Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guaranteed and Viable

During my days as a principal I remember preparing class lists for the next school year. Inevitably some parents would request their child be placed in a particular class. The request was always followed by an explanation or rationale. The point of today's column isn't to discuss why [or why not] honoring parent requests is or isn't a good idea, nor is it to offer any insight into how I handled such a request. Those are questions best left to your child's principal!

What I would like to do is discuss one of the reasons the request is made in the first place, and how it connects to what we are doing with curriculum alignment and professional development at Hudson! The request sometimes goes like this:
"Hi Mr. Voss! When you are assigning students next year for Mrs. Smith's class, could you please make sure that my little David is in her room? Mrs. Smith does a really neat unit on butterflies and I would love it if David had that opportunity! I know Mrs. Adams is a good teacher and all, but she doesn't teach that unit on butterflies. She does something on turtles instead and, well....butterflies are just so much more interesting."
The first question that should be asked of our fictitious teachers above is, "Where do butterflies (or turtles for that matter) fit in the curriculum? Which essential learning outcome does this meet? How does this unit align to the Iowa Core Curriculum?" Unfortunately, if it doesn't align to the Core or have some sort of connective value it probably should be ejected.

That has been at the center of our teacher's work during the last couple of years. The implementation of the PLC model has caused this task to pick up steam. With a weekly early dismissal scheduled for next year you can expect the pace to quicken even more. Our teachers are working relentlessly identifying the essential learning outcomes that all students should know and be able to do by the time they complete that particular grade level. They collaborate together to design units, assessments, and instruction to execute that curriculum.

The reason we do this is to ensure to you, the parents, that no matter who your child is assigned as a classroom teacher, be it Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Adams--they are going to be exposed to the same curricular material. We are able to provide a guaranteed and viable curriculum. In other words the district guarantees that in kindergarten (for example) your child is going to learn about butterflies. Then in first grade (again for example) your child is going to learn about turtles.

What is viability then? Well, viability is exposure. Let's say for example both Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Adams have to cover butterflies in kindergarten. Check off box number one: we now have a guaranteed curriculum because that butterfly concept is an essential outcome. But what if Mrs. Smith spends a week on butterflies and Mrs. Adams only spends a day on them? Sorry, we can't check off box number two: viability. One of our teachers is either not covering it well enough, or the opposite is true: the other teacher is going into too much depth. The curriculum is not viable in this case. 

Again, this is where the power of the PLC becomes our tool to ensure viability! The conversation between the teachers may go a little bit like this:
"Okay, Mrs. Adams. We have to teach our students about butterflies. I think that should take us about a week because to understand butterflies we need to make sure our students can....."
And so the conversation goes between our professional educators. At the end of their conversation they are able to say that learning about butterflies is an essential learning concept that should take about a week of study. We have just created a guaranteed and viable curriculum because both teachers are on 'the same page' when it comes to the finer points of butterfly instruction!

Here is where it has begun to get exciting in Hudson! This year we have had a strong focus on math and our teachers have been examining the Iowa Core. We have used the Core to develop our essential learning outcomes in math. Why did we select math? Well that is a discussion for another day, but the easiest and cleanest answer is that our student achievement data suggest this would be a good content area in which to begin this very important work. In any event, our teachers have been working hard this year developing their essential leaning outcomes to prepare for a major math curriculum adoption. Last week we had an opportunity to evaluate a math curriculum, and the teachers are beginning to test some of these lessons now. As we were listening to the presentation, I could see our teachers intently taking notes and discussing with their colleagues about whether or not this curriculum would meet the essential learning outcomes as they are aligned to the Iowa Core.

Pretty exciting stuff, isn't it? Stay tuned, Reading is on deck!

Authors Note: I am not a butterfly or turtle expert and have no opinion as to whether or where they should fit in the curriculum!

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