CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION IN SANGER I.S.D.
The key component to our district-wide efforts to consistently improve the education for all of our students is the absolute necessity for our teachers to have and use a “guaranteed and viable curriculum”.
A GUARANTEED AND VIABLE CURRICULUM
In researching what works in schools, Robert Marzano (2003) found five school-level factors that promote student achievement. Ultimately, Marzano concluded that a guaranteed and viable curriculum is the most powerful school-level factor in determining overall student achievement.
If we truly have a “GVC” it means that, in our schools:
- No matter who teaches a given course or grade level, we guarantee that topics identified in the curriculum will be covered in every class.
- The content that teachers are expected to address can be covered in the time available.
- Every student, in every class, every day, will be taught the same essential knowledge and skills (TEKS).
Robert Marzano (2003)
Sanger ISD currently utilizes a systematic K-12 curriculum model designed, maintained and continuously developed by various Education Service Center personnel along with district educators throughout Texas. The purpose is to provide a common language, structure and process for curriculum development. The curriculum model is designed to align the written, taught and tested curriculum and is inclusive of research and best practices mentioned in the work of Drucker, Demming, English, Wiggins, Erickson, Guskey, Marzano, Feurstein and Jacobs. Each year the documents will continue to be aligned to the TEKS utilizing the continuous improvement process as a model for the resources offered to member districts.
The curriculum components based on best practice models from top researchers. Lessons are all aligned with the TEKS/TAKS and each lesson meets the highest standards of rigor, relevance and student engagement.
At the heart of our curriculum process is a guaranteed and viable curriculum in which content area experts ensure quality through a process of continual review.
According to Marzano, students have the opportunity to learn when they study a curriculum that clearly articulates required standards of achievement.
How can schools and districts make sure that this alignment occurs?
VERTICAL ALIGNMENT DOCUMENTS
The Vertical Alignment Documents present clearly articulated and aligned standards among grade levels using the TEKS statements and student expectations. According to Marzano's framework, curriculum is guaranteed if districts give clear guidance to teachers regarding the content to be addressed in specific courses and at specific grade levels.
Marzano (2003) is a strong advocate of a conceptually-organized curriculum that is clearly articulated within periods of time or across grade levels. He stresses that effective curriculum should emphasize key spiraling components. These components represent the major competencies, ideas, and skills that students are expected to revisit within and across grade levels with growing levels of competence, proficiency, and depth of understanding.
In addition, the specificity of the Vertical Alignment Documents provides a common language and delineation of skills which allows building principals to meet their responsibility of ensuring that the curriculum is being implemented accurately and consistently in every classroom.
The specificity of Vertical Alignment Documents also gives educators a tangible guide for selecting and reliably evaluating programs, textbooks, and instructional materials in terms of how effectively they meet curriculum objectives.
KEY POINT: Most textbooks are not organized this way; they are not designed to emphasize key spiraling components. They present concepts by chapters, or in isolation, and often never revisit vital concepts. Textbooks may and should be used by teachers whenever they think their textbook may present concepts in a more effective way than a particular lesson. In addition, if a teacher determines students may not have a concept mastered as well as they would like, the teacher can - and should - use their textbooks to enhance or support their lessons.
However, effective curriculum development helps educators avoid what Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) call “the twin problems” of textbook coverage and activity-oriented teaching with no clear priorities or purpose. They add that this design is directly tied to the following ideas:
- All learners benefit from clear priorities and purposes.
- Struggling learners require focus on truly essential knowledge to
- Advanced learners need challenge predicated on essential discipline
knowledge in order to develop content expertise.
YEAR AT A GLANCE
The Year at a Glance is designed to present a snapshot of the entire year’s instructional plan. The Year at a Glance is a map and pacing guide for units of study. It makes the curriculum viable by ensuring that the teacher has adequate instructional time to present the required content.
Curriculum mapping is a process for documenting the plan for curriculum delivery over a specified period of time. The current curriculum mapping model is based on the work of Heidi Hayes Jacobs (2004). To gain insight into gaps, absences, and repetitions in a school or district's K-12 curriculum, it is critical to create quality maps. The Year at a Glance, as a curriculum map, provides a springboard for teachers and administrators to focus discussion on a comparison between what is planned and what is really occurring in individual classrooms.
The intent of our curriculum and instruction for Sanger I.S.D. is that we should be able to use the Vertical Alignment Documents, the Year at a Glance, and the Instructional Focus Documents to foster reflective practice and collegial, data-driven dialogue around curriculum.
INSTRUCTIONAL FOCUS DOCUMENTS
Instructional Focus Documents are used to group the specified standards from the Vertical Alignment Documents and the Year at a Glance into a logical sequence for instruction. The standards should not be taught in isolation; there are logical ways to bundle them to maximize student learning.
Comparable to the more tradition “teacher lesson plans”, these documents present the standards which are directly taught in each block of instruction, the academic language of instruction, key understandings, guiding questions, and possible student misconceptions as well as performance indicators to ensure that the standards are attained at the required level of rigor.
Marzano and others emphasize that many state and district curricula are overloaded with too many standards, forcing teachers to teach content for coverage of standards rather than teaching content for depth of understanding. Japanese teachers emphasize depth versus superficial coverage; they don’t “cover” a variety of discrete skills. In fact, nations with higher test scores use teaching and learning strategies that promote understanding rather than “coverage” and rote learning.
HOW, THEN, CAN TEACHERS OFFER THE FULL CURRICULUM TO STUDENTS AT A RIGOROUS LEVEL?
The bundling of the TEKS in the Instructional Focus Document addresses this issue so that skills are not taught in isolation; they are offered in a rational and reasonable grouping, and are presented in a recursive manner so that skills are revisited, expanded, and applied in different contexts.
The organization of the Instructional Focus Documents presupposes a belief that the goal of education is to produce self-directed, self-aware students who are independent learners.
The big-idea questions signal that education is not just about coming up with “the answer” but about learning how to learn. The essential questions framed around the key concepts, inquiries, and structure of the specific content areas. They are framed in an open-ended format which allows all students to think and respond in some way; students may enter the curriculum at varying levels of understanding. Students will make sense of complex ideas by thinking deeply, weighing alternatives, justifying their thinking process, and making connections with prior learning and experiences.
SUMMARY OF CURRICULUM
The Vertical Alignment, Year at a Glance, and Instructional Focus Documents comprise most of our curriculum documents. These documents are the foundation for all instructional planning.
Sanger I.S.D.’s guaranteed and viable curriculum is a foundation curriculum, guiding the “what” of instruction. The Vertical Alignment Document reflects a clearly articulated curriculum which should renew teachers’ understanding of the depth and breadth required by the TEKS. Teachers use the Instructional Focus Documents to anchor and plan instruction, keeping Instructional Focus Document content standards, desired understandings, and questions constant regardless of the student’s background. The Instructional Focus Document is the bridge from curriculum to instruction. These curriculum documents offer teachers a common place from which to differentiate and accommodate. Furthermore, a process of continuous improvement is facilitated when administrators and teachers are able to hold to the specific content standards of what has actually happened in the classroom, collaborate in revisiting the Year at a Glance based on these data, and make instructional revisions accordingly.
The curriculum itself must be non-negotiable since we are legally bound as educators to implement the state standards. However, the actual journey that teachers plan with their students may look quite different in that it will be responsive to differing student interests and abilities.