What Makes an Effective Curriculum?

Curriculum has the potential to have  a dramatic effect on student achievement and teacher quality. When teachers thoroughly learn to use a highly effective curriculum, they learn about how to teach a particular subject and have ready-made lessons and materials organized in a developmental sequence that promotes student learning.

How can you tell what makes a good curriculum? It’s not simple. People looking for simple answers will base decisions on the most superficial things: cover design, greater number of pages, special features, or that they like the sales person. But people looking to implement a quality curriculum have work to do.

First of all if it is going to improve student achievement, a quality curriculum will require changes, changes that faculty and administrators may find uncomfortable. But unless changes are made, how can anyone expect any changes in student achievement?

So, what kinds of changes?

1. Content. Content in a quality curriculum is more thorough and deeper. Instead of mentioning topics, concepts in history, math, or science are developed and explored.

2. Concept and Skill Development. Concepts and Skills are developed along student learning trajectories. One concept builds on the previous one without abrupt changes that leave students perplexed.

3. Lesson Plans. The introduction, development, guided practice, practice, and assessment of each concept and skill is rich, practical, and engages the majority of students at their level of development. Lessons are not overly complicated or too simple. They build on previous lessons and lay the foundation for subsequent lessons. They don’t introduce new skills or concepts out of the blue or drop them without sufficient development and practice.

4. Research Based Teaching Methods. The teaching methods in an effective curriculum are based in educational research or a history of effective practice. Educational research is not comprehensive, but it does provide guidance for curriculum developers. There is research about how to teach reading, beginning with phonemic awareness and developing the alphabetic principle and phonics. There is research that identifies the most effective ways to teach math facts. There is research that identifies the most effective ways to teach spelling. There is no reason teachers have to discover these methods through trial and error and implement them on their own. A quality curriculum would incorporate research based practices into the daily lessons.

5. Student Population. An effective curriculum meets the needs of a given student population. If you have a population of struggling learners, the curriculum concentrates on developing foundational skills and concepts. If you have a high achieving population, the curriculum challenges students with advanced concepts and extended learning opportunities. No one curriculum will be appropriate for all learners at all levels.

6. Standards. An effective curriculum meets the state or national standards in a comprehensive way. A standard, such as the grade 4 Common Core reading standard (“Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.” ) is not just addressed in one lesson. It is comprehensively developed throughout a grade level.

Determining whether a program meets standards qualitatively, is difficult. Most new educational materials will reflect the new Common Core standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. But most curriculum developers will simply relabel existing curriculum with the Common Core standards and fill in any gaps. Yes, they will look as if and claim to “meet” the Common Core standards. But the curriculum will not be developed based on the Common Core.

To do this would require that curriculum developers start with each standard at each grade and lay out a series of lessons so that students build understanding throughout the year. These lessons would be interwoven so that the different strands of the subject area build together.  The materials would clearly reflect each standard and how it is developed and assessed, not isolated mentions of the standard.

This would most likely require that a developer would completely revamp an existing curriculum that was not based on the Common Core, which requires a significant investment…  or would start anew, which requires an enormous investment. Educational publishers will not make that investment unless they absolutely have to because customers are demanding it. And customers won’t demand it if they don’t know what they’re looking for or think curriculum doesn’t really matter. Without a real change in curriculum, we can’t expect the Common Core or any reforms to have any substantive effect on educational practices, teaching quality, or student achievement.


