What’s ‘Curriculum’ Got To Do (Got To Do) With It?

Ok so I have started and stopped this post. Usually I start and stop a post because I am beating myself up or being snarky, this time it is just because I have a case of the yips. (Yeah I so went there with that link.) All writing is causing me the yips, writing is not my thing, but I can usually get it out there, not this time. So catch up on me (for those who care, if not skip to next paragraph), school have been out for a couple of weeks now. Ended pretty uneventful yet insanely busy and overwhelming. We did not have workdays at the end of year like we usually do, it was like kids there on Thursday and we ended on Friday. So tech inventory, tech plan stuff, finals for my kids, having tons of kids still coming until last day, going through end of year checklist, and cleaning my room for summer, made for my head spinning in a demonic way. Since then I have been regrouping and preparing for a lot of things. Ok now you are caught up 🙂

Back in April a conversation between coworkers caused me to really start thinking about curriculum vs instruction. Later in May I heard at a conference someone talking about reading, math, and tech coaches. The conversation went to how these positions may someday become just one position, an instructional coach position. My district will be getting many of these positions in the middle school level next year so it had already been on my mind. The question was then asked “How can that happen because curriculums are so different? How can someone with a math background help a reading teacher?” I had to leave that convo then but when I did I left with my answer right on the tip of my tongue. And here it is:

Curriculum has nothing to do with it. No matter what you teach, it is how your teach, how your students are learning, IF your students are learning, can they relate to what you are teaching, is what is important. Who cares if your students can memorize the dates of WWII if they cannot have empathy for the players involved? Does it matter if a kid knows the definition of El Nino if they do not understand how this will effect our weather as well as the coral and sea life? What is more important, facts or problem solving? That is the difference here. No I cannot walk into an 8th grade social studies class and teach them the facts they need, but I can help the teacher find which practices & technologies would reach his students and help them to become empathetic thinkers.

The Alabama state quality teaching standards only have 7, yes 7, that focus on teacher’s knowledge and delivery of the curriculum. While there are over 100 (I think I counted 123? I lost count after a while, made my head hurt) that focus on instruction and how you deliver that curriculum. When you look at the Alabama teacher development continuum only has one indicator that focuses on curriculum, the rest are instructional strategies. I’m not 100% a fan for the common core (or here in Alabama the college readiness) standards, but they do give you large amounts wiggle room to bring that “curriculum” into EVERY classroom no matter the subject. When that happens, it is your instruction that needs to be the focus.

I have a lot of discussions on this over the last week. Some have asked questions that focused on instruction and how to improve and reflect on it using data, etc. While others focused on taking reading or math curriculum and bringing it into all subjects. Which one seems easier and less scary to you? If our instructional practices bring everyday world into our classroom, it makes adding that math or nonfiction reading skills so much easier. I had a principal years ago who always said “Every teacher is a reading teacher.” That may sound a little scary to a math teacher. Maybe it needs to be rephrased. “Every teacher is a teacher, a teacher who is preparing their students for life.” Once you take that approach it makes it less scary and a little easier to swallow. How about ask each teacher “How can you take what you are good at, your curriculum, and teach our students to ___?” Lets look at the How not the What.

Yes, curriculum is important and you really should know everything you can find out about what you are teaching. BUT students also need skills for their future. I am sure that my kids do not remember 3/4 of the facts or topics I gave them though out the year, but I really hope they can look at information and come up with conclusions about it. I blogged this year that I was missing the bottom level of Blooms in my room. Was crushing me because I had these critical thinkers without basic knowledge of facts. Worked those last few months of school to correct that. Took a lot of blending. Took a lot of pushing them to use literacy skills to take information I was giving them and analyze it. We got it. I went from large number of Fs on test to less than 20 (I had 140 kids in my science classes) and actually less than 10 on my benchmark tests. But I did not focus on the curriculum to get there, I focused on the instruction.

Instruction is key. As we prepare for next year, let us make sure that is the focus. Well looks like I have deleted the Yips. Yeah! Looks like I will be back to blogging now!! Have a good summer and I hope to see some of y’all at #ISTE13 and #AETC13!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ron Eberts says:

    You are absolutely correct, any teacher can be an instructional coach to all other teachers when the focus is on the competencies underlying the content in each subject.

    In Alberta we are currently going through a “Curriculum Re-Design” process in which all of our Programs of Study are being redeveloped around a base of seven cross-curricular competencies (Collaboration & Leadership; Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making; Creativity & Innovation; Social, Cultural, Global and Environmental Responsibility; Communication; Digital and Technological Fluency; and Lifelong Learning, Personal Management and Well-being). So, it does not matter if you are a Math teacher, a Science teacher, a Social Studies teacher, or an English Language Arts teacher, the ultimate goal of each respective curriculum is to build those seven core competencies.

    When viewed in this way, yes, absolutely every teacher is a teacher of students. Great post!

  2. radondesigns says:

    This is a very insightful post, and as a student I also agree, many times we remember things just “for the grade” or just to complete a test. Instead, I prefer thoroughly understanding the principals and why x occurred. Unfortunately, that study tactic also takes much longer, which may prove to be a detriment to my choice in choosing how I want to approach/learn something. And about your point, it’s not the curriculum, it’s the teaching; I fully agree. Some teachers leave a very good impact on my learning, and in their classes I find myself learning much more than I would if I was to be lectured about for the whole class. Continue your hard work as a teacher, and I’m sure your students appreciate your strive to do what’s best for them and their education!

  3. cfanch says:

    When I took my current position I was told I was going to be an Instructional Coach for a middle school (with about 45 teachers) and my focus was to be on the implementation of PBL as the primary mode of instruction. My background was secondary math.
    What I encountered was a school with just one (me) instructional coach. And, our primary concern was reading and literacy. I found that I needed to immerse myself in those two areas but, at the same time, a lot of what I ended up doing was working on strategies and classroom management concerns. The curriculum (kind of) took care of itself. I did help them with a Power Standards protocol and we did a lot of backward design, but the particular nuances of the curriculum weren’t that difficult us to work on.
    A great post and thank you for writing it.

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