Why Curriculum Is Crucial !

                                                        Why is Curriculum Crucial?

by Kay Scheidler

November 1, 2018

Curriculum is the foundation for learning.  Curriculum sets out the school year’s path to ensure the needed skills and understandings, and helps keep us on track over the year.

Today’s school emphasis is on looking at daily lesson plans.  But lesson plans are only as good as the curriculum upon which they’re based.

If I’m teaching “Romeo and Jliet” at ninth grade, I can have fun with students acting out the sword fighting scene, and having fun watching the film, but of the multitude of Standards that can be taught with this play, what are students learning in relation to building the crucial grade level ELA skills of close reading, inference, central idea with evidence, figurative language, writing types?

We develop curriculum based on skills, content and understandings needed, and find the rsources to best teach these understandings.

Strong curriculum is:

  • based on state content Standards,
  • developed with both teacher and administrator input,
  • based on student assessment data,
  • builds from year to year,
  • scaffolded for more struggling students,
  • with formative Standards assessments to track learning,
  • with means of re-teaching in a new way for below proficient students,
  • posted on the school or district website for all teachers to view,
  • revised and updated as we find better information, and
  • updated as teachers find new and better ways to help students learn the skills, understandings and content needed.

Without these minimum expectations for a strong basic curriculum foundation, lesson plans are like tasting the frosting without the cake; sampling just the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie; the autumn leaf flowing in the wind, cut off from the more substantial tree; the light jacket without a warm sweater underneath on a frigid cold day; a bicycle sailing along through the air without a road underneath; the cheeseburger without the meat, lacking substance and grounding.

The lesson plan emerges from the well developed curriculum.

In one school where I served as English Director, the ninth grade teachers religiously all taught the same books.  However, not only did they each teach these at different times of the year, they taught different things in relation to each book.  One focused on character, another teacher focused on central idea, another had very unique student activities but little skills or understandings learned.  However, the other grade levels at this school didn’t even teach the same books.

Not only is it well worth the time it takes to examine needed Standards learning, and –- based on student data which includes teacher assessment —  flesh out a year’s curriculum, but the discussion one can have provides the internalizing of the year’s understandings needed that the teacher needs for great learning.  This discussion may be even just with yourself or with even one other like-minded teacher, ideally with the full grade level, and ideally with a knowledgeable facilitator.  The discussions and needed decision-making help each understand why one unit is provided instead of another. This helps, so that even if we’re not so happy with a group decision, at least we see why.  Ideally a curriculum is deleted once it’s determined, because everyone via discussion understands the curriculum. But deleting is kind of harsh.  Further, suddenly a teacher is gone, for part of a year, or for a year or more. The replacement teacher benefits from that written and posted curriculum; the students benefit.

In today’s Standards era with state assessment, Standards provide excellent grade level learning guides as a framework to develop common curriculum that will help students learn the grade level Standards.  Developing curriculum that’s not Standards learning is a waste of time, because one won’t see positive test results after all that time and effort spent.  And it will appear that one is not a good teacher with low test scores.  The obverse is true also.

Initiating the process

One way to initiate the essential curriculum development process is that one teacher, or ideally more, working together if at all possible, can develop a year-long curriculum that makes sense for one’s students, integrates grade level Standards, and has formative assessments aligned with Standards learning, to ensure alignment with MCAS tested skills.

Once this is initiated, you’ve picked up the ball to run with it.  Others may allow you to go with this, or get in your way as you strategize around them; you may only be able to go so far with helping others move with this, but at least you’ve made some progress toward the goal.

Curriculum is Dynamic

Written curriculum is essential as a document to guide and share in an era of stringent accountability.  Revising from year to year can then improve this guide.  As we see new assessment information showing new needs, we include this in the curriculum.

Unit plans within the curriculum

When a year-long course of learning understandings is developed in line with grade level MA Standards and to meet student needs, then unit plans and then followed with creating daily lesson plans follow this more long-term guide for developing student learning.  The lesson plan is the final step, and emerges from the curriculum.

A unit plan can be most effective if we develop a kid-friendly guiding Essential Question on a big idea we’re exploring.  This Essential Question provides a structure for the students also, for unit coherence.  What makes a book a classic? is an Essential Question, as is What makes an effective Argument writing piece?  What are the dates of the Civil War? is not an Essential Question, nor is What are the three causes of the Civil War?  These are factual and limited; an Essential Question is open and debatable.

A Curriculum Guides and Ensures Common Standards Learning.

It’s hard to integrate Standards learning into classes alone.  It’s easier when we can discuss with a colleague.  Year-long goals help guide the teacher and students to outcomes needed for today’s high expectations that we want each student to achieve.  Day-to-day practice follows from and builds to the longer term plan.  When we have long-term goals, students have a sense of direction.  Not to mention that the teacher too has a better sense of direction.  Then, excellent, carefully developed big idea Essential Questions the students can connect with, such as “What makes a true hero?” or “What are values to live by?” can drive and engage students in units and in the year-long work.

Curriculum provides the basic underpinning to follow at a grade level.  Ideally, teachers of a content area and grade level confer and discuss to create and follow a similar guide, but with respect for individual initiative.  Grade level curriculum means that all students have a similar learning experience at that grade.

Curriculum is dynamic. No longer is curriculum carved in stone or left in a binder in a dark corner or bottom drawer to collect dust. When we develop and bring alive in the classroom planned curriculum, new ideas are sparked, and we can learn from one another to modify thinking.  We want to continuously ask, What’s best for our students?  What works? How can we adjust curriculum to best build learning? This stimulates our thinking for the best practices possible.  We learn more as a team than alone.

In this workshop session, we’ll review varied curriculum models to find advantages and limitations of different formats.  We’ll also explore the concepts of the “Understanding by Design” unit plan model, to provide more specific unit facets within the curriculum.  We’ll study and seek user-friendly, readable curriculum formats.

In today’s world of intense accountability, we count on the previous year’s teachers to build understandings for our own teaching year.  Next year’s teacher counts on us to develop understandings to pave the way for their work. Therefore, another reason to have strong written curriculum available for others to see is that this is how we can view the planned learning for last year’s work, and next year’s work, to build from one year to the next on skills for high achievement, and to avoid repetition!   We benefit when the previous year has begun a key Standard such as research work, and next year’s teacher will love you for moving the students along.



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