Archive for February, 2008

Curriculum: From Instrument to Instruction


Teachers can participate in developing curriculum or they may be handed a curriculum. In either case it is the teacher who must implement the curriculum. Like the teaching cycle, the curricular cycle involves three stages. Developing the curriculum is the Planning Stage. The teacher may or may not be involved in that phase. The curriculum must then be implemented, the Implementation Stage. It is this stage that requires the teacher’s full and complete involvement. This is, after all, the job of the teacher. The third Stage of the curricular cycle is the Assessment Stage. Just as in the Teaching Cycle testing, observations, surveys or other means may be used to assess the curriculum. Once again the teacher may be part of this process or not. Increasingly in today’s education world, teachers are excluded from this process. The assessment tool of today’s curriculum cyclists has become the standardized test.

Previous posts have taken on the issues of the Planning Stage and the Assessment Stage. This post and the next will deal with the Implementation Stage. School districts have spent obscene amounts of money to develop curriculum. Often teachers are handed the instrument and told to teach it in a certain manner so that the assessment will be accomplished with their students meeting or exceeding the standards. This is the role the teacher participates in without question. There are three aspects to identify: 1) The Instrument 2) the manner to teach the instrument 3) meeting or exceeding standards.

“The instrument” refers to that part of the curriculum that the teacher is responsible to teach. For example, the fourth grade teacher is expected to teach: English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Science, Physical Development & Health, Fine Arts, and Social/Emotional Learning. In some cases, teachers begin to specialize and take responsibility for limited aspects of the curriculum. The PE teacher takes on the Physical Development & Health aspects of the curriculum. The Art and Music teachers works on the Fine Arts program. If schools allow departmentalization, one 4th grade teacher does the math while another does the science. The Language Arts and social studies can then be handled by the assigned classroom teacher. Of course if the school only has one fourth grade and can’t afford a PE teacher or Music teacher or Art teacher, then that teachers does it all.

The instrument is a part of a larger structure, either the school or district curriculum. Each school or district has its own design. As indicated in the last post, there are common elements to a curriculum. With the pressure from the state and federal educators, local districts have moved toward adopting state goals and standards. Therefore a good curriculum should contain the goal, standard and benchmark with suggested activities. The teacher’s role is to take the goal and standard and incorporate it into a workable classroom activity so that the benchmark is achieved. In some cases a scripted scenario of activity is offered the teacher. In some cases, the scripted scenario is required to be performed at a set time. On Day 3 of the first week, the following lesson is to be performed. All teachers of this grade or subject in the district shall complete this lesson on the same day. This synchronized teaching has offered more controversy to formal education debates.

From instrument to instruction involves identifying the best approaches to use with these particular pupils. The teacher develops the lesson plan based on the instrument and the method to be employed. Seventh grade is a fun grade to teach. Seventh grade Science can be a challenging topic. Using the Illinois standards and assuming that the school has incorporated the state standards into their curriculum, the following might be a lesson.

Understand the processes of scientific inquiry and technological design to investigate questions, conduct experiments and solve problems.
<>State Standard 11A
– Students who meet the standard know and apply the concepts, principles, and processes of scientific inquiry.
<><>Benchmark 11.A.3a
Formulate hypotheses that can be tested by collecting data.

From this the teacher knows that pupils will be expected to know the definition of hypothesis and data. The idea in this benchmark is for the pupil to “understand” the relationship between hypothesis and data. As the excellent grade teacher realizes that data requires numbers of some sort or another. Math involves numbers as well. Integration of subject areas increase the chances of successful teaching and the resulting learning. Checking the math curriculum, the following is discovered:

Collect, organize and analyze data using statistical methods; predict results; and interpret uncertainty using concepts of probability.
<>State Standard10A.
– Organize, describe and make predictions from existing data.
<><>Benchmark 10.A.3a
Construct,read and interpret tables, graphs (including circle graphs) and chart organize and represent data.

