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Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping

Edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Table of Contents

Chapter 10. Curriculum Mapping as a Hub: Integrating New Forms of Data, Decision-Making Structures, and Staff Development

by Heidi Hayes Jacobs

We go to too many meetings in education. We educators have so much to accomplish and so many pressures that it is understandable why school leaders perpetually organize groups and subgroups of people to solve the problems. A school district might have an assessment committee, a scheduling committee, a standards committee, a philosophy committee, and myriad curriculum committees. The groups meet separately, although clearly each group's mission depends on all the other areas. The illusion is that somehow final decisions will seamlessly link with the findings from the committees. One contributing factor to this disarray is the lack of a centralized hub for information and data. The diffusion model creates confusion. Curriculum mapping can become a hub to focus the most critical efforts and to shed those that are extraneous to student progress. The electronic nature of communication changes both the time and the space needed for meetings. We can meet flexibly using the Internet.

Curriculum maps have the potential to become the hub for making decisions about teaching and learning. Focusing the barrage of initiatives and demands on schools into a central database that can be accessed from anywhere through the Internet can provide relief. Schools can have a common electronic town square to bring all the players together. By fusing assessment data with mapping data, we are producing new types of knowledge to give us new types of instructional solutions. Mapping becomes an integrating force to address not only curriculum issues, but also programmatic ones. It is easy to ask a district, “What initiatives from your state or school could be integrated and handled directly through mapping?” Responses often include No Child Left Behind legislation, alignment with standards, literacy programs, and new math programs. Mapping gives a team of educators a central forum and a place to reach into each classroom. At the same time, the team can step back and see the wide-angle view about dealing with new demands.

In this chapter, I will identify key causes for fragmentation in our institutions and will make a case for the “hub effect.” I will suggest ways to rethink decision-making structures, integrate data, and create powerful staff development responses. The center of the wheel is a grounding force that holds the spokes together and allows for forward movement. The continual complaints about too many initiatives, too little time, and too much waste for too few results will drain a school's energy. With commitment and imagination, mapping can become a liberating solution to some of those perpetual problems.

Some Causes for Fragmented Decision Making?

Extreme tendencies emerge in the way districts and schools handle information under the duress of helping students perform. In workshops, I have often asked participants to draw a flowchart that shows the participant's perception of the current way that curriculum decisions are actually being made and how they reach students. The directions are these: “Note the external and internal forces and groups that affect classroom curriculum decisions. Be sure to include how (and if) assessment data affect the curriculum's decision-making process.” It is fascinating to see the wide range of responses that emerge from a group of educators who are from the same location when they respond to that protocol.

Obviously, curriculum comes from somewhere, whether it is dictated by a state education department or constructed by learners. Following the flow of decision making in educational settings reveals the inadequacies of our current decision-making schemes. One extreme is that decisions are made in the isolation of the teacher's classroom. Feeling pummeled by the outside pounding of tests and standards, a teacher can easily hide and simply turn to the immediacy of the classroom. It is not surprising that many teachers burrow in their rooms with all that they know about their students. There is no place to take the information.

The other extreme is district overdrive, oversight, and Orwellian control. A conforming mentality toward standardization hides the real agenda of fear. We are afraid that we cannot meet the needs of the learners, so at least we will control everything that we can. The tendency toward a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach is also understandable.

District leadership feels just as pummeled by the outside pressure of tests and standards, and local taxpayers are at the gates. The reaction to state, national, and local assessment data is often to form another committee or, in a broad fashion, to throw a workshop at the general areas of concern for teachers. If we step back, it is clear that the intentions are worthy, but they are not formally connected with the ongoing daily experience of students actually receiving instruction over the years. A meticulous point–counterpoint diagnosis and a prescription linking assessment data and the curriculum are a rarity.

We need a decision-making alternative, because students are the victims of those extreme tendencies. Curriculum mapping shifts the flow of information and the means of presenting the information. It allows for the elimination of extraneous and needless committees. It provides a focal point at the site for all who are concerned with a specific group of learners. Because mapping programs house all tiers of data needed in a school, mapping does, indeed, become an integrating hub. The integration model creates clarity. It does not eliminate conflict in decision making, but rather it focuses conflict into productive discussion and debate. Perhaps one of the reasons for anger and frustration in our schools centers around people who are working very hard but in isolation. With a new level of integrated and dynamic data, schools can begin to plan and to create schedules and structures that support cumulative decision-making patterns.

