Simple Curricula Truth #1: Curricula developed at the state and/or federal level are almost ALWAYS stuffed with far more content than any teacher can possibly get through in the course of one school year.
Heck, one of my favorite Bob Marzano studies showed that it would take 23 years to adequately cover the standards in the K12 curricula.
Simple Curricula Truth #2: Simple truth #1 causes pretty much EVERY teacher to gloss over individual standards in their curriculum.
When there’s just NO WAY to get through everything, you do the best that you can to get through as much as you can and you pray that the rest isn’t on the end-of-grade tests.
In traditional schools, decisions about what to ditch when the time gets tight are made in isolation. Individual teachers cut things based on (1). what they know about their current groups of kids and/or (2). what they really like to teach.
Simple Curricula Truth #3: In a traditional school, simple truths #1 and #2 lead to a curricular nightmare. Students in different classes move from grade level to grade level knowing different things.
Need an example?
I ran out of time at the end of the last school year and glossed over the Solar System. Literally taught the whole thing through the lens of a few current events in the last weeks of school.
My colleague had plenty of time for the Solar System, though. Did a really cool unit as a matter of fact.
When I asked him how he managed to fit the entire thing in, he said, “I didn’t teach our heat unit. That left plenty of time for the Solar System.”
Something tells me that the seventh grade science teachers in our building are going to be THRILLED with us this year! Half of their students will be pros at heat and rubes at the Solar System, while the other half will be pros at the Solar System and rubes at heat!
That’s why having crucial conversations about what students should know and be able to do are such an important first step for professional learning teams.
When teachers sit down together at the BEGINNING of the school year and look carefully at their curriculum unit-by-unit, they can start to SYSTEMATICALLY decide on the content and skills that MUST be taught to every child in every class at every grade level.
More importantly, they can begin to SYSTEMATICALLY decide on the content and skills that they’re going to leave on the back-burner.
Rick DuFour calls this “organized abandonment” — and as scary as it sounds to make choices about what you’re NOT going to teach in your REQUIRED curriculum, it’s essential.
You see, the teachers on your teams are ALREADY abandoning content. Making those choices together gives the teachers in the next grade level a fighting chance with your kids next year. Instead of having entire teams with different bits of background knowledge, they’ll have entire teams with a relatively similar set of skills and abilities.
Simple Curricula Truth #4: Effective learning teams don’t “abandon” content without careful consideration of their kids and their classes.
Instead, they look at school-wide data sets, trying to identify knowledge and skills that their kids have already mastered. Just as importantly, they refer to the curriculum in previous grade levels and they give pretests to determine what has already been covered with some detail.
Doing so ensures that the choices made about the content and skills to be emphasized — and abandoned — are right for the students in their rooms.
Simple Curricula Truth #5: Your faculty probably needs to have a critical conversation about just how “guaranteed” and “viable” the curricula is in your building.
In a high-stakes world, most teachers and schools are incredibly uncomfortable with the notion of abandoning anything from our curricula no matter HOW impossible it is to teach.
So we keep up with the professional charade that every teacher will successfully march through the required curriculum without trouble and that every child — by default — will move from grade level to grade level with the same sets of knowledge and skills.
If you’re interested in starting a conversation about a guaranteed and viable curriculum in your building, these two handouts — which I whipped up for a staff-development session in my building — may help:
The first is a survey that is designed to be filled out by individual teachers. It asks specific questions that SHOULD help you to pinpoint teams that are struggling to develop and deliver a guaranteed and viable curriculum.
The second is a series of questions based on the great quotes about a guaranteed and viable curriculum found on pages 70-72 in Learning by Doing. In our faculty meeting, they served as conversation starters for small groups — and they generated quite a bit of discussion.
Simple Curricula Truth #6: I really do hope that this all helps somehow.