[Both goals can be integrated into the lesson. Quality curriculum would have integrated this for the teacher or allow the teacher to add this to the curriculum for future lessons. ]

Quality teaching and utilization of a state allied curriculum bridges the gap between the administrative smile and the classroom sweat. Using this format approach helps keep the high school department person or grade school level coordinator, curriculum director, principal and superintendent happy. The teacher employs this to teach the lesson. This lesson has been taught millions of times by teachers in every science classroom for a very long time. This is the beginning point of helping students learn the laboratory approach to science. Scientists identify problems, asks questions, express answers and attempt to prove their answer. This is how science works. Hypothesis lead to predictions which turn into experiments which collect data which is analyzed and used to support hypothesis. This the basis of the lesson.

To Be Continued………

February 27, 2008 at 3:38 am 2 comments

The Learning Legend…

Teachers need to learn how to read, implement, use and talk about THE mapadvenCURRICULUM. This is the legend….. It is the starting point for teachers, parents, students and anyone else who’s interested….

Like a good map, the curriculum needs a legend. Each state has its own legend. Teachers are expected to be able to use curriculum. Unfortunately few teacher preparation courses prepare the teacher for this. Teachers can be given a school or district or state curriculum and are then directed to their classroom to teach! This post will hopefully help those not familiar with curriculum to be able to identify the framework of a curriculum.

The framework of curriculum is how the components of a curriculum fit together. The framework is pretty much the same in all states. The difference is in the terminology. The words used are the same: Goals, Objectives, Standards and Benchmarks. The confusion arises when the same word is used for a different level of the curriculum.

Using a curriculum requires the user, first, to be aware of an individual’s state framework hierarchy. This is where the greatest confusion arises. Some states use standard as the highest level while other states use goals. Whatever the term used, the curriculum begins at one stage, goal. Each goal is then divided into standards. Each of these standards are further divided into benchmarks which can then be applied to grade levels. This is the basic framework of a curriculum.

Scope and sequence are terms that are applied to the content and chronology of the curriculum. Scope refers to the content included while sequence refers to the order that the content is presented. State, District and School curriculum will follow the same framework (design). However, the district will need to adapt the state curriculum to meet the needs of its students just as the school within a district may have to adapt its curriculum to fulfill the needs of its students. (This is one of the great controversy in education.Just how much control should the district and school and classroom teacher be allowed to adapt and alter the state curriculum? Under NCLB teaching to the needs of local pupils creates problems with state testing and meeting the required levels.)

The state curriculum also spells out the subject areas and grade levels.The district and/or school will then adapt these to their particular needs. A primary school will only use the parts of a curriculum that apply to them. The district, of course, will need to carefully oversee the articulation and coordination between primary and intermediate schools. Teachers are involved in the articulation and coordination when they are are asked to participate in the curriculum committee. (A future post perhaps!)

To help the teacher understand the curriculum framework, the Illinois Standards are composed of 30 goals spread over 7 subject areas. Each goal is divided into “so many” standards. Each standard has a series of benchmarks for each grade level. There are five grade levels: Early Elementary, Late Elementary, Middle/Junior High School, Early High School, Late High School. Using the subject area of Science, there are three goals (11-12-13 of the 30 overall goals). Goal 11 has two standards (A-B). There are 6 benchmarks for Early Elementary and 5 benchmarks for Late Elementary. The benchmarks are identified by a number (grade level) and a lower case letter.

This is State Goal 11 and the first standard followed by the first benchmark (a) of the Early Elementary grade level (1).

STATE GOAL 11: Understand the processes of scientific inquiry and technological design to investigate questions, conduct experiments and solve problems.

A. Know and apply the concepts, principles and processes of scien­tific inquiry.

11.A.1a Describe an observed event.

As a teacher, you develop lessons that would lead a pupil to be able to describe an observed event. This is a location (landmark) that each pupil adds to his/her map of learning. The teacher is the guide through the wilderness of “learning landmarks.” The curriculum acts as the teacher’s template. Each child must fill in his own map as the journey of learning unfolds grade after grade. Teachers or parents cannot learn for a child, they can only guide them and hope that the child learns.

