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The word “curriculum,” as it pertains to education, can include everything from the materials used to teach our students to the planned learning experiences. If we think of the Common Core standards as the academic destination for our students (the “what” we want them to know and be able to do), our curriculum is the vehicle for getting them there. However, teachers are often asked to do too much when it comes to curriculum design and planning.
At my school, we use Lucy Calkins Units of Study to plan our English/language arts units. However, many units we are expected to cover do not have any unit plans written. Because we use the Understanding by Design format for unit planning, there is a lot of work required to produce a coherent curriculum for the year. This year, my team and I have to write seven of the nine units for the year. Not only do we have to read each of the Lucy tomes, but we must also align standards to the units vertically and horizontally.
The amount of work this requires is astronomical and way beyond the bounds of what we have time for in a weekly PLC meeting. This leaves us doing an extreme amount of work during prep periods and on the weekends. Although in-depth curriculum planning and standards alignment is a reality of many teachers in many school districts, it shouldn't be.
Why? First of all, although many of us took curriculum development courses in college, these courses aren't sufficient enough for the magnitude of training that is necessary to successfully plan a coherent curriculum, not to mention the amount of time that this requires. Some districts have entire curriculum teams that do this work, so why are so many of us still being expected to do it alone?
During the school year, I don’t have time to sit down with all grade levels to make sure the standards we are covering align with what is being taught and to what extent in each of the grades. It is an impossible task to do for even one unit, let alone an entire year of unplanned units. Because we don’t have a curriculum team doing this extensive work, we have no idea if what we are teaching is serving our students through the grade levels.
And who can blame us? We can't memorize the standards for every grade and there isn't enough time for every single person to collaborate with everyone else in all grade levels. Many curriculum guides (like the Lucy Calkins units) are extremely wordy and can’t just be followed with ease like a Math curriculum. In the Lucy units, the goal behind the lessons is often convoluted, buried in a variety of skills in one single lesson. After all of the backward planning is done and we are on the last step of actually writing out the lessons (which we have to write as scripted), we have a lot of heavy reading to do for each lesson, especially if we want the lesson to be quality.
One unit alone is enough reading material for an entire month without all of the other tasks that it requires to create a unit that is aligned for the entire year, especially if none of the other units are written. With little group planning time, this makes it even harder to make sure every teacher in the grade is on the same page. This is a lot of work to do on the fly, and it can lead people to feel like they are being stretched in too many directions, not able to do any one aspect of their job to the best of their ability.
When we're worried about creating what we teach, there is little time and energy left for perfecting the craft of instruction. I want to use my time and skills to focus on teaching my students and developing my craft so that I can do what I am here to do: facilitate student growth.
I am more than willing to supplement and to tailor units to student need, but teachers can’t be expected to write units, align them, and teach them at the same time. Click To TweetI am more than willing to supplement and to tailor units to student need, but teachers can’t be expected to write units, align them, and teach them at the same time. In order to focus on my craft, I need a solid curriculum-aligned by experts.