As I look back on my thoughts about curriculum design prior to this class I recognize that many of the ideas I hung on to were the very things that made the building of a unit so frustrating. One of my main priorities was to craft lessons that had students creating products that were engaging and cute and that would satisfy or even impress parents once they were brought home. Additionally, while I realized that helping students make “connections” in their learning was a valuable component in lesson design, the connections I aimed for were more thematic and seasonal and didn’t really promote true authentic learning. At the end of a unit, I would have amazing pieces of work created by students upon the walls but I do not believe that the curriculum and its delivery did enough to connect student learning to the world around them nor to the world they are likely to encounter in their future.
Our module 6 readings and discussions did much to guide my thinking and curriculum planning more towards true authentic learning for students, which correlates directly with our course objective number 3, “ Understand and apply curriculum development processes”. Dewey (2010) states that authentic learning is enhanced when new learning is connected with students’ current knowledge and past experience. This makes sense to me at a whole new level now. Herbert Thelen (as cited in Parkay, 2010, p. 311) elaborated on this when he stated that student learning is authentic when students are emotionally involved and believe that they have something to offer on the subject. A student must be able to connect new learning to his/her own knowledge and experience in order to feel empowered to contribute to the learning of others.
Based on this new knowledge, I plan on engaging student families and home environments in a way that enhances the authentic learning of students. Much of a kindergartener’s current knowledge and experience has come from their families at home. Creating opportunities for students to bring some of these experiences into the classroom will allow all students to tap into sources of knowledge beyond the immediate district curriculum. For example, during our science trees unit, I imagine students taking a photo of a tree in their yard or nearby park and labeling the parts as a pre-test. We would put the pages together as a class book for all to use. I hope to expand our “Celebrations Around the World” unit to include visits from as many family members as possible to share special family traditions that reflect the wonderful variety of cultures our school community holds.
The many factors that influence school curriculum is another topic that has taken on new meaning to me throughout this course. (course objective number 1, “Describe factors and groups that influence school curriculum”) Parkay (2010, pp. 49-62) emphasizes that there are significant social forces that shape the curriculum we present to our students. He described such forces as cultural diversity, the environment, changing values, family, technology, the workforce, equal rights, crime, lack of purpose and meaning, and global interdependence. As I read this chapter I was struck by how important it is to consider what these forces are going to look like in the future as we plan curriculum and prepare students to be future ready. At first glance, this seems like a daunting and near impossible task. How are we to know what the future will be for these kids or for ourselves for that matter?
I have come to realize that we need to approach this task from two directions. First, we need to work with members of our school community (parents, educators, students, etc.) to identify not just one but several possible futures that may be in store. Parkay (2010) referred to this as futures planning. As we study current trends in these social forces we will be better equipped to visualize and plan for a future that offers the most benefit for our society, and teach our students to do the same. I believe it is important to empower our students to interact with social forces and effect change where and when it is required.
Secondly, our curriculum needs to prepare students to be lifelong learners. They need to be able to continuously think on their feet by connecting new knowledge with previous knowledge and applying what is learned to their world as well as to the outside world. This needs to become a smooth and natural process for our students so they will continue to seek not just knowledge but understanding. We know that we truly understand something if we can “transfer what we have learned to new and sometimes confusing settings.” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) This says it all. As we consider the social forces that our students will be dealing with the rest of their lives, these forces are nothing if not “new and sometimes confusing”.
It was the concept of backward design, though, that had the biggest impact on my current practice and perspective of curriculum design. Curriculum cohesion within a grade level, school, and district has always seemed to be one of the biggest challenges in my view. Backwards design directly addresses this issue. In stage one, Identify desired results (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005), we are called to clarify our goals and learning standards in a way that allows us to continuously refer back to them as we craft our assessments and learning experiences. As we collaborate with our colleagues to develop curriculum, this common focus on desired results keeps us on the same page and aligned not only with the intended objectives of the state and district but also with each other.
I focused my curriculum design project for this course on phonemic awareness and have attached this artifact here: Phonemic Awareness – The Building Blocks of Words. Applying the backwards design method to this unit enabled me to effectively design instruction and create assessments that address both long and short term learning goals (C & I Standard 1) as well as implement these instructional plans through an aligned curriculum that promotes student engagement and success. (C & I Standard 3)
As I enter into another school year I will work towards advocating that backwards design become the standard procedure for curriculum design within my grade level. It is my hope that this practice could eventually become routine amongst my colleagues in my school, professional learning community, and district.
Dewey, J. (2010). Progressive organization of subject matter. In F. Parkay, et al., Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs (pp. 327-329).Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Parkay, F., et al. (2010). Curriculum leadership: Readings for developing quality educational programs. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.