Hub for a 21st Century School: Cumulative Decision Making

With mapping data being electronic, fluid, and accessible to everyone through the Internet, a new kind of decision-making structure is not only possible but also crucial. But if mapping is superimposed on an old decision-making structure, there is a culture clash. It is a clash between a 21st-century data format and a 19th-century committee structure. What is needed is a forward-looking structure that is based on the actual pattern and flow of the student population.

In Mapping the Big Picture: Integrating Curriculum and Assessment K–12 (Jacobs, 1997a), the chapter titled “A Case for the Elimination of Curriculum Committees” seemed a logical outgrowth of the mapping process. Now, after years of working with schools on mapping, it is clear that we need to refocus school decision-making structures so I can enable schools to design for the future. When schools move toward developing site-based teaching and learning councils, they can effectively use a new form of data through a curriculum map. With a more streamlined form for deliberation and a more dynamic database to consider, schools are poised to deliver a higher level of instruction. In fact, when old-style curriculum committees and diffused decision patterns from the past attempt to use contemporary data through maps, there can be paralysis. Maps can become interesting forms of information that have no place to go. Mapping can become “one more thing we have to deal with in our district.” The reverse is also true. If an effective decision-making structure uses old forms of data, then the resulting decisions are more likely to be flawed because the source information is not accurate. In short, form and function need to match.

Curriculum mapping can provide the hub for effective decision making as teachers enter ongoing data, review those data with other teachers who share their students, and take apart assessment data to find clues to what students need. Stepping back from our traditional, or in some instances antiquated, scheduling formats is a natural outgrowth of mapping. Practical questions emerge, such as who should be meeting with whom.

In a nutshell, often the wrong people are meeting together with the wrong information and are often inadvertently creating the very gaps they wish to eliminate in a child's journey through school. The following guiding questions can help organize a school that is armed with an active electronic database:

  • Who should be meeting with whom to maximize student learning?
  • What existing committees could be eliminated?
  • How might our schedule be rethought to support communication between the right people?
  • When can electronic meetings effectively replace appointment-based committee work?

We need to structure the school setting to promote focused teaching and learning. When a school or district has worked for several years in the mapping process, a natural need emerges to streamline the three primary structures of a school to support better communication. The following three key programmatic structures house curriculum and instruction:

  • Schedule (daily, annual, long-term)
  • Grouping of students (within classrooms, throughout the institution, and by class size)
  • Grouping of personnel (into teams, departments, and roles)

The decisions made about how those structures are shaped have a direct effect on curriculum, assessment, and instruction. The habituated routine of working within burdensome structures shackles efforts to grow an enriched curriculum.

Let us return to the question of, “Who is meeting with whom?” What becomes clear is that we are not necessarily meeting with the right people to enhance learning. It becomes equally clear that decisions about the structure of the schedule make optimum meeting times prohibitive. When I visit elementary schools across the country, it is clear that most schools have schedules orchestrated to enable grade-level teachers to meet together. Those meetings are the most frequent, common, and exclusive focus of planning in elementary schools. The 3rd grade teachers meet together regularly, if not daily. This fact is disturbing when considering the potential effect on Johnny. Why have people meeting regularly, if not daily, who do not share the same group of students? A student moves from kindergarten to 1st to 2nd to 3rd grade, not across 3rd grade. It is understandable that 3rd grade teachers can benefit from periodic shared experiences, but careful planning rarely occurs on an ongoing basis along the actual path the student follows. I am not saying that this is an either/or situation, but currently it is extreme in most of our schools.

Consider high school. The rarest meeting is for all teachers who teach the same students in the ninth grade to sit together and actually examine their students' work. However, the actual pattern involving freshman students is to progress from teacher to teacher. The schedule is designed to ensure that department meetings occur all the time. Again, as in the elementary example, there is a purpose for meeting periodically in a department, but students actually need much greater communication between the chain of care among the teachers who are responsible for their days in school. In short, the wrong people meet too often and with the wrong information.

When one works in a business, the usual protocol is to identify a problem and to determine the best grouping of people to solve the problem. Education is a business—the growth business. It cultivates the growth of our learners, translates the growth of new knowledge, and builds professional growth.