In Illinois there are:

  • 7 subject areas: English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Physical Development & Health, Fine Arts, and Foreign Language.
  • 5 grade levels: Early Elementary, Late Elementary, Middle/Junior High School, Early High School, Late High School
  • 30 state goals
  • 3 Science Goals: Goal 11 – Inquiry and Design, Goal 12 – Concepts and Principles, Goal 13 – Science, Technology and Society
  • 2 standards for goal #11, Goal 12…5 standards, Goal 13…2 standards
  • 11 benchmarks for goal # 11 in the Early Elementary Level. 13 benchmarks for Goal 12, 8 benchmarks for Goal 13.

    The Illinois standards can be located at Illinois Standards

vespucciAs a teacher or parent, allow the pupil or child to discover the wilderness and create their own map. The map can be plain or decorated. It can be flat or three dimensional, colorful or drab, big or small, pencil or pen.. Just as long as the pupil or child can owe the map and say that it is his or hers. Knowledge, esteem and wisdom belong to the map makers.

February 14, 2008 at 1:58 am Leave a comment

Beginning the Map..The Three Dimensions

ImageA curriculum is a map of learning. It needs to be flexible enough to take advantage of sudden twists or turns or new sites of interest. Learning needs to be an adventure. Lewis and Clark headed on a journey of discovery and learning. They used the above map as a guide. It offer a direction but left many gaps. Lewis and Clark lead the corp of discovery to learning. They filled in the map with their discoveries. Just as Lewis and Clark led their team through the wilderness, the classroom teacher leads the corp of learning to discover. Lewis and Clark were given a specific set of instructions by Thomas Jefferson. He wanted The Corps of Discovery to learn about the waterways, the native population, the possibility of settlement, the fauna and flora, the resources and to fill in the gaps on the map. (You can read Jefferson’s letter to Lewis at:,44 ). This what a curriculum should be! A map with a few landmarks and a great deal of space to fill. This is curriculum design at its best.

Curriculum design begins at the state level with mandates from the state legislature. The State Board of Education designs the first set of landmarks that are expected to be included in each of the state’s school districts curriculum. Using the state’s landmarks (called standards, benchmarks, state goals, etc), the local school district develops a curriculum to be implemented in each of the schools in the district. Schools may or may not be allowed to alter landmarks. The teacher is expected to implement the curriculum in the classroom. State tests are administered usually in the spring each year to students in certain grades- third, seventh and eighth, for example. The test results are then used to determine how well a school has achieved the landmarks designated by the state. Planning (development of curriculum), Implementation (teachers teaching the curriculum) and Assessment (the state standardize test)- the teaching cycle! Evaluation comes after assessment.

Curriculum can be explicit or implicit. Explicit is the curriculum that is developed with countless hours of work in little meetings. Explicit curriculum has two dimensions. Horizontal refers to the landmarks included in a certain level. For example, Third grade and Biology are two horizontal levels. The horizontal dimension has two aspects: Scope and Sequence. Scope refers to what topics are included and what specific landmark should be captured. Sequence refers to the order the topics are presented. The vertical dimension refers to the the development of topics over time. For example, first grade math introduces addition while second grade math introduces multiplication. The implicit curriculum is the third dimension of a curriculum. Implicit curriculum includes the school climate, the color paint, the friendliness, the feeling of safeness, etc. The implicit curriculum is often not addressed in the same detail as that of the explicit curriculum.

In summary, Curriculum is a map of the landmarks of learning (goals, standards, benchmarks, etc). The curriculum is three dimensional. It is horizontal; along the grade or subject level which includes the scope and sequence. It is vertical; topics carried up the ladder of learning. And the third dimension (implicit curriculum) includes the atmosphere in which learning occurs.

So the teacher begins with a map with landmarks. The teacher is expected to guide his pupils through the wilderness of learning capturing landmarks and filling in their maps of learning. As years of experience in various grades of learning continue, the pupil grows to a student filled with the best traditions and knowledge of the past society. This allows the student to step into adulthood and take over the cherished values of their society. The map has filled in.

February 3, 2008 at 2:17 am Leave a comment

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