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by Janet A. Hale and Michael Fisher
Table of Contents
Working with you … allowed this movie to be the truest version of what it would be.
—J. J. Abrams
—J. J. Abrams
J. J. Abrams's observation (Jensen, 2011) about his collaboration with Steven Spielberg on their film Super 8 encapsulates what transforming curriculum involves: collaborating to create a curriculum that exceeds the originally planned version. Collaboration is not new. But in 21st century classrooms, there are new expectations for what collaborations should entail and aim toward.
Educators who design curriculum exemplify these new expectations. A curriculum map, a single unit of study, or a detailed instructional plan is the result of collaborative and collegial conversations and decision making (Hale & Dunlap, 2010). Teachers must ask hard questions based on their interpretation of standards, determination of big ideas and essential questions, and development of authentic performance tasks, all the while respecting others' thoughts and ideas, negotiating what to cut and what to keep (and why), and determining what is in students' best interests.
This chapter lays a foundation on which the next three chapters build, explaining what teachers need to do as they begin the collaborative process of upgrading curriculum one unit at a time. To create modern-learning environments, educators cannot function as if they are preparing students for 1982 (Jacobs, 2010). When teachers begin transforming curriculum, they must
A teacher who aims to transform curriculum must first consider which orbits of ability are necessary to upgrade a particular unit of study. An orbit of ability is a given person's knowledge and talent, or expertise. When one person moves into another person's orbit of ability, his or her knowledge and capabilities grow (see Figure 1.1). Every teacher has his or her own orbit or orbits of ability that others can learn from. Accessing orbits of ability can take place during any interaction with colleagues, friends, family members, or even a new acquaintance.
The most effective way for teachers to ensure that their orbits' edges touch is to work together purposefully to improve one another's capabilities. The more orbits of ability that overlap, the greater the degree of professional growth. As the isolated orbit in Figure 1.1 demonstrates, a person may have an expertise that he or she is not willing to share. In modern-learning (and modern-teaching) environments, someone who chooses not to share his or her expertise will eventually have difficulty functioning in the workplace.
During the curriculum transformation process, it is imperative that participants feel comfortable admitting when they do not know necessary information or lack certain abilities. Teachers must be given social and emotional permission to be learners with their colleagues and administrators. The teachers responsible for transforming a unit of study need to seek out the people whose orbits of ability are required to upgrade the unit. These experts will vary depending on the unit's content, task, and purpose. The transformational snapshots in Part 2 provide nine examples of educators seeking out orbits of ability to aid them in upgrading their units of study.
Active participation in a well-functioning professional learning community (PLC) has proven to help improve student learning (DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2005). This is true for those involved in Internet-based collaborations as well. Educators can connect and interact online with fellow educators through digital learning networks (DLNs) using social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Diigo, and ASCD EDge. If your school site or district filters social networking sites, consider using a personal computer or device to network after school hours until Internet access policies change.
In the 21st century, geographical location has become inconsequential to networking, sharing, collaborating, organizing, and creating. The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy (NGA Center & CCSSO, 2010a) expect modern classrooms to emulate students' eventual workplace settings, "in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together" (p. 7). If we want our students to one day be able to learn and work with colleagues from widely divergent cultures, we must model these expectations in the educational workplace. Educators need to communicate effectively with others for specific tasks and purposes, evaluate others' points of view constructively and respectfully, and collaboratively transform professional practice using technology and web-based tools strategically and capably.
Active networking through DLNs increases teachers' access to orbits of ability when they are brainstorming or planning an upgraded unit of study. For example, a small group of teachers working with an instructional coach we know asked the coach to help them brainstorm alternatives to having their students create a traditional diorama. The instructional coach immediately logged in to her Twitter account using her mobile device and sent a tweet to inquire whether anyone had any innovative alternative ideas. Within minutes, multiple responses appeared that provided a wide variety of suggestions and links to resources. The instructional coach and the group of teachers immediately used this instantaneous information to develop a wiki at www.wikispaces.com.
Linda Darling-Hammond (1997) reminds educators that "the challenge of ensuring success for all students requires teachers and school leaders to work and learn collaboratively, reflect on their practice, and continually expand their knowledge and skills" (p. 15). Getting involved in DLNs is one way to rise to the challenge of collaborating professionally and expanding our knowledge and understanding.
Whether you collaborate on curriculum transformation in person or virtually, it is helpful to have a visual reference that represents the four categories of potential upgrade, or upgrade zones. The transformational matrix (see Figure 1.2) classifies these upgrade zones according to the degree of their impact on student learning and engagement.
The transformational matrix is not meant to convey that the outcomes of an upgraded unit of study are neat and clean and fit perfectly into one of four boxes. When teachers are asked, "What constitutes a positive impact on learning and engagement?" answers will vary depending on teachers' personal and professional experiences as well as on the school or district's collaboration history and current culture. Here is what each upgrade zone looks like in action:
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