Vertical Planning Teams at the Elementary Level

Who should meet together? When one considers the needs of students at different stages during their journey through school, ongoing vertical meetings in elementary schools make good sense. In the precious early years of schooling, students need to have their preK–2 teachers meeting and sharing regularly. Currently, they do not meet. An event mentality is when teachers meet twice a year on a professional day. On those days, the one group of teachers who really could make a big difference in helping students learn to read spend two hours in a “breakout” meeting after a keynote session in the auditorium. Students who are showing early signs of struggle in developing language capacity can be red-flagged by the vertical group. Performance data, coupled with teacher observation material, can serve to inform curriculum adjustments on the map in a cumulative decision-making pattern.

These are the key years—the most important years—for building literacy, and yet most of our schools are not organized to provide regular, ongoing review of student progress among the team that is most likely to make these key years productive. With mapping data, the review teams have immediate access to ongoing documentation. When a grade-level meeting is warranted or scheduled, the same maps will assist the value of periodic sharing among grade-level teachers in terms of developing strategies to more effectively do their jobs.

Cross-Disciplinary Review Teams in High Schools

Just as it is desirable for elementary teachers to meet regularly in a vertical pattern to help monitor student progress over time and across grades, it is also true for high school teachers to meet frequently in a horizontal pattern across subjects. In a high school students have a group of teachers each day; they do not attend a department. As stated, the rarest of meetings, for example, is for all people who teach 9th grade to be in one room together, although school is Johnny's experience.

Nonetheless, departments do have a prominent and crucial role in planning and preparing curriculum work, but they need to clarify what that role is and what it is not. If a physics teacher is concerned about performance but meets on a regular basis only with the science department, then an obvious gap develops. A key variable when determining reasoning in physics is the student's mathematical conceptual understanding of equations. With mapping, teachers in math and science can have immediate electronic access to a warehouse of data about the vertical route from middle school into high school in both the sciences and mathematics. With many on the high school staff concerned about reading and writing strategies, working in departmental fortresses will be insufficient as a solution. Site-based work on the curriculum council provides an opportunity to make alterations on maps across a grade level. Again, cumulative decision-making patterns should sustain and follow the actual path of the learner through school.

A Medical Meeting Analogy

There is a natural medical analogy when discussing curriculum mapping and meetings. If a patient is admitted to the hospital for surgery, who among the professionals should meet to give the best possible care? Who should meet to work toward ultimate recovery and health? The best interest of the patient is served when the surgeon works with the chain of care—from the internal medicine physician, to the receiving nurse, to the anesthesiologist, to the pulmonary specialist, to the nutritionist.

In short, decisions must be made among the actual people who are going to attend to the patient's needs. Certainly surgeons require and depend on professional dialogue with their surgeon peer group. Yet, no hospital would schedule most of its time for those meetings at the expense of having the people meet who share the same patients. One place where there is no opportunity for thoughtful planning and preparation is the emergency room, where medical personnel know almost nothing about the prior record or experience of each arriving patient. There is an urgent, anxious tone to the set of decisions that must be made quickly without benefit of a strong understanding of the patient's experience. Sometimes it seems as if we give an emergency room education, because we have so little good information about our learners.

We should not accede the decision-making authority to habitual formats such as grade level or department groupings. Neither should we send it to a distant galaxy of committees far from the child in the classroom. Nor should we encourage the micro-management isolationism of one teacher out of the many whom each student will deal with. Our clear and sensible alternative is to vest the greatest authority to the collection of teachers at the site who can actually make a difference when acting collectively. Site-based teaching and learning councils coupled with an active electronic database of curriculum maps and assessment data can replace our old way of working and can become the decision-making hub.

Targeted Work Groups Versus Eternal Committees

Task forces with targeted projects can be organized flexibly to respond to specific emerging needs. When the work of a task force is completed, it is disbanded. Task forces are different from the rigidly formed committees that often have little contact with one another. When specific concerns emerge from a mapping review, a study group can be formed to examine problems. It works at the behest of the site-based council or the district cabinet. Building councils and district cabinets establish a task force to become a targeted work group to pursue pertinent research and to develop solutions. The task force members should include a collection of people who will be best suited to address problems. Sometimes this grouping means people who are not in the same department.

