By DR. ROBERTA LENGER KANG
A well-developed and effective curriculum is the cornerstone of an excellent education. Many schools go to great lengths to ensure that they can identify a highly-rated curriculum on behalf of their students. This often means spending a great deal of money to purchase a complete, professionally-designed curriculum which may include textbooks, web-based resources, unit plans, scripted lesson plans, and student-facing resources.
But there’s a big difference between having the curriculum and teaching the curriculum. It isn’t as simple as reading aloud from the Teacher’s Guide. Unpacking a pre-packaged curriculum takes focused and continuous effort on the part of teachers and their whole school community. When we work with schools who are implementing a new curriculum, we advise using a three-step process: adopt, adapt, apply.
The curriculum is the driving force behind the teaching and learning within a course. Whether a school is moving from one curriculum to another, or moving from teacher-designed to a pre-packaged curriculum, there’s a lot of work that goes into adopting something new. We encourage school leaders and teachers to unpack the curriculum materials by focusing on three main pieces — structure, key components, and tensions — and making connections to current instructional practices, student culture, and school climate.
Even the very, very best curriculum cannot be used straight out of the box. For a curriculum to be highly effective, it must be adapted to meet the needs of students, the style and personality of the teacher, and the mission and vision of the school community. After taking time to understand the curriculum’s structure, key components, and tensions, we’re ready to begin making adaptations.
After adopting the curriculum by unpacking its components, and adapting the curriculum to meet the needs of the community, educators will feel more confident to begin implementing the curriculum.
Curriculum design is an intensive and demanding process. Schools and districts can save teachers time by investing in high-quality curricula that allows teachers to focus on implementing instruction rather than on curriculum design. But in the process, we must remember that it isn’t as simple as pulling it out of the box and reading aloud from the book on the day of the lesson. School leaders will want to create space and time for teachers to analyze the adopted curriculum, make adaptations necessary to meet students’ needs, and apply it in their classes after critical reflection and opportunities for revision. Following through with these practices will ensure that the curriculum is being implemented with fidelity, integrity, and authenticity.
By G. FAITH LITTLE
By the time you’ve cultivated a course curriculum, it’s easy to run out of steam as you move into building a unit plan, the detailed guide that will support your lesson planning. One way to make the most of your time and energy is to plan using a batching strategy. We can think of this like grocery shopping for the week.
If I walk down the aisles (online or in real life), filling my basket with ingredients for Monday (breakfast, lunch, dinner) then Tuesday (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and so on, the trip will take a while. If I shop by meal type, like breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, I cut down on the time and effort I spend. Of course, it’s even faster when I identify ingredients that can be used for more than one meal type. I pick up eggs to scramble for my breakfast sandwich and hard boil for my evening salads. I grab apples to go in my lunch box and morning smoothie.
Like grocery shopping, when we identify areas in our unit plan that we can create or gather in batches, we cut down on the time we need to design that part of our plan. For instance, if we want to include transition tools for teachers to use in their lesson planning, we could develop our list in a batch starting with our own ideas and incorporating others:
Batch your transitions depending on what you and your students need in the classroom — is it about needing time? Do you want students to read, write, or talk to one another, or should they quietly move from one activity to the next? Do your transitions depend on whether students are individually working or in groups? Batch them in a way that works best for you, and drop the transitions you’ve collected into the batch that makes most sense:
One you have your lists together, it’s simple to drop transition tools, one at a time, into logical places in each unit plan. Even quicker, and possibly more empowering for other teachers, is to turn the list into a menu of options teachers can use to find what works best for their teaching style, content area, and students.
Here’s a menu we developed for educators at Jewish Home Lifecare who were teaching students how to provide services that support health, individuality, and dignity to elders. This menu allowed novice teachers to review a number of options and find transitions that were a match for their teaching style and their students for that session. Even the simplest of menus can be a good jumping off point for generating new ideas!
Writing out a simple agenda is helpful for easing transitions — it makes it clear where we are and what's to come. Write agenda on the whiteboard (sample below):
Check items off the list as you complete each activity/task so students know where they are in the plan for the day. Invite a student to read off what’s next as you go through the day and/or to reiterate what they’ve already accomplished.
Bonus tip: Have a very chatty/active student? Make them Agenda Leader for the day. They should help you stay on schedule by recounting what has been done and reading what should happen next.
Time to learn!
Play this as a little game that will result in a call & response. The more you practice this, the more the students will come to experience it as a cue to look up and engage. It takes a bit of time, so be bold and power through until this becomes a ritual.
This also works to get them back on their current task if they get distracted. Play around with ways to use this method, modifying it to fit what works for you and your students.
Organizing student groups
One of the hardest transitions to make is moving from individual work to group work. An effective way to guide grouping is to use post-it notes with a number or a letter, colored paper, or even playing cards. Using one of these items helps students organize themselves in their groups all at once, rather than calling out every student's name individually or having students wander around the room "looking" for a group.
Two minutes before one activity ends and another begins, make announcements about how much time is left and what students will be doing next (including what they need to have to move forward).
You're ready to move on to the next instruction!
By ROBERTA LENGER KANG
When the back to school sales are at their peak, students and parents are picking out the cutest notebooks and the coolest backpacks. Meanwhile, educators are feeling the pressure and anxiety that comes with the start of the school year — particularly as they think about their curriculum.
Different school communities and districts have different approaches to designing curriculum. Some purchase big box curriculum sets with prescribed lessons, while others have the opportunity to design their own, which can be exciting — and also a bit daunting.
