Very hungry. Especially eager. Dare I say; avid, big, ravenous, gluttonous, greedy, and even, boldly rapacious? These are mere words to describe my present state of mind, an insatiable appetite for knowledge, insight and guidance. What, ask you, is causing such an itch in my mental schema? Curriculum. I am obsessed with the notion of expanding my knowledge around curriculum design in preparation for working on my independent curriculum design project. So, I’ve been reading copiously, profusely, and liberally…but before I get too far in explaining what I’ve been studying I should provide some background. I’ve been tasked with presenting a project proposal, something that would challenge me to take my understanding of curriculum design to the next level, no small order. After some nail biting and quick elimination of my more outlandish ideas (create a middle school curriculum map for the four core subjects, better yet, a K-12 map!) I decided on the following sensible and potentially achievable proposal. In short, I decided that it would be beneficial to read all or portions of five books, shadow a curriculum director, attend a site visit to a curriculum software design company (and embed my design using their software), and solicit professional review of my completed design Proposal. Additionally, I have agreed to maintain my weekly blog entry and review a fellow student’s final UbD project. Whew. Though I’ve experienced moments of self-induced panic, and my panic is completely of my own doing, I am invigorated by this journey that I’ve embarked on. Though I’m not at a point (yet) where I’m ready to begin the nitty gritty work of putting pencil to paper, or fingers to keys in my case, I am making headway.
One of the tasks that I tasked myself with is finishing the reading in our class text by Wiggins and McTighe (2005) Understanding by Design. I still need to finish chapters 8, 9 and 10, but I managed to finish chapters 12, and the last few pages of five through seven. Chapters five and six focus on essential questions and crafting understanding; both are topics that I delved into extensively when creating my original Ubd and when reading Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding (McTighe & Wiggins, 2013). Chapter twelve gives some basic thoughts and ideas around the UbD curriculum framework on the macro and micro level. According to Wiggins and McTighe (2005) traditional concerns over scope and sequence or the “logical sequencing of topics’ the ‘logic’” (p. 295) should play second fiddle to concerns over establishing “…questions and issues that make the content seem interesting, meaningful, and valuable” (p. 296). A spiral approach to curriculum is also recommended which “…develops curriculum around recurring, ever-deepening inquiries into big ideas and important tasks, helping students come to understand in a way that is both effective and developmentally wise” (p. 297). While creating a truly spiral curriculum that spans from K through 12 is not realistic with this project, I will be looking at ways to revisit the “big ideas” in my grade-level curriculum map.
The next book that I delved into is Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Calkins, Ehrenworth & Lehman (2012). Since my project will utilize the English Language Arts (ELA) standards from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) I decided it was a good idea to get some help in deconstructing the standards that I would be working with. This is an invaluable resource; I’ve already recommended it to my former principal in Bolivia to use with the ELA department as they continue the work started during my tenure of adopting the CCSS. Each chapter is filled with practical, clearly outlined suggestions and advice for how to approach adoption. Educators are encouraged to “First, look at your current literacy initiative and set goals for how to improve them” (p. 15). The point here is to take an honest and reflective look at current practices and achievement in the building to determine where students are at in regards to the rigors of CCSS. The next step is to “look at gaps in your curriculum and develop a long-term plan for reform” (p. 16). Again, the point is to take a manageable chunk of CCSS and begin implementation that is long term and systemic. The remaining chapters I’ve read (through chapter four) overview the standards with a special emphasis on deconstructing the ten anchor standards themselves before looking at grade-level benchmarks, noticing that the same skill set is spiraled across the grades. While many aspects of my reading stood-out, in particular the deemphasizing of “reading as a personal act” switching focus to textual analysis (p. 25) was affirming; this is what I’ve strived for in my teaching of ELA.
Curriculum Leadership Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs by Parkay, Hass and Anctil (2010) has provided fodder for my intellectual fire. In particular, until now I have focused on readings from chapter 5 Approaches to Curriculum Development; this week will have me delving into middle school curricula specific readings as well as evaluation and assessment of learning. It’s impossible to sum-up these disparate author’s concerns into one coherent statement, but there are some commonalities to be found. Giroux (2010) and Hass (2010) are both concerned with the who and for what purpose of curriculum reform; Giroux calling for teachers to be viewed, and view themselves as “public intellectuals” with all it’s messy implications. “Such intellectuals must combine their role as educators and citizens. This implies that they must connect the practice of classroom teaching to the operation of power in the larger society” (p. 271). At the heart of Giroux’s thesis is the need to decentralize the curriculum and close the gap between school and the real world while Hass argues that uniformity and centralization of curriculum is antithetical to a democratic ideal. Notably, the most enjoyable reading was an article by Kim Marshall (2010) A Principal Looks Back: Standards Matter. This article brilliantly lays-out the interplay between standards to set a direction and focus for curriculum and student achievement. Kim spent a substantial portion of his career at an inner city elementary school in Boston that was plagued with lack of teamwork, refusal to teach an agreed upon scope and sequence, teacher isolation, low expectations, negativism, lack of focus, mysterious assessment criteria, and lack of a school wide plan. While Marshall was able to make some gains, slowly and through years of laborious effort plagued with setbacks and defeats, he was finally able to implement the curricular changes necessary only with state mandated, rigorous assessment of state standards. While his description of the resistance and underhanded sabotage displayed by tenured staff is unconscionable, I wonder how many schools are plagued with a few (or many) “educators” that are similarly resistant to change.
In the morning, I will meet with a curriculum director for a local school district. She has kindly allowed me to sit-in on a “Student Learning Team” then she will spend time answering my questions following the meetings. I am excited for this opportunity and hopeful that as I continue gathering information from text and human resources, I will be able to craft a meaningful curriculum design. Until then, I will continue to feed my insatiable appetite for understanding.
Calkins, Lucy, Ehrenworth, Mary & Lehman, Christopher (2012). Pathwasy to the Common Core Accelerating Achievement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Giroux, Henry. A. (2010). Teachers, Public Life, and Curriculum Reform. (Eds). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs Ninth Edition (pp. 266-274). New York: Pearson.
Hass, Glenn. (2010). Who Should Plan the Curriculum? In Forrest W. Parkay, Glenn Hass &, Eric J. Anctil (Eds). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs Ninth Edition (pp. 274-278). New York: Pearson.
Marshall, Kim W., Hass, Glen, & Anctil, Eric J. (2010). Social Forces: Present and Future. In Forrest W. Parkay, Glenn Hass &, Eric J. Anctil (Eds). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs Ninth Edition (pp. 278-287). New York: Pearson.
Parkay, Forrest W., Hass, Glen, & Anctil, Eric J. (2010). Developing, Implementing, and Evaluating the Curriculum: Approaches to Curriculum Development. In Forrest W. Parkay, Glenn Hass &, Eric J. Anctil (Eds). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs Ninth Edition (pp. 249-258). New York: Pearson.
Wiggins, Grant and McTighe, Jay. (2005. Understanding by Design 2nd Edition. Virginia: ASCD.