In short, educators should go only to those meetings that they need to attend and should have the best data available. We should not go to meetings of committees out of habit. A flexible and goal-oriented group is possible through the electronic accessibility of a curriculum map. In the past, it was not easy to establish problem-responsive working groups, because there was no immediate access to centralized data. Technology is challenging us to rethink not only paper and pencil outcomes, but also the very way we organize to wrestle with organizational formats and systems.

Time Lines for Developing Site-Based Teaching and Learning

The commitment to curriculum mapping is labor intensive during the start-up year. Curriculum mapping can be a demanding process as a school shifts to a new form of documenting and reviewing practices. Thus, I would suggest that moving to site-based curriculum councils will evolve during the second year of mapping. Overloading the system burns fuses. However, during the first year, the planning team is wise to begin looking ahead to prepare for a more efficient decision-making structure. The planning team can begin by asking and gathering information in response to the following questions:

  • Who currently meets with whom and for what purpose?
  • What are the actual teacher patterns our students follow over the day and over the years?
  • What number of teachers might constitute a representative site council?
  • How often should we meet to help our learners?
  • What types of in-person meetings that we now have could be replaced with electronic meetings?
  • What might the job description be for the council?
  • Should the council positions rotate?
  • What committees can we shed?
  • What task forces or study teams might be good to begin assisting the council?

The natural outgrowth of this self-examination is that schools will rethink the time, content, and direction of staff development. Not only can the hub effect create more integrated decision-making functions, but also it can, in turn, create more sophisticated, nuanced, and productive staff development.

A Hub for Designing Differentiated Staff Development

Step back and look at the range of people in any given faculty, and you will see a range of professional needs and possibilities. Cookie-cutter instruction for students doesn't work for professionals either. Too many states and districts require a certain number of in-service credits for “just-show-up-and-prove-you-have-a-pulse” experiences. The time, money, and effort that are poured into staff development need an upgrade too. Curriculum mapping in conjunction with site-based teaching and learning councils gives schools a chance to move to a dynamic type of staff development.

We should be developing our staff on the basis of what the students in the school need the staff to develop. As noted in Chapter 9 of this book, our analysis of assessment data should give the site-based council a clear direction for professional development. Teacher growth should clearly correspond to student growth. Staff development should be matched to demonstrable gains in student performance. Individual teacher needs vary within schools, and staff development can and should focus on what individual teachers need so they can address the precise student performance gaps in a school.

Instead of pro forma staff development, where each teacher takes arbitrary credits through a college or in-service program, professional development should be targeted precisely toward what the teachers need in their schools (See appendixes 8 and 9 for examples of targeted staff development plans). This philosophy means that different teachers are likely to be functioning at different levels of expertise. Obviously, if a group of teachers needs technology skills to enable the group to map, then staff development should help the group do so. If a group of teachers has had limited experience in writing curriculum, then staff development can help that group. If there is a need for learning about item analysis of testing data, then the teachers who need this work should be participating. We should think imaginatively about venues for professional development.

Online courses can appear right on a map that might assist teachers in their work. For example, a science department chair might direct a group of teachers to a PBS Concept to Classroom course on WebQuests to update and improve the quality of the group's investigative work. The hyperlink could appear right on the teachers' maps (see Curriculum Mapping Resources, pp. 170–171).

One-size-fits-all staff development may cause faculty defections. Teachers have different backgrounds and competencies for different purposes, yet sometimes our professional development is too uniform. Adult professionals resent attending workshops that do not match their needs. Adult professionals also recognize that there are always new practices and new knowledge to learn. Consider an example when a school elects to take on curriculum mapping. Following the prologue planning stage, the planners and faculty members are ready to enter data into their maps. Two distinctive skills are requisite for successful data entry: proficiency and experience with writing and designing curriculum, and ease and competence with computer usage. If we look at Figure 10.1 and use a quadrant model for the two aforementioned skills, the school leadership can start to get a handle on how to set up appropriately targeted strategies for staff development.