Cultivating a course curriculum is one of the most important and most complicated tasks for educators. It requires deep content knowledge and an accurate anticipation of student ability throughout the school year. Teachers need to differentiate the most important content and the most important skills in the most effective sequence — all while knowing that the decision to teach one thing is also the decision not to teach a hundred other things. The pressure to plan it in just the right way can be overwhelming.
This process will always be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be painful! In our curriculum-focused coaching projects, we support educators as they examine, design, implement, and refine customized or adapted curricula. Each educator and classroom is unique, but curriculum planning often brings up common questions. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions we hear from educators as we support them in the planning process.
What goes into a curriculum map?
A well-developed curriculum map should provide an overview of the course at-a-glance. Maps are most valuable when they include a clear picture of the course goals, how those goals intersect with the content knowledge, thinking skills, relevant standards, and a plan for assessments. Here’s a good checklist for a curriculum map:
What’s the difference between a curriculum map and a unit plan?
A curriculum map provides an overview or summary of the course, while a unit plan provides the details needed to develop each individual lesson. A unit plan may include specific resources to use in a particular unit, a pacing calendar that outlines the learning goals for each week or each day, lists of vocabulary words, and a plan for differentiating instruction for different learners. Unit plans tend to be longer and include more explicit plans that illustrate the arc of the unit and provide the necessary details to develop daily lesson plans.
There is a critical distinction between the curriculum map as an overview and the unit plan as the detailed guide to support lesson planning. Curriculum maps that include unit plan-level details often become massive documents that are difficult to read. They can become a dumping ground for edu-speak-jargon that doesn’t really mean anything. As educators, we want to remember that these documents are tools to support and facilitate our planning process. If they don’t do that, they aren’t ultimately very valuable.
How much detail should be included?
When it comes to the curriculum map, we want to include information clearly and succinctly, which means we can eliminate jargon or unnecessary details. For example, it’s valuable to list relevant standards on a curriculum map because it will give a picture of how all standards are being addressed throughout the school year and how they’re sequenced within each unit. However, standards often have a lot of very specific, formal language. Simply copying and pasting the entire standard into the curriculum map is thorough, but not always helpful. It isn’t reasonable to expect that anyone will read with that level of specificity, it isn’t particularly helpful to teachers who need to see these standards broken down in the unit plan, and it can become extremely repetitive if the units utilize the same standards. In these situations, we recommend using the standard code, and summarizing the standard in a short phrase or sentence. This provides a simple and clear alignment with the standard, demonstrates the educator’s understanding of the standard, and keeps the information focused and clear. The same rule can be applied in other categories as well.
How should the map be formatted?
Formatting is often a personal choice, and different people prefer different styles. We recommend using a horizontal chart with a column for each critical component, and a row for each unique unit. The value of this format is the at-a-glance nature. If we can read from left to right along a row, we’re getting an overview of each unit in the course. When we can complete the curriculum map in 1-2 pages, we get a good picture of the course goals and the sequence of learning the students will experience. This allows the curriculum map to act as a touchstone planning tool for teachers, and becomes a great document to share with school leaders, parents, and even students.
Can curriculum maps be changed?
One of the things that makes writing curriculum a daunting task is the sense of its permanence. It makes sense to want to keep the curriculum fluid, as the most effective teaching is influenced by a wide range of variables like current events, student cohorts, and shifts or changes in the field. The fear of permanence can often become a justification for not creating a curriculum map. But the benefits of long-term planning, for teachers especially, cannot be underestimated.
The most effective curriculum maps are living documents that provide planning support to teachers throughout the year and communicate the intentions of the course to others (administrators, parents, students, other teachers). We recommend that teachers regularly reflect on their lessons and unit plans as they’re implementing the curriculum so that they can make adjustments, remember what worked and what didn’t, and update the curriculum as necessary. We revisit our curriculum over the summer or at the beginning of the school year to account for the learning of the previous year.
What are the steps I should follow to make a curriculum map?
In the curriculum mapping process, we see a relatively consistent approach that favors backwards planning, which suggests that teachers should first determine the end point (the ultimate goal or final assessment) and then plan backwards from there. This process is meant to create a clear alignment between content, skills, and instruction.
If this process works for you, use it! The problem is that this process doesn’t apply to all teachers or all situations. When it doesn’t work, it can create major obstacles in the development process. Our recommendation is to start with what you know, generate your ideas based on any entry point you can find, and fill in the blanks along the way. Then, reflect and revise on the plan from an alignment perspective to ensure that the planning process maintains instructional integrity.
Two years ago, representatives from the Ghetto Film School, a non-profit student-filmmaking educational organization, came to CPET for advisement about how to take their materials and translate them into a curriculum for high school students. This began an intense analysis of their curricular documents resulting in a curriculum audit with an inventory of materials, analysis of effectiveness and recommendations for future refinements. Following the curriculum audit was a commission to develop an 18-week short film course and two six-week film units (one on developing a commercial and one on the genre of Film Noir), suitable for implementation in a high school course.
Whether being adopted by an English teacher making connections between literature and film, or an arts teacher looking to build students’ skills in the art and craft of filmmaking, or a history class looking to recreate moments from our past in film—these adapted curriculum materials develop student filmmakers, critical thinkers, and engaging storytellers. Currently, the curriculum project is in its final phases of development with the design firm Wieden+Kennedy and will begin the final revisions in preparation for a Summer 2015 release date.