Curriculum Design for Teachers (page 3)
There are three prerequisites to planning your classroom curriculum. First, it is best that you know your students—their cultural and economic backgrounds and their general family situation—as well as your students' ability levels, interests, maturity, prior knowledge and experience, and special needs or necessary accommodations. You may need to begin your long-range planning, however, before you know all this in the detail that you'd like. Regardless, your job is to design and enact a classroom program that will not only meet the needs of your students but also motivate them to want to keep learning.
Second, to plan the classroom curriculum, you will need to know the subject matter that you will teach, that is, the content. Content is the body of facts, concepts, skills, habits of mind, and so forth that represent what you will teach. For elementary teachers, it is likely that you will be ahead of your students to start with, but it is still necessary for you to study and update yourself on the content that you will be teaching. You should also review your state standards and local district or school curriculum guides.
Third, you will need to be aware of what materials you have and what equipment is available. It makes a difference, for example, if you'll have an Internet-connected Smart Board in your classroom or still have to rely upon the chalkboard. Available technology, software, audiovisuals, science equipment, measuring tools, math manipulatives, library resources—all make a difference. And don't forget to consider your local community's resources, such as museums, zoos, nature centers, parks, guest speakers, and volunteers. And it makes a difference whether or not you have help from a teacher mentor or a teacher aide.
Finally, keep in mind that long-range planning is considered within a larger frame than the school day. One larger frame is the week, while another is the grading period—which could be six weeks, a quarter (nine weeks), or a semester. An example of framing instruction into a weekly schedule is the teacher who, on Monday, introduces the content that is to be addressed by Friday and the assignments students will complete by then. Assignments might include readings, searching for information online or in the library, and responding someway in writing to the concepts and skills being studied.
The primary prerequisite to planning your classroom curriculum is knowing your students. Part of this involves knowing about their backgrounds. Demographics have to do with socioeconomic status indicators. The demographic variables among your students, such as family income, parental education, mobility, and home language, are a few of the components that define a demographic context and are what make each classroom unique. The demographics of your students are the givens, what you have to start with in your classroom, and there is not much you can do to change them. Remember, what students bring to school accounts for much of the variance in their academic performance. Your understanding of the demographics can enrich your perspective and help you better allocate your instructional time and resources.
Understanding a classroom's demographic context can help remove excuses and increase the positive stress when students are not performing in line with their favorable demographics. Often there is little pressure on some students to improve their achievement, as they already perform better than students in other schools in their area. With a little push, however, these students, with their advantaged demographic profile, can improve relatively quickly. If this is the situation in your classroom, what you have to do is up their positive stress.
Conversely, understanding a classroom's demographic context can also help decrease the negative stress when students are doing well despite a disadvantaged demographic profile. When students are doing better than their backgrounds would indicate, this tells you that they are making the right efforts, and this calls for celebrating! Thus, the demographic lens is another tool that can help you plan more appropriately for instruction. We will look at this again when we discuss sociograms.
Special needs represents a category of students that includes everything from the learning disabled to the gifted. Inevitably you will have the opportunity sometime in your career to teach many kinds of students with special needs. Some students have specific disabilities, such as being visually or hearing impaired. Some may be normal in every other way except that English is not their first language. These children are variously called ESL (English as a Second Language), ELL (English Language Learners), or simply EL (English Learners). Other students with special needs may be cognitively or physically challenged.
Inclusive learning environments represent a change in how students are to be taught in our schools today. Back in the "old days," students with special needs were segregated for specialized instruction. The preference today, however, is for teachers to provide appropriate instruction for all students through differentiating instruction in a heterogeneous classroom. Doing this will require time and patience: you may have to make accommodations for some students and modifications for others. Providing for the special needs of students will certainly be one of your biggest challenges as a teacher.
Such students may require that you use particular teaching strategies in a structured environment that supports their learning. You may want to learn more about teaching children with special needs by taking special education classes or workshops. The Internet has many websites devoted to teaching children with particular needs. For example, see the National Association for Gifted Children online at www.nagc.org.
Content Area(s) Standards and Assessment
Returning again to what you need to know to plan your classroom curriculum, you may recall that one of them is the subject matter. As you begin your planning, be sure to examine your state and national standards for the subject(s) at the grade level you teach, as well as your textbooks and supplemental materials. Standards for the fifty states can be downloaded at www.academicbenchmarks.com/. Studying your state's standards will help you determine what content you must address.
Some teachers find it helpful to extract the main ideas from their standards or curriculum framework and outline them or create a concept map.
If you have a spare calendar or can generate one on your computer, you will find it is a helpful tool in planning. With a calendar you can visualize the time in the month or in the academic term and then map out what you want your students to be studying in a subject over the course of the semester or school year. Think of it as a process of merging your curriculum concept map to your time frame for delivery. Through this process of organizing your lessons, you'll be able to roughly pace yourself as you teach. However, don't let your plan and timeline become a rigid dictate for enacting your classroom curriculum. The plan should only be a rough guide. You must be sensitive to "conditions on the ground" and be ready to modify your plans and timeline as you judge from your ongoing assessments. Remember, you are meeting children's needs and, to a reasonable extent, must "go with the flow."
An assessment simply describes what data you will use to decide whether your lesson objectives have been achieved. This topic will be addressed in detail in Unit IV, but as with classroom management, it is something to consider as part of your planning. Far from just happening when a lesson ends, a good assessment precedes instruction, continues throughout the lesson, and then shows up again when evaluating student progress.
Assessment must be based on your unit goals and lesson objectives. It is about gathering all the information that you will use to evaluate your students. Evaluation is the actual judgment you make as to the degree a student has achieved the objectives. Assessment is both formative and summative. Formative assessment should be embedded throughout your lessons. It helps you determine such things as the pace of the lessons and whether particular topics have already been learned or will need reteaching. Assessment can involve using scoring guides or rubrics for projects, written and oral reports, group work, and student journals. As to the summative assessment, it occurs at the end of the unit (or grading period) and can take many forms, typically involving a written test for older students, though it can be a portfolio of the work that a student accomplished during the time the unit was taught.
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