How Do Teachers Decide What Students Learn Each Day And How Can We Do Better?

One of my central responsibilities as an educator is to perform a task called “curriculum mapping.” Over the years this practice has made me aware of the lack of academic continuity that occurs when students leave NYC middle schools for NYC high schools.

According to a 2001 article published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, “curriculum mapping is a process for recording what content and skills are actually taught in a classroom, school, or district during a longer period of time [than a lesson plan]….[it] can serve as both an instrument and a procedure for determining what the curriculum is and monitoring the planned curriculum.”

In other words, teachers like me carefully create maps to ensure that what we teach each day is aligned with Common Core standards, coheres with other teachers’ objectives, and builds each day on what students have learned previously.

In my experience, curriculum maps have always been referred to as a “ubD’ or Understanding by Design. That is the way that I was taught to plan a unit by my cooperating teacher, Keri Crocco, during my student teaching experience. At its core, curriculum mapping challenges educators to think about the larger goal they want to achieve. Then they create a map for how they are going to get there, how long it will take to get there, what tools are needed to get there, and what assessments will validate whether or not the intended goal has been reached successfully.

I have created several curriculum maps for individual units of study — often referred to as horizontal mapping — that my students and I work on in my English Language Arts classes. Additionally, I  have worked on curriculum maps with my school’s English Department to plan vertically what our students would be learning/needed to learn from one year to the next. This broader type of planning is way more in-depth and always includes looking at students’ standardized test scores and the Common Core as the driving forces behind what we select to teach and how we select to teach it.

This level of teamwork  acts as not only a tool for building staff capacity, but also as a comprehensive professional development program. In more recent years, school districts have purchased scripted curriculums that require adjusting the prescribed curriculum to meet the needs of the students. In my experience with curriculum mapping, it is more difficult to re-work a scripted curriculum than it is to build a curriculum map from the ground up.

Regardless of whether a curriculum map is being created or revised, there are certain components that should be included in a good curriculum map. These elements include content, essential skills, time-frame, assessment, instructional strategies, and Common Core-alignment, to name a few. It is important for administrators, teachers, and school staff to know about the curriculum development process because it “enriches instructional practice ,increases understanding of result-oriented teaching, improves teacher communication and collaboration, and increases student achievement.”

From the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development:

Administrators, in particular, benefit from a systematic approach to curriculum mapping to ensure instructional continuity in and among schools, to ensure progressive skill development among schools through continuity of instruction, to maximize the use of student time, avoid unnecessary instructional overlaps, prevent gaps, minimize boredom, ensure mastery of curriculum, and [perhaps most profoundly to] provide a strong barrier against the problem of concentrating on one school or level of schools at the expense of the total system.

I have found while working in sixth-twelfth grade schools that there almost always seems to be a more concentrated academic focus on the middle school portion of the school, often at the detriment of the high school grades. Everything — include the curriculum mapping — is divided along middle school/high school lines. This lack of continuity causes a rift. The middle school portion is usually really strong and renders students academically and socially ready to leave for a different high school, which is the antithesis of the middle-school-and-high-school-in-one-building model. Surely we can do a better job at ensuring the continuity of instruction.

What do you think?

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