I’m taking several (4) courses this summer as I begin working on my PhD in (you guessed it!) curriculum and instruction at Kent State. One of these courses hasn’t even started yet, and I’m already thinking about all the things I did wrong this year (granted, it was my first in curriculum and I’ll equate it to the first year of teaching when you’re really just stumbling along!); my thinking,my understanding of my role, my outlook and vision have already shifted.
From the conception of this blog, I have been a standards-managing machine. I guess I have always thought of curriculum (from lesson planning to course design) like I thought of my approach to teaching writing, which was with almost mathematical precision:
I taught students to visualize their writing like an upside down triangle as the intro, going from broad statements to more focused theses, a right side up triangle as the conclusion from a specific restatement of the thesis to a broad, wordly morale, and sandwiched in between were paragraph blocks that each began with a transition, sentence connecting the topic to the thesis, several sentences of support, and a concluding sentence. Writing, I would tell them, is like a mathematical formula, and we can plug any variation of info into the same structure. Don’t judge me (I am a product of the proficiency test), but I would go so far as to say, “using ‘first, second, third’ as your transition words is enough to get you through the OGT.” Systematic, formulaic, easy to replicate.
Other “rules” I had for writing: must be five paragraphs, don’t start sentences with but or and, lead into a quote and afterward, tell me why the quote fit, use minimum of two quotes per paragraph, start with a hook…..my list went on and on, and with each new rule, all my idiosyncratic power trippy rules (that we all know I don’t hold myself to in my own writing!), I sucked a little more art, more life out of writing.
Writing is enjoyable. It’s a way to reflect, to think out loud, to be a part of something. It’s what we can leave behind, and the more we write, the more we expose who we are. I used to get so mad when my high school teachers (yes, you, Mrs. Downing) told me my writing had no voice, and now I know why–writing is our voice. Writing is an art form, but it’s more than that, it’s how we exist and continue to exist well beyond our short time.
When I started this blog, I approached curriculum with the same formulaic mindset. It didn’t matter what the content was, you could tear down those standards into their minutiae, move them around, transition from one to the next, and move (sequentially and logically) from one step in learning to the next. Step after step (paragraph after paragraph). Lather, rinse, and repeat with the next content area. Boom, boom, boom—and there you have it, a curriculum!
But curriculum design, is so much greater than that; much like writing is so much greater than the formula. Curriculum isn’t just a set of standards that we plot out from point a to b; it is everything we put it place to develop the whole child. It is what the state says plus
(Standards) + what the district says, which is based on what the community says + what teachers say + what parents say + what students need. All of that is curriculum. It is a common, shared vision of what students need to be whole people, to be the kinds of people who will make our community and beyond the kind of place we want it to be. Whether we want to or not, what we value locally (religion, values, character traits, career expectations) comes through in our curriculum.
When I started, I saw my role as orchestra conductor, almost like I had to stand on a stage and direct all the sections of the orchestra to play each note on the page, to walk them through a process step by step. But that is not my role. My role as I see it now is still to predicate learning on the standards, but to coordinate all these perspectives into a curriculum design that develops whole children. My role is to ensure equity at secondary not just in access to academics, but in access to a certain democratic quality of life for all students at any of our secondary buildings.
Curriculum, like writing, is an art. It’s decisions predicated on what’s best for children, not their test scores, necessarily. It’s building structures that allow teachers to be experts and cultivating them and their efforts from the sidelines.
When you read good writing, you forget that you’re reading. You fall into the text, and page after page, you turn without noticing that hours are passing. Good writing allows you to forget you’re reading. Good curriculum is the same. If I’m cultivating a good curriculum with our teachers, they shouldn’t feel eternally tied to coded statements (“Today, I am teaching RI.7.4”), they should feel like they are directing the course of students’ lives and shaping their real futures. If I’m doing my job, curriculum shouldn’t be a dirty “c” word, it should be the path to connect with students and guide them into society. It is through our public education system and its curricula that society continues and we exist as a people.
Now that’s pretty awesome.