Curriculum. Simplify, Simplify.

Curriculum “experts” are constantly making the process of curriculum planning more and more complicated.  They are always adding items to teachers’ to-do lists with little or no evidence as to their necessity.  Of course, it must be complicated…otherwise the “educational consultant” might not need to be consulted.

Here’s a list of some of the things to scratch off your curriculum to-do list:

1. Forget “unpacking standards.”

Teachers apply standards in different ways to address different needs as they adapt instruction around formative assessments. Although a popular buzzword, “unpacking” has no empirical data to support it. My home state of Tennessee offers no guidance in this process except that teachers list skills in this template.

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According to the Kansas Department of Education, “‘Unpacking’ often results in a checklist of discrete skills and a fostering of skill-and-drill instruction that can fragment and isolate student learning in such a way that…higher order thinking, cohesion, and synergy are made difficult.”  In a language class in particular, listing “skills” at the expense of big-picture comprehension of text or communication does not promote L1 or L2 literacy.

 

2. Don’t beat children over the head with Student Learning Objectives (SLO).

An evaluator walks in your room, and all bets are off.  But on a daily basis, constantly stopping the flow of the lesson to reference SLO is not only unnecessary but also counterproductive when our goal is to provide comprehensible input by taking the focus off of form, and focusing children’s attention only on messages.

SLOs relate to SMART goals, which have their origins in the corporate world to turn achievement into a bottom line, insisting all learning is “measurable” and “time-bound.”  Language is not quantitatively measurable with absolute certainty.  Also, making language acquisition “time bound” can create pressure to build skills when children fail to learn the target structures we want them to learn when we want the to learn them (Krashen, 2016).

Laura Chapman argues that in practice SLO are “proxies” for Value-Added Measures for accountability.  Obsessively measuring growth on the strictest application of SMART goals feeds into our national obsession with holding teachers and students accountable through high-stakes assessments.

 

3. Don’t overwork a curriculum “map” or pacing guide.

A traditional syllabus or Scope and Sequence gives an overview that aligns instruction, assessment, and a general progression of learning goals for different proficiency levels.

But textbook companies tell us that is not enough: curriculum must be mapped into skills to be taught on a given day, week, or month.  This approach to curriculum writing is not supported by research or altogether feasible without sacrificing the differentiated pacing that provides input around what is compelling and comprehensible to students.

 

4. Don’t merely list grammar, word lists, themes, or phonics skills to build.

Krashen describes what many teachers feel daily: “Pressure…to provide interesting repetitions until the item is fully acquired.” Pressure comes “from a syllabus made by others” that lists skills to build.  Why not eliminate unnecessary pressure by simply eliminating word lists, grammar, and themes from our curriculum documents?

Krashen notes that what separates CI methods from a traditional grammar syllabus is “using more than just the target structures and vocabulary with each discussion or story” (2013, 4).  If we teach so much more, we must not reduce our curriculum down to discrete points of language, or else risk impoverishing the input we provide to get repetitions of skills.

Why back ourselves into a dangerous skills-building corner by reducing our curriculum to skills?

 

5.  Never backwards plan from a whole class novel study. 

Assigning whole-class novels above students’ independent reading levels 1. deprives children of autonomy in choosing what stories they will co-tell or read, and 2. is ability inappropriate for beginners.  Shared stories for beginner, non-fluent readers, and then Free Voluntary Reading for independent readers a is research-supported shortcut to literacy (Mason).

 

6.  Don’t put undue emphasis on vertically or horizontally aligning your curriculum.

You serve the children in the four walls of your room by meeting them with comprehensible input wherever they are at. Aligning what you teach to a classroom down the hall or in feeder school can hold back students from moving forward when they are ready or deny children who need support to fill in gaps.

We can look at a broad Scope and Sequence of overarching curricular goals made with the next stages of language acquisition in mind, but only a big-picture view.  This is further evidence that curricular documents should be flexible and simple…always simple.

It is hard for teachers to reclaim our own expertise and simplify the documents we use to describe our instruction.  Despite an educational climate that constantly demands more and more from us to hold us “accountable,” teachers should be brave enough to simplify,  simplify.

 

 

Works Cited:

Chapman, L. H. (2014, February 2). The Marketing of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). http://vamboozled.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/The-Marketing-of-Student-Learning-Objectives-SLOs-1999-2014.doc

Kansas Department of Education. A Cautionary Note About Unpacking, Unwrapping, And/or Deconstructing The Kansas Common Core Standards. 3 May 2011. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Krashen, S. (2013). The Case for Non-Targeted, Comprehensible Input. Journal of Bilingual Education Research & Instruction 2013 15(1): 102-110.

Krashen, S. (2016). Targeting 1 and Targeting 2: Working paper [Web log post]. Retrieved September 2126, 2016, from http://skrashen.blogspot.com/2016/07/targeting-1-and-targeting-2-working.html?m=1

Mason, B., & Krashen, S. (1997). Extensive reading in English as a foreign language. System, 25(1), 91-102.

Sleeter, C. E. (2005). Un-standardizing curriculum: Multicultural teaching in the standards-based classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.

 

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Published by

Claire Walter

I am an ESL teacher and I promote differentiated, compassionate instruction and assessment for English Language Learners.

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