This past week has been filled with opportunities to explore and put into practice varying aspects of curriculum design. Last Wednesday, I met with the “Professional Development & Curriculum Supervisor” at a local district office. The first order of business was attending a weekly meeting of the members of the district’s student learning group, including the Executive Director. Though I spent much of my time simply listening and observing, I was welcomed as a trusted colleague; group members frankly discussed the various challenges and celebrations of the heavy work of ensuring student learning in their district. Back in her office, my sponsor and I were able to spend about an hour and a half chatting about curriculum design, our respective educational philosophies (many points of agreement), the challenges associated with preparing future teachers in “teacher colleges” and resources. In preparation for my morning of “job shadowing”, I had jotted down a quick list of job shadow_questions though I did not bring them to our meeting. My intent was to be mentally prepared but I wanted our conversation and talking points to evolve organically; I was not disappointed. I left our meeting feeling like I had a much better conceptual and realistic understanding of what it means to be a curriculum leader at the district level including the challenges and successes inherent in this type of position. My experience was positive and affirming of the direction my professional growth is taking.
After spending a couple days fulfilling the requirements for my other SPU class this term, my focused shifted to my primary concern; creating a year-long curriculum map for Grade 8 English Language Arts class aligned to the Common Core State Standards. In preparation, I located my newly purchased text Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, the guru of curriculum mapping. As an aside, how I could “lose” a book on a 44’ sailboat is still beyond me, especially since it was exactly where I had already looked multiple times? Ah well. The first four chapters of this text are proving indispensible. Although I am working (mostly) in isolation, I appreciate the larger macro or school-level step-by-step recommended process of curriculum mapping outlined in the text:
- Focus on Research That Commences the Prologue- unpacking assessment data, looking at demographics, ascertaining teacher’s readiness to map, assessing past development efforts, and creating potential time frame for planning workshops.
- Draft an Action Plan- describe a sensible approach to implementation with an eye towards assessment aligned to standards.
- Choose the Technology Template for Curriculum and Assessment Mapping- essentially, this boils down to which product the school wants to invest in; I am familiar with Atlas Rubicon but there are others available.
- Plant Seeds to Ensure That Mapping Becomes Part of the Institution- this is where the impetus for curriculum mapping comes into play which is basically ensuring that when a teacher leaves, the curriculum doesn’t leave with them.
Successful curriculum mapping results in “…measureable improvement in student performance in the targets areas, and the institutionalization of mapping as a process for on going curriculum and assessment review” (p. 2). I estimate that I am nearly at the halfway mark of my project. I’m finding that going through the process of creating both a “Year at a Glance” map and individual unit maps has highlighted connections in my curriculum that I hadn’t be conscious of before. I feel that although there is much room for improvement, such as reworking all my units into a UbD format including a rethinking of my summative assessment task, there is much that I’ve been doing right. Inevitably, there are gaps in what I’ve taught and what the standards demand, more on this point in my next blog entry. Looking at numerous examples of curriculum maps online and the ones that I received during my job shadow has challenged me to adopt a system that covers the basics, yet is informative at a level that will stand-alone.
Part and parcel of building a strong curriculum is an awareness of the latest research and best practices. I’ve looked to chapter nine of our class text Curriculum Leadership Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs for continued guidance and inspiration. Edited by Parkay, Hass & Anctil (2010) with an introductory essay, chapter nine is devoted to Middle-Level Curricula and the acknowledgement that it is important to consider the “…three bases of curriculum- social forces, human development, and learning and learning styles- when planning curricula for transescents [passing from childhood to early adolescence] and early adolescents” (p. 466). Self-esteem, understanding and adjustment to physical changes, wider and new social arrangement, exploration of knowledge and skill, transition between elementary, middle and high school, grappling with value questions while coping with social pressures and developing concern for environment, welfare of others and micro and macro communities are all noted as goals for middle-level programs. The National Middle School Association (2010) believes that middle-level curricula should not be a watered-down version of high school, nor a feel-good program that lacks rigor and challenge. As I reflect on my practice, I feel confident that my expectations are high; my job is to prepare all of my middle schools students for Advance Placement level courses in high school, whether they choose to go that route of not is their choice.
