nd grade there was a travelling insect show which required the kids to read supplemental material about African walking sticks and hissing cockroaches. Another teacher had the kids put on plays using folks tales to enhance literacy. Our PTA also sponsors classroom reading clubs. There are many ways to make reading fun no matter what curriculum your district has adopted. The workbooks are not that exciting but we always supplemented with books from the school library and purchased books to read so they were really just a starting point for our kids. Also, Open Court can be taught at a basic, medium or higher level depending on the needs of individual students. I know teachers in our district that have attended Open Court trainings and they do learn how to modify their lessons for more confident readers.
public school mom

My children learned to read fluently with the Open Court program at Oakland Hebrew Day School. After reading the recent postings on BPN regarding Open Court, I decided to ask their first grade teacher more about the program. I thought that the response I received was worth sharing with you. ''Open Court is a step-by-step process which sets up for the learner the fundamentals of reading and writing. In my 3 years of teaching Open Court, I have seen absolute success with this program. In each lesson, there is a new sound introduced, followed by an opportunity for each child to ''blend'' that new sound into words... and eventually into sentences. Afterwards, there is a mini book that accompanies each lesson.

The mini books that go with each lesson are wonderful! They are a controlled text with the specific sound that was taught, focused in on. The mini books are so great because they provide for the students numerous opportunities; chances to make a prediction, make text to self connections, text to text connections, and text to world connections. Through all of these situations, the child feels a connection to the mini book, and even more proud when they are able to read it! This is not a program just for ''new'' teachers. Yes, it is scripted, and very structured, which is beneficial to newer teachers.

The sight words are so imperative to becoming a fluent reader. They mean so much! The sight words that a first grader learns are the sight words that they will need their whole life. By December there are around 100 sight words that the child should know. And around 500 by the end of the year. These words are in the mini books and in the whole classroom curriculum; math, science, social studies and language arts. As the teacher constantly incorporates these words into all aspects of the curriculum and reinforces them, these words become ''memorized''. And children gain ownership of them. Open Court takes a lot of time. A lot of quality time where the child is engaged and learning the skills necesarry to become a great reader.''

I would encourage anyone who is interested in what all this rhetoric about ''research based'' means when it comes to the Open Court curriculum to have a look at the book ''Reading for Profit: How the bottom line leaves kids behind.'' A rather frightening tale