Understanding what makes a curriculum “work” and being able to design quality curricula are part of being an effective teacher. As a public educator, I am called to constantly evaluate the curricula I am given or mandated to teach and adapt or supplement in order to meet my students’ needs. I met Standard 9, Evaluate and Use Effective Curriculum Design, throughout the Curriculum Design course and the entirety of the Teacher Leadership program.
Before EDU6524 Curriculum Design, I had never created a unit plan such depth and thought before. I planned and taught organized lessons, and series of lessons, but didn’t really think to teach in units. I see now that there were times when I gave an assessment that wasn’t directly aligned to the standard I was assessing, nor did the students know what they were trying to achieve. EDU6524 has pushed me to apply what I’ve learned in EDU6526 Instructional Strategies, EDU6613 Standards-Based Assessment, and EDU6525 Culturally Responsive Teaching to develop a unit plan that is rigorous, well-aligned to standards, and that invites all students to learn.
I evaluated curricula I currently use in my teaching position. I realized that every curriculum has strengths and weaknesses and that designing a strong curriculum was no easy task. I learned how to build a curriculum map, using standards, learning targets, and engagement and assessment strategies. The image below shows my curriculum map.
The template allowed me to brainstorm in an organized way. Once I had dissected the standard on this map, I was ready to apply my ideas from the curriculum map to design a full unit plan.
In order to design a rigorous curriculum that would align standards, instruction, and assessment, I read professional literature about curriculum design, planning, and implementation to guide my process. To break down the standard into “bite-sized” pieces, I organized daily learning targets in a Progression of Learning. Each learning target is carefully linked to an assessment. My toolkit of assessment strategies expanded widely this quarter. I incorporated ideas from Paula Rutherford’s book, Instruction for All Students, as well as Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment. These two sources are chalk full of specific strategies for engaging students, promoting self-regulation, peer and self-assessment, and using assessment meaningfully. This quarter, I’ve also done research on the importance of sharing learning expectations with students. In order to share the learning progression with students, I created a Student Learning and Assessment Tracking Sheet that students will use to assess their own learning throughout the unit. This way, students will know where they are headed and be engaged in the learning by setting personal goals, tracking progress, and making decisions about their next steps. Wiliam supports this strategy by urging teachers to “use every opportunity to transfer executive control of the learning from the teacher to the students to support their development as autonomous learners” (2011, p.152). This tracking sheet, along with individual student reading journals, are just one way I plan to assess student learning in this unit.
In my Assessment Plan, you’ll see that I embed a variety of assessment strategies, including selected- response, constructed-response, and performance-based assessment. I used Ainsworth’s advice (2010), to “determine exactly what it is you want to find out, what it is you want the assessment to do, and why you are administering the assessment in the first place” (p.137). This was a big “aha” for me. In the past, I have taken precious time to give assessments that did not provide me with valuable information. Moving forward, I will be much more aware of my intentions behind any assessment I give and make choices mindfully. In my unit plan, I included opportunities for collaborative work and peer feedback, because, according to Wiliam’s research (2011), “peer tutoring can, under the right circumstances, generate more effective learning than would be possible with one adult for every student because of the change in power relationships” (p.135).
When developing my Differentiation Plan, I kept in mind the specific types of students I work with. I tried to create challenge for all learners, while making the learning accessible and exciting for all learners. I used Dack and Tomlinson’s suggestion to “offer students choices of ways to work,…help students reflect on which ways of working serve them best,…and encourage students to try new approaches to learning so they expand their repertoire of learning strategies” (2015, p.14). Throughout the unit I designed, students are asked to reflect in reading journals about which strategies are working for them.
Creating the unit plan was a fluid process, and the unit plan itself went through various changes. Throughout the course, I received detailed feedback from my instructor on my unit plan so far. Her comments, questions, and suggestions helped me to think critically about my work and pushed me to consider aspects I hadn’t thought about. I also had the opportunity to provide feedback on a peer’s unit plan and receive feedback from him on mine. This was eye-opening to see the different styles we used and we gave each other helpful ideas to expand our unit plans by adding in more technology tools and peer-assessment strategies.
As a result of my learning, I will be a more effective teacher because I will have a clear vision of where I am heading in my instructional plan. Developing a Year-Long Pacing Guide helped me to reflect on how the unit I created could fit into the year in a logical way. Knowing what needs to be taught prior to a unit and after a unit is critical for student success. In my situation, teaching intervention groups, I am not handed a full curriculum to use. I do not follow a pacing guide and I am not expected to cover a standard amount of skills in a year. Instead, I teach each group of students individually, based on their specific reading needs. This is both a freedom and a challenge. Because I am often creating units without a set curriculum, this course was extremely helpful in guiding that process. I now have a deeper understanding of the essential components of a quality unit plan.
I have learned how to use an unwrapped standard as the backbone of a unit plan. As seen in my Reading Fluency Unit Plan, I have learned how to align the learning progression goals, instructional strategies, and assessment plan, to support the achievement of that standard. However, I feel I have just scratched the surface of the learning I have yet to do. Handler (2010) says, “to meet the diverse needs represented in each classroom, curriculum leadership requires an ability to recognize the need for the best design and implementation techniques of a broad range of instructional variations,” (p.34) and “curriculum decision-making is a time consuming and complex ask that requires substantial depth and breadth of understanding of the educational enterprise” (p.37). I plan to continue to deepen my understanding of curriculum design throughout my career and share what I know with my colleagues as a teacher leader.
Ainsworth, L. (2010). Rigorous curriculum design: How to create curricular units of study that align standards, instruction, and assessment. Englewood, Colorado: The Leadership and Learning Center.
Dack, H. & Tomlinson, C.A. (2015). Inviting all students to learn. Educational Leadership, 11-15.
Handler, B. (2010). Teacher as curriculum leader: A consideration of the appropriateness of that role assignment to classroom-based practitioners. International Journal of Teacher Leadership, 3(3), 32-39.
Rutherford, P. (2008). Instruction for all students. Alexandria, Virginia: Just ASK Publications.
Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree Press.