Friday, December 10, 2010

You Drive Curriculum Development (Not the Textbook Companies)

Five-year curriculum revision plans frame a district’s efforts to implement the most current research-proven programs in the classroom on a regular basis. Vision building should be step one in the process (what is often referred to as the “research phase” of the five-year plan). Curriculum committees should have a clear understanding of their expectations for students upon exit of each grade level and should develop consensus on the instructional philosophy that will guide their curriculum development in year two of the five-year plan. With this vision firmly in place, curriculum teams can meet with textbook representatives to review the packaged wares publishing companies sell knowing how the textbook programs will support their expectations and instructional approach to delivering the content. Task your committee to develop a vision for the program so that the program drives the selection and adoption of a textbook program (not the other way around).
This is what the vision development process looks like:
1. Start by generating conversation with your group around a common concern. Have a “snowball fight.” Each member of the committee should write a question about curriculum development on a sheet of paper. Questions can range from “What is curriculum?” to “How will we write curriculum?” Next, crumple the papers into balls and have them throw the balls at each other. Pick up the questions thrown and encourage everyone to do his/her best to provide answers. Moderate and clarify when necessary.
2. Tell your group what you expect of them before they leave. Point out that you want them to forge their vision so they can be better informed during the textbook review and adoption process. Explain that the vision they will craft will be based on two things they would have to accomplish: development of a list of skills they expected their students to master by the end of each grade or program and the group’s instructional philosophy.
3. Brief your group on the national and state trends that may influence their development of student expectations. Speak about the Common Core Standards and provide everyone with charts that illustrate the relationship between the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards (in my case) and the Common Cores.
4. Provide the group with blank charts, poster paper and markers and task everyone with developing an action plan to create the “mastery skills lists.” If you set a trusting and collaborative tone to the meeting, the group will take ownership over the process by identifying what everyone would have to do to accomplish the “mission.”
5. Discuss instructional philosophy by having everyone “carousel” through three pieces of poster paper taped to the walls. Each poster should contain an approach to teaching (i.e. learning facts through practice, using real-world application to teach concepts, etc.). Members of the group should place post-it note explanations on the posters, explaining their position on the instructional approaches.
6. Debrief the carousel activity by finding trends among the post-it note comments and then forge a philosophy statement based on the trends.
Curriculum committees should steer the course of curriculum development. It is easy to let textbook companies drive the vision for programs that should really “taste” like the “flavors” of the local community and the expert teachers responsible for implementing the programs. Knowing what is expected of studentsandteachers before adopting a program will go a long way in finding the right match for the district and the publishing company.

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