Filed under Educational Materials and Curriculum Review, Educational Research, Educational Standards, Learning Trajectories, Quality Curriculum, Student Achievement, Teaching

Quantifying Education

So much of school reform has come about from the desire to quantify everything and then use data to improve decision-making. “Simply” measure student performance and then “simply” assess school and teacher performance on this hard data. It looks so good on paper. On a very superficial level it sounds as if the quantifiers are helping schools run like a business, and that’s supposed to be a good thing. A business can be judged successful or unsuccessful based on its bottom line. There is no question that this can be helpful information for schools, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Even in business there are different definitions of success and failure and these can be manipulated by skilled accountants and different perspectives on the numbers. Successful long-term companies are failures if they are not meeting the profit expectations of their stockholders, or in education terms, rising test scores. Short-term fixes that are not sustainable, even unethical fixes, can be temporarily rewarded because they provide short-term profits, like changing students’ standardized test scores. Drastically cutting costs with staff layoffs, decreased production, offshoring labor, or using cheaper materials can improve a balance sheet but have the potential to destroy a business in the long run. When the stakes are high, some are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to make the numbers look good in business or in education.

The problem in education is that so much of the good work that schools do  is not quantifiable.  Love of learning, personal student achievement, pursuing interests, and actual learning isn’t easily measurable. You can go to any high school graduation and see these unquantifiable measures. There you will see the total joy expressed by parents, teachers, and students for having “made it,” even if some just barely made it. That joy has nothing to do with standardized test scores.

Teachers judge their own teaching performance on how much students are engaged and how much of an effect they have on their students. Teachers are motivated by overhearing students talk about a lesson at recess or in between classes, or coming in the next day with new insights because they’ve been thinking about it. There is no greater reward that having students come back in subsequent years and express how much a teacher meant to them. A student–who becomes a teacher because of a teacher;  is inspired because of a teacher’s support, encouragement, or belief in the student’s abilities; has developed a love or reading, or history,or science–this is what provides the greatest rewards for teachers. None of these is quantifiable.

Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, offers these three motivations for everyone, including students and teachers: 1. the need to achieve autonomy, to be able to something on your own; 2. the desire to be good at something that matters to you, and 3. purpose to make a contribution to something greater and more enduring than yourself. These motivate you to work hard, engage in tedious practice, go beyond your comfort zone, and be willing to endure even painful and difficult experiences to achieve. All three are much more powerful than pay, winning, or even being rewarded, which are all transitory. Learning to play the piano well, or memorizing Poe’s “Annabel Lee” is an enduring achievement that can’t be taken away. Motivation is not quantifiable.

In addition to quantifying student test scores, the focus of educational reform efforts should also be related to the true motivating factors for students and teachers, providing increased opportunity to develop autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These efforts would necessarily focus on improving curriculum, methods, and teacher competence, and meeting the needs of individual students.


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Text Complexity

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy place a major emphasis on developing students’ ability to read increasingly complex text as they progress through school. The Standards cite research that shows that although the reading demands of college, careers, and citizenship have held steady or increased, the demands of reading in K-12 educational materials have trended downwards with “precipitous declines (relative to the period from 1946 to 1962) in average sentence length and vocabulary level in reading textbooks for a variety of grades–a general, steady decline–over time, across grades in the difficulty and likely also the sophistication of content of the texts students have been asked to read in school since 1962.” (CCSS Appendix A)

This is really simple to explain–the free market! For-profit educational materials do not lead the market, they respond to customer concerns and try to meet consumer demands. This is the reason for the behemoth textbooks and programs that students lug around today. The simple fact is that the best selling educational materials were those that had the most pages in the 1980s and 1990s. This started a textbook poundage war. If a competitor had a 750 page book, the next edition must be 800 pages. Because curriculum quality is otherwise difficult to determine, customers adopted an impression that more pages and more components must make for a better program. At the very least, a bigger program would have more options from which to pick and choose. So many educators think that published curriculum is all the same anyway, so bigger is better. The textbooks of today are typically twice as big as the ones in the 1950s, and have thousands more components.

