Tag: curriculum and instruction

Curriculum Models Need to Preserve Standards, Not Break Them Apart

January 7, 2014 by

Core Curriculum DesignIn a recent article in Educational Leadership, Grant Wiggins writes about a definition of mastery that holds students to high standards through authentic, challenging assessments that demonstrate the effective transfer of learning. In order to do this, he says, curriculum design cannot support the creation of “microstandards” – the practice of breaking standards down into “lists of bits” that actually prevent students from developing fluency and skills in authentic work. These “bits,” according to Wiggins, actually prevent deep learning.

And Wiggins is right. He even warns that it is a “peril” of curriculum development and design. What some don’t see is that standards don’t need to be broken into small chunks – they need to be attained. The skills students need to attain the standards are another story. Skills need practice and sometimes we even need to isolate parts of a skill in order to develop it and improve. It’s like hitting a baseball: we know we have to watch the ball, step forward and swing the bat. If the standard is to hit the ball, then the skill required to attain the standard is all in what we do when we swing.

Wiggins cited an interesting analogy: microstandards are like twigs; while twigs come from trees, you cannot use twigs to make a tree, but you can use twigs to burn one down. Breaking apart standards, therefore, renders them useless.

Another pitfall of “microstandards” is “micro rigor.” When we pull the standards apart, we decrease the rigor. For example, if we want students to write a clear, focused essay that contains insightful evidence and well-articulated ideas, do we get there by breaking down the standard to only encompass clarity? And once they have clarity, do we then move on to focus? The result is lots of students who know how to write a thesis statement, but few who know how to actually use one in their writing. (more…)

Curriculum Model for Mastery-Based Learning

December 9, 2013 by

curriculummodelWe had begun a short unit of study on Greek heroes, immediately following an introductory unit on Greek mythology and the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus. We took time to revisit and rethink, and one of my students began frowning. “We usually just learn some stuff and take a test. It never comes up again. This is hard!” he said.

This is rigor. This is challenge and opportunity. This is the heart of mastery-based learning.  And it requires a different model of curriculum development and design. What I had been developing for the past fourteen years wasn’t working well anymore because it required that I write my curriculum as if it were a straight line heading in one direction.

In a mastery-based learning world, curriculum isn’t linear: curriculum needs to be developed from a core outward – a ripple effect. (Fig. 1) Skills and knowledge need to flourish, not remain static entities on a timeline.

A new model for developing curriculum in a mastery-based environment

The long-standing question – and the stumbling block I have come up against – is what curriculum for mastery-based learning looks like. It shouldn’t mirror traditional units of study and traditional models of curriculum. It should provide a guide for how students can demonstrate mastery because the knowledge and skills never disappear. Opportunities for continuous growth and improvement should be present throughout the curriculum, and they should be integrated and organic. (more…)

Wading into the Water: Curriculum Design for Competency Education

January 2, 2013 by

from Making Mastery Work

The section on Curriculum and Instruction in Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education is chock full of insights into the dynamics of setting up and sustaining a competency-based school.

It’s not surprising (but still frustrating) to learn that the curriculum publishing industry “has yet to wade successfully into the waters of competency education[…]”  This means that teachers are “being stretched to develop and adapt curriculum and formative assessments[…]” So clearly when planning for competency education it’s worth it to take some time to see if you can borrow other schools’ curriculum and assessments as a starting point. It probably won’t meet your teachers’ preferences exactly, but it is often easier to adapt than to start from scratch.

So what makes curriculum for competency education different than traditional time-based curriculum?  Here are a few things that jump out of the report:

Design for Significant Scaffolding:  In a competency-based school, instruction is provided at the targeted levels for each student, not at the level they should supposedly be at because of their age or grade-level.  So the curriculum needs to be able to reflect that. As highlighted in an early blog post, this is an issue at any school serving low-income students or whose parents didn’t go to college, not just alternative schools. (more…)

Direct Instruction? That’s the Old Way

November 7, 2012 by

I met with a group of teachers yesterday for our monthly check in. The group is made up of individuals that willingly volunteered to try some of the processes and procedures of a customized classroom. They are omnivorous learners. They are the energetic group that is willing to jump in, give it a try, reflect, and then adjust. They are not concerned about building the airplane while it is flying. They have absolute confidence they can hit the exhaust vent and blow up the Death Star. . .most likely finding Obi-Wan Kenobi’s constant reminders as irritating; Yea, yea I got it. The Force. But, even with their voracious appetite and willingness to find the path through the ambiguity, they can sometimes talk themselves astray.

The issue this month: the role of direct instruction. Somehow, somewhere, someway, the idea that a teacher should talk directly with students has become part of the “old way.” The idea that students need to “learn on their own” is the new way. We want learners who can figure this stuff out. They need to struggle, ask questions, and seek those answers using their own reasoning. “Direct instruction is so old school. I need to get out of their way.”

This was not the first time I had heard that customized learning meant stepping out of students’ way. I was just surprised that it was being mentioned by my colleagues. I had worked hard to not allow that idea to sink in. I firmly believe that the direct instruction of material from the expert (the teacher) to the novice (the learner) is a legitimate and effective means of the transfer of information, data, facts, and skills. While teachers should refrain from giving out answers and allow students the opportunity to struggle, they need to be in the middle, monitoring, prompting, and guiding during all steps of the learning process, especially as the students begin to construct relevance from classroom lessons. It’s what I like to call the “input” step of the learning process. (more…)

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