On Narrowing the Curriculum

 

I’m hearing great things from teachers and kids who are piloting the English Language Arts modules that were released earlier this year in Albany. In fact, several of the elementary writers in the WNY Young Writers’ Studio asked if we would consider implementing different modules during our summer fellowship sessions this year. Seriously.

All of this has given me great pause.

As a teacher, I’ve worked hard to give my students a real voice in curriculum design. I ask teachers to do the same. My former classroom students will tell you that they had a great deal of input when it came to selecting texts and tasks for shared reading and writing experiences. Each of these units was capped with a performance-based assessment that provided a lot of choice. Workshop fueled their independent reading and writing experiences, and I asked my students to provide feedback on the curriculum I designed for them as well as my instruction–often. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that my work was student-centered.

But I spent a lot of time monitoring the gate. Kids had choice–sure. After my choices narrowed their potential choices.

This wasn’t always a bad thing. Adults are responsible for keeping kids safe and ensuring quality learning–in any setting. A certain amount of narrowing may be inherent in all great teaching. There are many shades of gray here, and it troubles me how often we make this a black and white issue. The lines are incredibly fine, and I’m realizing that everything may not be what it seems. Our passions cloud our perspectives and guide our choices. Maybe too much.

For instance, how can I call myself student-centered if I’m preventing the passage of potentially great curricula into my classroom based on my own assumptions? Especially when my students are asking (or in my case, begging) to let them try it? This happened when my students begged to read certain books way back when—books like Go Ask Alice and Speak and Cut and I Know What You Did Last Summer. As a young teacher, putting these texts on my bookshelf opened me up to a fair amount of criticism from the more conservative parents and staff members in my school. But my kids wanted to read these texts, and so much potential for good awaited them there. Who was I to ban those books? To ban any book?

I find myself circling back to that question again as I watch professionals call for what seems very much like the banning of resources like the curriculum modules.

I agree: there are too many adults imposing “narrow” curricula on kids right now. The thing is, this seems to be happening on all sides– regardless of anyone’s role within the system or their stance on the Common Core or standardized testing.

I’m realizing that if I’m going to honor student-centered instruction, I can’t make assumptions about what might engage them. I can’t make assumptions about what they can and can’t do either.

I have to be willing to let them try, even when I’m skeptical. Especially when I’m skeptical, perhaps.

Adopting the modules out of test-driven panic is one thing.

Listening to kids who are asking me to try them or to teachers who are saying they need the support of resources like this?

That’s another.

Mind-set, motivation, intent, and approach seem to be everything again.

Still.

 

One Comment

  1. The plan guides the students to learn vocabulary, copy and learn examples, and do examples on their own. They need help at first, but soon learn how to teach themselves. Their work is collaborative; they rely on each other for help. They rely on me too, often asking questions. The book weaves the vocabulary into the examples. The book is very thorough, covering all aspects of the standards with very creative examples. Mostly I do one-on-one instruction. My role in the classroom has changed from “imparter of knowledge,” to “facilitator of learning.” The student centered lesson frees me up to roam about the room and become a resource for explaining, demonstrating, and clarifying precisely those areas each student needs. The students now ask me, instead of me demanding they “listen and learn.” When several students are not getting it however, or are making the same mistakes, I will interrupt the class as a whole to explain something of general interest. Those students who want to learn the material excel using this method. It’s all about motivation.

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