The same mechanism was at work in the changes in text complexity. Teachers  complained that their students couldn’t read text materials, not only in reading programs, but in all content areas–science and social studies. Even paragraphs of explanation in math were too difficult for students. In response, publishers increased type sizes, added pictures with captions that delivered much of the content, and reduced the complexity of the text. Teachers themselves didn’t want explanations of strategies or detailed instruction in teachers editions–just bulleted lists and and answer keys. Programs with less text complexity were the most popular and were the best sellers, but many students still couldn’t or wouldn’t read them. Publishers moved toward including “verbo-visual” teaching elements and with the increasing use of technology have complete audio recordings of the texts and animated math and science explanations and video links in science and social studies.

Instead of teaching students to read more complex text, teachers bought textbooks that were the easiest to read. Educational publishers responded with increasingly less complex text. There are some materials today that are basically all captioned photographs to explain science and social studies concepts. These are, in fact, more difficult to read because they do not have a narrative sequence or the development of an argument or explanation. Students just flit from one image to another without understanding the point.

This is not to say that multimedia with pictures, audio, and video is not a good thing. But it should support reading not substitute for it. Students do need to read increasingly complex materials. Multimedia can add dimensional depth, breadth, and understanding, taking advantage of the resources that are available with technology. But that does not eliminate the need to be able to read and comprehend increasingly complex text, now more than ever.

It is also not to say that the for-profit system of educational materials should be substituted for a national curriculum. The free market should work to improve the quality of materials–but only if consumers make their purchases based on quality–not quantity or ease of use.

If consumers of educational materials take the Common Core Standards seriously and evaluate and purchase curricular materials on the basis of the quality of the instruction and teach students to develop the reading skills they need to comprehend increasingly complex text, student achievement will advance. If, on the other hand, educational materials are simply relabeled with the Common Core Standards and there is no consumer demand to improve them, we will continue the status quo.

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Educational Research

There should not be educational reforms without research. Too often educators embrace fads (like the Kahn Academy) that have absolutely no foundation in any research. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and inordinate amounts of time and energy in implementation only to find out that it has no effect on student achievement. There are many different types of educational research to consider when developing curriculum.

1. Teaching Method Research. These are the types of studies you find in American Educational Research Association publications. They are most often empirical studies that use scientific methods to identify methods that are more effective than other methods. These methods identified as most effective when incorporated into a complete curriculum are extremely valuable and on a small scale promote changes in practices and student achievement.

2. Subject Area Studies. These studies, such as Adams’s Beginning to Read and more recently Clements and Sarama’s Early Childhood Mathematics Education, can have a profound effect on curriculum development. The serious evaluation of these studies changes what content is included in a curriculum, the way the concepts are sequenced to maximize  student learning, and how concepts are taught. Excellent work is constantly being done that starts with an analysis of established research and then takes it to the next level. Using this research, we would always be innovating, moving toward a more perfect curriculum,  as we understand more about learning.

3. Program Empirical Research. These studies based on scientific methods test one curriculum against another. They can help determine which type of curriculum is more effective with different groups of students.

4. Field Test Research. These studies are often conducted during the development of a curriculum. Lessons are created based on educational theories and then tested in the classroom, refined, and retested. Some of the most effective curriculum has been developed in this way, including Sharon Griffin’s Number Worlds,  but it takes years and years.

5. Market Research. Market research is conducted during the development of a curriculum to identify marketable features and to hone a marketing message. Because market research including focus groups and surveys, is based on quick impressions rather than use of educational materials, it rarely has any dramatic effect on any significant reforms in education.

Why on earth would we not learn from research and design innovative curriculum based on a foundation of knowledge so we don’t keep repeating the same mistakes over and over?

Publishers and curriculum developers have the resources to create innovative, effective research-based materials but they don’t make that a priority because educators DON’T BUY THEM. Educators don’t need to know all the research themselves but they need to know enough or designate people like curriculum specialists to build expertise in a discipline and then review and recommend the most effective materials–none will be perfect, and if they are really good, they will be changing in response to new information coming from researchers. It is totally unrealistic that all teachers will know all things about educational research.

