Teacher Leader Standard 9 states: Teacher leaders evaluate and use effective curriculum design. Previously, I felt confident in my skills around curriculum design, however, given the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and increased demands on teachers and students, the rigors of curriculum and unit design have drastically increased. I initially felt overwhelmed and despite my years of experience, I was doubting my abilities to step up to the new rigor. This course allowed me to apply my previous knowledge and experience while implementing new learning and standards into my unit planning all increasing my confidence and ability to use curriculum in an effective way.
The readings for this course were Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe and Curriculum 21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. The first text, Understanding by Design, gave us the format and method upon which to build our unit design.
I focused on the three stages of the backwards design model during my unit planning:
- Identify the results
- Determine acceptable evidence
- Plan learning experiences and instruction.
(Wiggins & McTighe, 2005)
By beginning with the end in mind. I started with identifying the CCSS and key understandings that my students should have following this unit. By creating the curriculum map seen here –
I could get the big ideas laid out first and move from there. I then looked at my unit assessment and decided to pick out how each question aligned to the standards that I want my students to achieve. I also looked at the target type. In Classroom Assessment for Student Learning, the authors break learnings targets (standards) into four types: Knowledge, Reasoning, Skill, or Product targets. Teachers should consider, “whether the content standard’s ultimate goal is the acquisition of knowledge, the development of reasoning capabilities, the demonstration of a physical skill, or the creation of a product.” (Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappuis, Arter, p. 61) I determined that all of the CCSS associated with my unit are asking for a reasoning level in order to reach the standard.
As I analyzed my learning targets and compared them with the questions on my unit exam I was surprised to find that what was being asked of the students on the unit exam were skills where they had to apply their knowledge and reasoning to create an equation. The exam was also very heavy in text which requires the students to apply reading comprehension skills as well as math skills to solve each problem. I do know that the math unit teaching covers the learning targets above and gives opportunity for the students to achieve a reasoning level of proficiency which is what is being asked of them in the CCSS. I have two ideas as to how to cover the gap between the learning target and what is being asked of them on the exam. One is to use a different assessment where the equations are given to the students and they have to use reasoning skills to determine the correct answer (multiple choice). Second, I can make sure that during the teaching of my unit I include ample opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and reasoning to create their own word problems and equations, there by moving the learning targets into the skill and product levels. This was the option that I decided to focus on.
Once my unit assessments were in place and aligned to the standards (steps 1 and 2 of UBD), I was able to move on to step 3 and plan my learning experiences and instruction. Formerly, this would have been my first step in the process, but my knowledge now of the backwards design method enabled me to plan activities and lessons which directly related to the outcomes I was expecting to achieve. The Final Unit Plan and Lesson Plans capture the standards and the scope and sequence of what will be taught, incorporating both formative and summative assessments in the process.
In order to fully plan my unit and make it relevant to my students, the readings in Curriculum 21 were key. The author, Heidi Hayes Jacobs gave us the “philosophical, theoretical, and historical aspects to curriculum design.” In the opening chapters of Curriculum 21, Jacobs makes a compelling argument for why and how we need to upgrade our curriculum to educate today’s generation. “You are making choices for the generation you are charged to nurture. You are making those choices now.” (p. 5) Jacobs poses a poignant question to us, “Do our students enter our schools and classrooms and feel like they have time traveled back to the 1980’s (or even earlier) and then at the end of the day do they feel they have returned to the 21st century?” (p. 7) She lays out how much of what we do in education is out of habit and historic patterns that were set up in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I reflected on my own practice and asked myself, “Does my classroom represent what I did in school or am I preparing these students for their future schooling and careers?” Although much of what I teach is the same (content), how I teach it and the tools I utilize with my students, especially in technology, are very different. The instructional strategies I use are something I never had as a student. In my elementary school, classrooms were quiet and not collaborative. Desks were in rows and lecture and recall of facts were the primary method of instruction and student work. Within my unit design I made sure to apply the instructional strategies and technology that would be relevant to my 21st century students.
One key aspect to my work was Curriculum Analysis. I chose to analyze the Third Grade math curriculum that my district uses, Envision math. In this analysis, I found that overall it is a sound and comprehensive program. However, I did see that there were issues in regards to too many text based questions which would alienate our ELL population and lower level readers. I also noted that this curriculum is a spiral based program and in my study of the CCSS I learned that it is a mastery based standards system. I researched further to analyze the alignment of Envision to the CCSS I found the following quote in one of their own publications –
Unlike many state curriculum frameworks, the Common Core State Standards do not present a spiral curriculum in which students revisit numerous topics from one year to the next with progressively more complex study. Rather, the CCSS identify a limited number of topics at each grade level, allowing enough time for students to achieve mastery of these concepts. The subsequent year of study builds on the concepts of the previous year. While some review of topics from earlier grades is appropriate and encouraged, the CCSS writers argue that reteaching of these topics should not be needed.
(Transitioning to Common Core Teacher Guide, Pearson Education, 2012)
It is clear to me that in a very spiral based curriculum such as Envision, meeting the standards to mastery will be difficult to accomplish if we continue planning and teaching as we have in the past. Further work in this area of curriculum alignment is needed by both the publisher of the curriculum, the district, and school based PLC teams. My PLC team will be looking at this closely this year to make the necessary instructional changes so that our students can meet the new standards and be prepared for fourth grade and beyond. As a result of the learning and experience gained in this course, I feel ready to meet this challenge and be able to lead my team in this important work.
In my future work as a principal, I know that my learning in TL Standard 9: Evaluating and Using Effective Curriculum Design, will be key to my work. As the instructional leader of my building, it is my responsibility to understand and drive this work and know how to support my staff in the important instruction they do in their classrooms each day. Having the background of Understanding By Design and planning with the end in mind, can be expanded to the whole school environment. Understanding how to set student end of year growth goals and work backwards to see those goal achieved is a vision I have for my future building staff. I eagerly anticipate this work in my future.
Charles, Randall I., Janet H. Caldwell, and Mary Cavanaugh. EnVisionMath Common Core. Glenview, IL: Pearson Education, 2012. Print.
Jacobs, Heidi Hayes. Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2010. Print.
Harvard Family Research Project – http://www.hfrp.org/
Stiggins, Richard J., Judith A. Arter, Jan Chappuis, and Stephen Chappuis. Classroom
Assessment for Student Learning: Doing It Right — Using It Well. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2007. Print.
Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005. Print.