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September 1, 2010
Vol. 68
No. 1

Among Colleagues

    Among Colleagues - thumbnail
      Q: As a curriculum specialist, I've learned to begin with the end in mind: What do I want students to understand when teachers have finished instruction? I also have to account for research, standards, scientific evidence, and diverse student needs. With so many priorities to address, the curriculum guide sometimes becomes the "everything bagel"—full of pages of information surrounding each skill. I don't want teachers to put these guides on the shelf because they don't have the time or energy to dig into them. What's the best way for me to provide the materials and lessons teachers and principals need without creating monster guides that no one will use?
      — Tracy Broccolino Manager, Connections Virtual Academy Baltimore, Maryland
      A: A good curriculum is more about what gets left out than what gets put in. The greatest curriculum gift I ever received was in my first year as a teacher, when I asked my 8th grade language arts partner, Cheryl, what I was supposed to teach. She replied, "Teach whatever you want. Just make sure they pass the test." Then she shared some of her units as well as some savvy advice about the skills kids needed to meet the North Carolina standards.
      I learned more from that freedom than I ever did from the many overstuffed curriculum binders that came my way. Everyone under the sun wants to tell teachers what to teach and how to teach it. But paint-by-number curriculum guides that specify every lesson from day one to the end of the school year are not the way to grow good teachers.
      My advice is to err on the side of Cheryl. Less is more. Give teachers a guide, not an "everything bagel." You might have a sample unit or two, maybe lots of examples, but stick to the big ideas. What we need is not the perfect curriculum guide, but teachers who are able to take the reins and design their own curriculums to meet the needs of the diverse students they teach.
      — Jen Morrison, Teacher Educator Newberry College Newberry, South Carolina
      As a teacher of the gifted and talented, I've been writing curriculum for my department for the last five years. During the summer, I freelance as a facilitator, and I was recently hired to present new curriculum enhancements to 275 teachers and instructional specialists for four days. Participants were given a three-ring binder filled to capacity with strategies, lesson plans, learning standards, research articles, and data. As I was showing the attendees how to navigate through the binder, I looked out over a sea of despondent faces and decided that I had to change gears or I would lose their attention and focus.
      We built the remainder of the session on the question, What does this look like in my classroom? By slowing down and learning the teachers' perspectives, we made the workshop much more useful.
      I take two lessons from this workshop experience. First, if we cut to the chase and focus on showing teachers how the curriculum would look in their classrooms, maybe we could chop the first 150 pages out of curriculum guides. Second, the staff development that supports the new curriculum is just as important as the curriculum itself. We have to address teachers' comfort level with the material. If we can make it happen for them in their minds, they can make the magic happen in their classrooms.
      — Michelle Neely, Teacher Henry B. Gonzales Elementary School Dallas, Texas

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