Who Should Write the Curriculum?

Part of the Understanding by Design PD I have been attending is writing a unit.  The other math teacher and I have been frustrated that we are missing so much class time to discuss how important class time is.  We are spending time reformatting our curriculum into a template that was used 3 cycles ago; she even found the binder filled with UbD units from 2003.  Unsurprisingly, our key vocabulary and essential questions were nearly identical: the content of similarity hasn’t changed in the last 10 years.  We were asked to brainstorm performance tasks that fit into a variety of categories and easily pulled several from our repertoire of projects we currently use.  Then, when we had to write one up we opted to pull out our phones and textbooks rather than pull out our hair re-inventing the wheel.  Listening to myself talk about planning on the Infinite Tangents Podcast last week brought a few messages to light (expert editing on Ashli’s part, plus a unique experience of stepping away and listening to myself), one of those is that we should not be reinventing the wheel.  Peg Cagle agrees- teachers should not be writing curriculum.  So many teachers are reaching burnout lately and I’m sure it’s due in no small part to the million different hats we try to wear – teaching is hard.  Working with kids is draining; keeping a classroom set up for a variety of activities, copying assignments or putting together slides and then grading everything is already more to do than we have time for in the school day.  Add writing lessons from scratch and making curriculum decisions on top of that?  It’s just too much to ask of any one person.

It took nearly three hours. For four people. To write five questions.

-Kate Nowak

Instead of teachers doing the writing, let the curriculum developers do it, and then support the great work they’re doing (so that we get more mathalicious and CME and innovation).  Then, teachers do the tweaking and the adapting and the teaching!  More from Kate:

We suspect that one important factor in excellent teaching is access to excellent curricular materials. Just like if you want to become a great novelist, part of your education is reading great stories. And if you want to become a great programmer, part of the process is understanding and using great code. I believe, due simply to my own experience using other people’s stuff, that teaching a great lesson (even if someone else wrote it) helps a teacher learn what great teaching looks like. While Mathalicious lessons might be used mostly by the more risk-tolerant, skillful teachers in a building, we would love for their success to have enough gravity to pull their colleagues to the right. (Indeed, we are making plans for supporting them in doing just that. It’s going to be so cool, you guys.) And that over time, that bubble will shift.

How is curriculum development dealt with at your school?  How do we earn respect as professional teachers?  What does a professional teacher even look like if not someone who writes awesome lessons?

April 5: Edited to add: I think planning lessons and writing lessons are different tasks, but I’m not yet sure how to verbalize that difference.

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3 thoughts on “Who Should Write the Curriculum?

  1. Maybe I’m irrationally holding on to the thousands of hours I’ve personally spent writing curriculum, but I think this is an integral part of being a teacher. First of all, you’re the one who really knows your students and their needs. Never mind the fact that curriculum developers are removed (to varying degrees) from classrooms in general, they are definitely removed from your own classroom and the interests, needs, and experiences of your own students. Secondly, when I create my own material I delve into the important aspects of learning in a way that looks different from when I am using external material. I spend a lot of time thinking about potential misconceptions, extension questions my kids might ask, and how to relate this material to previous material. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t do this as much when I am using something I didn’t create. This shouldn’t be surprising, as we know that people learn better when they are actively engaged. I think this is also true with developing curriculum. The largest reason I create curriculum, though, is that there just isn’t a lot of quality curriculum available. It’s easy for me to find 100 practice exercises around operations on fractions (both in textbooks and on the internet). It is NOT easy to find 10 good conceptual problems related to operations on fractions using every resource available. Until that day comes, I will continue to create and adapt curriculum that I see reflecting good teaching practice.

    • Tina C. says:

      I mixed up two things in this post that I probably shouldn’t have. I object to spending time during the school year deciding what’s important and what’s a reasonable order to teach those important things- we should be studying that in our masters degrees or pre-teaching courses but the content/curriculum we teach should be research based not decided the day before we teach it. Lessons, however, should be planned by teachers. They shouldn’t be written from scratch but they should absolutely be adapted to fit your students and your classroom, and they should be chosen from a variety of sources rather than following a textbook blindly. I absolutely agree that there aren’t a lot of great options which is why we spend so much time looking for and creating our own problems, but when we have good resources the decision making becomes “which of these good questions will challenge my students at an appropriate level?” rather than “what does a good question on this topic look like?”

  2. Kate Nowak says:

    To answer your questions about the schools I worked in…We did purchase textbook curricula, but it was mostly worthless. We didn’t make good decisions about buying something that would support good teaching. We bought the thing with the most ancillary materials, because it felt like we would have lots to choose from. There were some gems in there, but to find them took a whole bunch of sifting and sorting. And then, we still had to find supplementary materials for everything else. Furthermore, we didn’t use the sequencing as written in these books, we chopped it up and rearranged it anyway because the decisions made by the authors didn’t make sense, or didn’t fit other constraints we had.

    Thinking about it, I’m kind of mad. I’m mad about assumptions I made that I didn’t know I was making. I’m mad that I wasted a bunch of time not deliberately working on teaching well, because I didn’t have a decent curriculum to base anything on. I’m mad that the system throws new teachers to the wolves, and lets them think that writing curriculum is their job.

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