Sunday, July 15, 2012

Curriculum Cup Stack

"Daddy, help me with this cup-stack," my daughter called to me as I finished my morning blog. As I got down on the floor to help her, we tried to stack 20 oz. styrofoam cups end to end to see how high we could go. The higher we went, the quicker the stack tumbled to the ground.

With each attempt, we paid closer attention to how we were connecting the cups, and we quickly found that the ends of connecting cups had to be perfectly aligned to ensure stability for subsequent cups. After about 15 minutes, our cup stack reached 10 feet. The biggest difference in our success was not improvement in our effort, but a more focused attention to the importance of aligning the cups. 


Stacking Curriculum 

Aligning curriculum is exactly like stacking cups. Each year of instruction represents one cup in a child's academic cup-stack. How we connect years of instruction ultimately makes the difference in whether or not kids construct learning that will be the equivalent of a 10 foot cup-stack or a pile of cups on the ground.

The key to curriculum alignment is the degree to which districts and curriculum teams connect years of instruction. With each haphazard or random effort, a strong chance emerges that the curriculum will be unaligned, thus resulting in several kids failing to master high leverage skills. 

How can Districts & Campuses stack Curriculum?

Common Vocabulary
Kids deserve access the same vocabulary no matter which teacher they have.  Districts must be purposeful in deciding which vocabulary will be taught each year for each subject.

Common Language of Instruction
Just like vocabulary, all kids deserve to learn an aligned language of instruction for every subject so that every teacher can know what language all kids acquired from the previous year and what language they must acquire this year.

Common Instructional Strategies
Kids need to learn new concepts that are built upon instructional strategies learned in the previous year.  Instructional strategies must purposely link from one year to the next if kids are truly going to learn at deep levels.

Common Levels of Complexity
If one teacher has a low level of rigor, one has average rigor and one has high rigor, the teacher that receives these students the following year will have a hard time meeting varying deficits in critical thinking.  Teachers deserve to count on all students receiving high levels of rigor no matter which teacher prepared them the prior year.

Beginning with Last Year's Instruction
The best way to know how to begin this year's instruction is to start with how they learned last year's instruction. Teachers need to know how last year's standard was taught and assessed so they know where to begin this year's initial instruction. 

End Instruction by Connecting It to Next Year's Standard
Students that learn a concept deeply must be prepared to walk in next year's course prepared to access the next standard.  This can only happen when all teachers analyze next year's standard and agree on how students must master this year's standard to be fully prepared to learn next year.

Stacking for the Future

Stacking cups to the ceiling takes time, concentration and lots of failure. Curriculum teams must remember that alignment can't happen in one meeting per year. Stacking curriculum to heights of excellence requires frequent collaboration, lots of trial and error and constant refining and readjusting alignment plans. When this level of commitment to a vertically aligned curriculum is in place, more kids will be in position to receive a guaranteed and viable curriculum not because of the teacher that they are assigned to but because of the district that makes the time to guarantee learning for all. 

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