Teaching is an emotionally, intellectually, and physically exhausting profession in and of itself. Learning about effective teaching methods, organization of concepts, and how students learn is also a full-time job. Once an effective curriculum has been adopted, educators will develop their expertise by implementing the new curriculum WITH FIDELITY. This means CHANGING practices and discussing with other teachers and refining the strategies in the new curriculum to meet needs. Doing this will provide the on-the-job, relevant professional development teachers need to advance student achievement. If educators incentivize curriculum developers to produce the MOST EFFECTIVE materials, rather than the ones with the most pages, best covers, most components, flashiest technology or features, educational materials in whatever form they take (textbooks, online, kits…) will improve. If the criteria for purchase is proven effectiveness, publishers will rise to the challenge. Educators need to demand the following of curriculum developers.

1. Show how the curriculum is based on research in the most effective teaching methods in a discipline.

2. Prove that the organization of concepts and skills is based on student learning trajectories.

3.Provide usage studies that describe the experience of other educators in schools with similar demographics who used the curriculum either in field test studies or sales implementations.

4. Demonstrate that the curriculum’s content coverage will build a deep understanding, not superficial coverage of all required standards.

Currently educators don’t ask publishers any of these questions and accept very faulty, superficial explanations of what “research-based” means. An effective research-based curriculum should make educators change and upgrade their practices and move incrementally to more effective education and improved student achievement.


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The Arts and Dimensions of Teaching

It is amazing that so many people well into adulthood can remember the names of many of their teachers.  When you think about your favorite teacher, it’s usually easy to recall a particular person who made a difference in your life.  The reasons that one teacher is a favorite are varied, but usually it is because of a personal connection. The favorite teacher may have demonstrated confidence or faith in you, inspired you to do something, or challenged you to do your best. Interestingly favorite teachers are rarely those who let you do whatever you wanted, had no discipline or classroom management skills, or didn’t challenge you to learn anything–even though, if you ask most students, being able to do whatever they want is what they say they want. It makes you realize that Steve Jobs was right to forget about market research since “it’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

There’s no one type who is consistently the favorite teacher. Some people love teachers who were strict and orderly. Others love teachers who were warm and funny. Some love teachers who strictly followed the textbook. Others love teachers who incorporated innovative methods into their teaching.

Determining what effective teaching looks like is a difficult task and often in the eye of the beholder. Is the effective teacher the one who has children seated in rows and on task? Is the effective teacher the one who has children moving from whole class, to individual, to small group work with seamless transition? Is the effective teacher the one who knows the most about a subject or the one who understands how children learn and can present concepts incrementally along students’ individual learning trajectories? Is the effective teacher the one whose students have the highest scores on a single test that is given in the spring?

The truth is that human beings are a diverse group and both students and teachers reflect that diversity. One of the beauties of public education is that in a formalized way, in addition to learning to read, write, and do mathematics and to understand foundational science and social studies, children also learn how to interact with different personalities. This diversity accounts for the reality that one person’s favorite teacher may be another person’s least favorite.

There are five major dimensions or arts of teaching that affect teacher performance and student achievement. It’s easy to see these arts reflected in teachers in every school.

1. Classroom Management–In a classroom taught by an expert in classroom management, students know what to do and how to do it. It is a productive, relaxed atmosphere. There’s no time wasted transitioning from one activity to another or unnecessary disruptions or derailments. Students feel as though they are treated fairly and respect the teacher.

2. Lesson Planning–An expert lesson planner pulls together appropriate resources, plans out activities, and comes prepared to present an appropriate concept or skill, provide guided practice or exploration, check for understanding, engage students in appropriate independent or group work, and administer relevant assessment–all within the allotted time period.

3. Content Knowledge–An expert in content knowledge not only knows the subject matter inside and out, but also knows how to teach the content. Being able to multiply fractions is vastly different from teaching someone else to multiply fractions. Being able to read is vastly different from being able to teach someone to read.