Fig. 10.1. Differentiated Staff Development: Data Entry on Maps

Note that teachers in Quadrant 1 have high competence in curriculum writing but are novices at the computer. Does it not make good sense that they could use computer lab time to get help in transferring their curriculum work to the computer? This approach would be in contrast to those teachers in Quadrant 2 who are capable of “taking off” with mapping by virtue of their curriculum experience and computer knowhow. A straightforward demonstration of data entry will likely suffice. Those teachers in Quadrant 3 are likely to be individuals who are new to teaching but are very comfortable with technology. There is even the possibility of pairing these teachers with those in Quadrant 1. The final group probably is struggling on many fronts and will need particular care and attention from staff developers.

In short, staff development grouping and strategies should support the needs of the professionals in a school. Whether training comes through a workshop, an online course, a videoconference, a site visit, a study group, a conference, a peer coaching session, or a mentor, mapping can serve as a common reference point for participants. For example, Susan Udelhofen and Kathy Larson (2002) have made a tremendous contribution in their writing by linking curriculum mapping to the mentoring process. They have helped us structure experiences for new teachers during the mentoring year, and they advocate the use of curriculum maps to foster communication between the new teacher and the mentor. Some schools are even mapping the mapping process, as well as mapping professional development plans. Many new teachers use projected maps as a planning tool with mentors, as do preservice teachers in their coursework at universities.

When schools take on exciting professional development programs, such as Understanding by Design (UBD; Wiggins & McTighe, 1998), Dimensions of Learning (Marzano, 1992), Concept-Based Curriculum (Erickson, 1998), or Differentiated Instruction (Tomlinson, 1999), mapping not only provides, but also beckons, the integration of those programs into the maps. The actual templates of maps suggest the inclusion of those instructional features. For example, lesson and unit templates in UBD can be plugged into the lesson planner section of the map. Key concepts at the basis of curriculum planning would be entered in the content and essential question entry points. With Differentiated Instruction, we click on the map and place a tab that says “differentiated instruction” and “go deeper” into our lesson plans as we document the grouping of learners and the corresponding instructional adjustments that have been made. In this way the map is a literal hub for initiatives.

In their timely book on transforming school culture, Zmuda, Kuklis, and Kline (2004) detail the power of forging connections between UBD and curriculum mapping to promote a “more complex, richer conception or curriculum”:

When school staff have a more informed conception of curriculum, a teacher's daily decisions about how to deliver instruction not only affect student achievement in that classroom but also future student achievement, for it is assumed that students will be entering the next classroom prepared to handle a more sophisticated or more expansive level of work. (p. 122)

A Hub for Planning Future Directions with New Data

Speed is not the only advantage that technology provides to educational decision making. Merging data sources will help us create new knowledge, as Kallick and Wilson tell us in Chapter 7 of this book. This new knowledge can give us new solutions, and we will need corresponding new directions for staff development. In the future, curriculum mapping and its electronic format can lead us toward including a focus on student curriculum maps, where learners can document their own progress and can communicate that progress to teachers. Homework from the teacher's map to the student's map seems a logical outgrowth. With the increase in bandwidth and the access to a wide array of media, it is easy to envision assignments given in direct reference to documentary footage or videoconferencing and netcam interviews. Parents can be involved with direct communication as they relate to the map that assists in describing the path the student is on during the school year. There will be more access to technology, not less, in the future, and the access itself will be easier, more reliable, and more imaginative.

Unquestionably, the future will bring wireless and compact hardware, which will promote easy access to maps from any location. In the near future, the map will be a traveling hub. We will be able to communicate not only with colleagues in our schools and districts, but also with colleagues across learning communities. Web site resources exist today that link teachers all over the world. Those links will continue to proliferate.

A vivid moment occurred during a trip when I was changing flights at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. As I was walking to my gate, I saw a familiar-looking gentleman typing furiously away on his laptop as he waited for a flight. He looked up and smiled. He was a high school social studies teacher from a district in which I had worked in the past. He said, “Hey, look at this. Here I am at O'Hare mapping away!” It is true that with the access and ease that the Internet has brought, we have new work habits and transportable offices. As I look ahead 10 years, it is exciting to contemplate what that social studies teacher will be working on at O'Hare, as well as what kind of plane he will be flying in.

Even as these pages are written, our students are growing into adults who will create new solutions to world problems. We owe it to them to join the 21st century and to focus our work. Curriculum mapping not only provides us with a hub for focusing our current efforts, but also provides us with a tool to launch curriculum plans for our students' futures.


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