Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Curriculum

This seems like a mystical part of teacher, right? The blasted curriculum! Most people, or at least those I've talked to, have visions of teaching to a room of attentive students as you tell witty jokes concerning Shakespeare or Chaucer. Everyone laughs and thinks you give the best lectures ever. You're totally cool. All of the students love you. You even reach that deep, dark troubled youth. You know, because you only have the one!

Only, that's not what school is like at all. My friends ask me what I do all day. "Don't you just hang out with the kids?" No. Not at all. There are some days that are more relaxed than others, but we do something every single day. And lectures? We don't really lecture. It's frowned upon, and for a good reason. If I lectured every day, my kids would be asleep. I don't care how interesting I am, if I'm talking and the kids aren't writing, they're asleep. If they don't have to produce something or read something that will be tested, they will be asleep. A lot of these kids don't go to sleep until around 1AM. How interested in The Odyssey are you on three hours of sleep?

Thankfully, the district gives us a curriculum guide. They give us massive binders with "every" lesson you'll need for the unit. The only problem is that some of these teachers have been out of the classroom for several years (in some cases, decades) when they write these lessons. On top of that, children do not come out of cookie cutter molds. Just because something worked with this group of students, it doesn't mean that it will work on another group, even from the same school, even in the same year.

The curriculum matches with District Assessments given every six weeks. Another problem is that sometimes a question or two pops on the District Assessment that isn't covered anywhere in the curriculum. These are all the lessons they'll need, right? But there's two questions from the multiple choice section that can't be found in the curriculum. I always wonder if they think the kids are already supposed to know it. I usually adjust and add in those skills.

So what do lessons look like? The entire district began using a modular set up for lessons. You start with Independent Work, then Interactive Instruction, followed by Authentic Engagement and finally there's Closure. Between Independent Work and Interactive Instruction, you're meant to list your Guiding Purpose for the day.

Here's the idea behind these labels. I mentioned the idea of a "modular" set up. Instead of having one large lesson, there should be shorter "module" lessons. Ideally, you can move these modules around as you see fit. Each module should be shorter than about 30 minutes in our 70 minute set up. The agenda plan we have is not meant to be movable, though, so the modules do not move.

The first module, Independent Work is about students coming in and beginning work on their own. It's meant to be relaxing, and it usually is. My class does Independent Reading during this time and it is wonderful for the kids. They don't have to answer questions. They don't have to worry about being called out for something. The come in, sit quietly and read. This is a district wide recommendation that I truly love. Interactive Instruction is when you are giving knowledge to the students. This is a time when you can lecture (briefly), give notes and just have a teacher led discussion. I change it up daily and generally stick to one of those three. The third module, Authentic Engagement is the tough one. It's activity focused. You're supposed to have your students use the knowledge they gained or reviewed in Interactive Instruction to work on their own. This can be individual, partner or group work, but the idea is that the students make some kind of work for you to assess. The last part is Closure. In the last five to ten minutes, you wrap up the class by having the students reflect on the knowledge they gained that day.

Overall, it works pretty well. Tests and quizzes don't really fit into that model, but we deal with it. There's one major plus to this model. No matter what time a student walks in the class, they can generally predict what to expect. Also, students thrive under routine, no matter what they tell you. I've mentioned it before, but for a lot of kids, this is the only structure they have and can count on. The fact that it currently works doesn't mean that the district won't come in and tell us to change in the next few years.

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