4. Teaching Methods–An expert in teaching methods knows when to employ discussion, group work, practice, exploration, direct instruction, problem solving and other types of methods to teach or reinforce particular concepts and skills. The expert can transition from one method to another if something is not working and does not waste time explaining concepts that students already know or use group work if students aren’t ready to engage.

5. Children’s Learning Trajectories–An expert in children’s learning trajectories understands how children develop reading and math skills, and knowledge. The expert can identify where an individual child is on a  learning trajectory and provide appropriate practice and instruction to move to the next level. There are no leaps from one concept to another that lose most of the class because the expert’s scope and sequence of concepts is built along the learning trajectory.

Rarely is one teacher an expert in each of the arts. It’s easy to remember teachers who had great classroom management but didn’t really teach much. It’s easy to identify teachers with in-depth content knowledge who cannot relate to children or who don’t employ appropriate methods to help build student understanding.

Each of these arts of teaching can be learned and developed, but they will be reflected in different ways by different teachers, just as an artist develops his or her own style using the same tools, elements, and principles of art. The goal is not to copy the masters but to learn the skills, concepts, and methods, and then employ them in a reflection of ones own personal style. The nature of expertise is not complete mastery of any area. Instead the difference between an expert and a nonexpert is that the expert is interested and always learning, always problem solving, always trying use knowledge and experience to make things better. A nonexpert, even a proficient nonexpert, is one who has learned a particular task and repeats it over and over. The nonexpert is rattled when a new problem is presented. The expert is motivated to find a solution. The artist is the expert. The nonexpert attempts to copy masterpieces but has no style of his or her own.

Few teachers are experts in all five arts, but every school has experts in each area who can share their knowledge with others. Over time every teacher can develop expertise in each of the arts. In this way the arts of teaching will be elevated and we can begin to rise above the plateau of student achievement.

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Implementing the Common Core Standards

There is so much hope for advancing student achievement riding on the Common Core Standards released for PreK-12 reading/language arts and mathematics. After all, having low standards is supposed to be a major reason for stagnant test scores. Students just aren’t being challenged. I predict, however, after all the work that has been done in writing the new standards and getting them approved, and all the work that will be done to implement them, there will be no significant change in student achievement.

Blasphemy! Don’t we have all kinds of technology for online training for teachers?  Don’t we have all kinds of new cool gadgets, IPads and cell phones, that will make the standards accessible to students? Well, yes, we do, but neither standards nor technology will make a significant difference. If having new standards and new technology affected student achievement, we would have seen it by now after 30 years of one standards movement after another and a massive influx of technology applications in our daily lives.

The one thing that would make a significant difference is improved curriculum that has been created  based on the Common Core standards and that is taught with fidelity by competent teachers. Yet in all the hype about the standards and implementation, very little attention has been paid to how to evaluate curriculum for effectiveness and adherence to standards. Nor has there been any attention to educating teachers about the importance of using a solid curriculum and teaching them how to use it with fidelity.

Instead the professional development squads are out training teachers about the standards and how to develop and pick and choose individual lessons. Maine West, for example has done a wonderful job of collecting a series of websites with information about the standards https://sites.google.com/a/maine207.org/mw-math-department/home/common-core. Ohio.gov has descriptions of model curriculum. But the chances that the vast majority of teachers will be able to piece together a coherent curriculum from all these resources are nil. Left to their own devices, teachers will pick and choose lessons as they always have, based on things they think their students will like or at least “get” that are labeled with the new standards. Teachers learn to plan lessons, but they do not learn how to develop curriculum. The result will be continued curricular chaos.

In the meantime the major educational publishers are busy re-labeling their existing materials with the new standards, and why shouldn’t they? It is a major effort to create a new curriculum when the one that is currently being sold can be revised. With all the standards, both state and national, that have been developed over the past thirty years, publishers have gotten really good at identifying where topics are covered and where there are holes and new content must be added and edits must be made. The fact that the Common Core have been adopted by the vast majority of states actually makes the publishers’ job easier. Expect new Common Core editions of existing educational materials to be forthcoming with minor changes and major labeling.