Not surprisingly, not all articles in chapter nine are in agreement as to the best course for middle-level students. I found a recommendation by Cheri Yecke (2010) suggesting that US schools move away from middle schools (generally 6-8 or 7-8) back to a K-8 program particularly fascinating, though noted with irony that the following article by Beane & Lipka (2010) steadfastly refuted this claim. At the heart of the matter is the notion of the middle school concept, which is quite different from the organizational group known as middle school. The middle school concept, on the other hand, is “…the belief that the purpose of these schools is to create students who are imbued with egalitarian principles; who are in touch with their political, social, and psychological selves; and who eschew competition and individual achievement to focus on identity development and perceived societal needs” (Gallagher, 1991, Sicola, 1990; Toepfer, 1992 as quoted in Yecke, 2010). Conversely, Bean and Lipka (2010) believe that the problem lies not with organizational concept of middle schools but a lack of proper implementation of the middle school concept in addition to “…the powerful effects of poverty and the unsavory resegregation of our nation’s communities and schools” (p. 485). I’m not sure where I stand on this debate, though I am intrigued with creating specific curricula programs that will better preparing upper elementary students for their transition to middle school especially if they are physically relocated in a middle school-on building. I developed a four-week unit my second year teaching Grade 5 in Mongolia precisely for this purpose; we studied rites of passage in difference cultures, created tangible products that students placed items symbolic of their childhood and transition into adolescence, took on physical and mental challenges such as abseiling (rappelling) and ended with a five-day camping trip to Hustai National Park where they ritualistically “released” their childhood around a campfire. It was an amazing experience for all of us; my students’ end-of-unit reflections spoke to the self-empowerment and transformation they felt traveling through this process with their peers.
Another issue at the forefront of all students’ heart is the debate around homework; how much is enough and do we really need it? While the jury seems to still be out, it seems that the anti-homework movement “…reflects an organization culture that wants high grades to be possible for all kids, regardless of their varying levels of ability or willingness to work, regardless of what other commitments that children have made, regardless of the importance of family” (Skinner, 2010, p. 491). Pretty harsh criticism that Skinner nevertheless tempers by admitting that “We are giving the wrong kind of homework and in increasing quantities to the wrong age group” (p. 492), mainly kids in the preschool to Grade 2 range. Imagine! I’ve found that the homework debate rages on internationally. If I can make some gross generalizations based on my experience teaching in different international schools, Scandinavians tend to believe that children should have no homework until middle school; my Asian parents want more than I feel is humane and American parents are somewhat in the middle and are typically the only ones that tend to complain. I seem to have found an appropriate balance; parent feedback usually is in consensus that the homework assigned in my class is an extension of what we’ve done in class and is devoid of memorization activities. When I feel that I’ve miscalculated, I have no problem extending deadlines or simply readjusting my lesson plans; I think the key is to constantly gauge where students are at respective to their other content area commitments to determine what’s truly a quality extension and not just busy work. I need to continue to pay attention to this area because there’s always room for improvement.
All in all, I’ve had a productive week. I’m hoping to finish my curriculum map before I leave with my husband for a job interview overseas on Monday. If I manage, this will give me a chance to solicit feedback on my original project, then reassess to see what improvements and additions I can make. I’m will wait to deconstruct my curriculum mapping process until I have the final product completed but I can say that I’ve gained clarity and a better sense of the overall big conceptual ideas that I was aiming towards when I created this grade 8 curriculum last year. Amazing the insight gained through additional professional development and reflection.
Beane, James & Lipka, Richard. (2010). Guess Again: Will Changing the Grades Save Middle-Level Education? In Forrest W. Parkay, Glenn Hass &, Eric J. Anctil (Eds). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs Ninth Edition (pp. 482-487). New York: Pearson.
Jacobs, Heidi Hayes. (2004). Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
National Middle School Association. (2010). This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents. In Forrest W. Parkay, Glenn Hass &, Eric J. Anctil (Eds). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs Ninth Edition (pp. 471-475). New York: Pearson.
Skinner, David. (2010). The Homework Wars. In Forrest W. Parkay, Glenn Hass &, Eric J. Anctil (Eds). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs Ninth Edition (pp. 487-493). New York: Pearson.
Parkay, Forrest W., Hass, Glen, & Anctil, Eric J. (2010). Middle-Level Curricula. In Forrest W. Parkay, Glenn Hass &, Eric J. Anctil (Eds). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs Ninth Edition (pp. 466-470). New York: Pearson.
Yecke, Cheri Pierson. (2010). Mayhem in the Middle: Why We Should Shift to K-8. In Forrest W. Parkay, Glenn Hass &, Eric J. Anctil (Eds). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs Ninth Edition (pp. 476-482). New York: Pearson.