If we really wanted to “move the needle,” educational publishers would start afresh with experienced content authors and writers who have studied the Common Core and understand the content and the intention of the standards. They would review the research in the most effective teaching methods for addressing each concept and study research about student learning trajectories, or how students learn concepts and develop skills. Then with a particular group of students in mind (below average, average, and above average) they should plot out a careful scope and sequence of lessons with developmental progressions that follow student learning trajectories so there are no major gaps between concepts. Next they should develop a lesson plan template that will introduce concepts and provide guided practice, checking for understanding, practice, assessment, and review using appropriate  teaching methods. Then they should write the curriculum and field test it in actual classrooms to see if it works and make adjustments as necessary. No teacher has the time, knowledge, or energy to make this effort. The idea that each of the 6.2 million teachers in the U.S. would take this on is absurd. But curriculum developers surely do have the resources, knowledge, and distribution networks to make a difference.

If the major and minor publishers developed new curriculum, teachers would have a variety of standards-based materials to choose from to meet their specific needs. As part of their professional development, they would need to learn what the standards are so that they could recognize effective and ineffective coverage in the educational materials they are reviewing. They would need to work with curriculum supervisors to be able to identify the most effective teaching methods and evaluate how they are incorporated in new curriculum. The job is not to have 6.2 million teachers each write a curriculum based on standards but to evaluate curriculum and demand through their careful selection that the materials are the most effective for their population of students.

Once a curriculum has been selected, the teachers’ job would be to implement the curriculum with fidelity. If teachers pick and choose, skip lessons and chapters on a whim, the careful development of concepts and skills will be of no advantage to students in the class or in subsequent years. Of course teachers should be ever critical of lessons that work or do not work, but if they choose to stray off the path, they should do it intentionally and communicate with other faculty members so it can be a coordinated effort.

I see no sign of this major change happening anywhere. Curriculum developers have the resources and knowhow to create standards- based materials but they get by without doing it because educators don’t know how to review curriculum and don’t value what a curriculum can do. They don’t value it because all of the effort in colleges of education and professional development is targeted on individual lesson planning and implementing one standard at a time.

A quality curriculum can help teachers in so many ways in what they do every day, day in and day out. It can play an incredibly important role in improving teacher lesson planning, content development, addressing student developmental learning progressions, and using the most effective teaching methods, all of which is needed to promote student achievement.

The tragedy is teachers don’t learn to do what they really need to do: evaluate curriculum based on solid criteria and as a result, schools will continue to purchase the same types of materials they always have, only with the Common Core labels. In order for student achievement levels to change, the curriculum needs to change and teachers need to change their practices to implement a truly standards-based new curriculum.

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What Does It Take to Design and Write Curriculum?

It’s easy to think that any teacher is a curriculum expert and a competent instructional designer. After all teachers use curriculum and work with students to deliver it. But it takes a lot more than using a curriculum to create one.

Anyone who has raised or been around children will know that it takes more than knowing how to read to be able to teach a child to read. It takes more than knowing how to add or multiply fractions or decimals yourself to be able to teach someone else how to do that. There are skills and concepts that are part of a child’s learning trajectory that must be understood and then introduced  and developed in a coherent and comprehensive sequence. It’s easy to believe that all teachers by virtue of being teachers know who to teach anyone anything. But that is not the case.

I was a middle school English/literature teacher for several years in the days when spelling was actually taught. We gave a 20-word pretest on Monday, the kids worked through the workbook pages, studied the words throughout the week, and then took a spelling test on Friday. What could be simpler than that? When I left teaching and went into publishing, I was astonished to learn what it takes to put even a seemingly simple curriculum together.

When I joined Merrill Publishing (subsequently acquired by McGraw-Hill) my first assignment as assistant editor trainee was as the level editor of the grades 7 and 8 levels of the revision of the 1986 revision of the spelling program. Merrill had been publishing spelling since 1891. I was amazed that the project editor had spent six months studying research-based word lists to find high frequency word, sorting them  by pattern, and then organizing them into grade levels and outlining lessons. To ensure that students had a thorough development and exposure to the spelling words, each lesson had several parts: pattern instruction, spelling words in context, meaning exercises, word building, proofreading, and writing the words in a short composition. As a teacher, I couldn’t even remember which spelling program we used, let alone identify grade level appropriate, high-frequency words grouped to teach and reinforce specific spelling patterns. I just used the spelling program we had.

I later became the project editor  and did substantial research into the history of spelling instruction and research and how children learn to spell. In the 1980s there was a revolution in understanding how children learn to spell centered at the University of Virginia. Spelling was not memorized word by word, but was learned pattern by pattern and generalized to new words. Spelling patterns were phonetic (long e=ee, ea, e-consonant-e), structural (drop e and and ing) and meaning based (sign/signal/significant). It turned out very few words needed to be memorized.  I was able to recruit as authors two of the researchers, Charlie Temple and Jean Wallace Gillet, who had been part of this research. They helped us outline the lessons for the K-8 program and then wrote drafts. A team of eight editors took their drafts and created lessons. A team of four production editors proofread and copyedited the work. A team of designers laid out pages with appropriate artwork and room for students to write. It took almost two years from beginning to published books. It was a heady experience for me because I realized a subject that as a teacher I thought I understood, had such a rich tradition and had such important connections to reading and writing.

The history of spelling instruction since the 1980s is a perfect example of educators’ lack of understanding of curriculum development. During the whole language movement of the 1980s spelling was abandoned as a separate subject. It wasn’t necessary, many educators claimed. With the Reading First Initiative in 2004, phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency became the priorities. Spelling and phonics go hand in hand, but spelling was an adjunct to reading. Totally misunderstanding the importance of spelling pattern instruction many teachers and reading programs simply selected words from student reading or identified words students could not spelling and had students memorize them.

There is no way teachers have time to devote to researching a subject, identifying how children learn the subject, and develop rich lessons to develop the concepts in a coherent and comprehensive way throughout a year and from year to year. That is a set of skills and knowledge that teachers do not get in pre-service or in-service training and they should not be expected to know how to do that. It is more than a full-time job. Teachers don’t even get an adequate education in evaluating curriculum. Many of the curriculum decisions that schools make based on teacher recommendations are based on superficial design impressions or superfluous features, rather than the quality of the instruction or the coherent development of the concepts.

Curriculum writing, including planning out a scope and sequence of concepts and skills based on children’s developmental progressions involves a completely different skill and knowledge set than delivering the curriculum. Instructional designers should be steeped in educational research, content knowledge for students, and content knowledge for teachers so that they can incorporate not only an appropriate developmental sequence but also employ the most effective strategies and methods for teachers. Teachers are way too busy teaching to keep up with all the research. Teaching, working with students, and implementing curriculum is more than a full-time job. It helps to have teaching experience as an instructional designer but you also need a depth of knowledge and a mindset that most teachers do not have time to develop.

Well designed curriculum should be a significant contributor to our educational process, but when teachers feel they must design their own curriculum or choose and implement curriculum haphazardly, the result is curriculum chaos. Under our current system, teachers rarely allow the curriculum to support their efforts.  Good teachers don’t need published curriculum, many are led to believe. So instead of helping them with concept development, lesson planning, content coherence, and teaching methods, which a quality curriculum has conscientiously and thoroughly developed, teachers are left on their own. As a result, student achievement is totally dependent upon the teacher at each grade level or in each subject. The lack of quality curriculum implementation as a result of educators not knowing that they don’t know what they don’t know, is very likely a significant factor in the stagnation of student achievement.

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