Including academic and content vocabulary in the local curriculum will support instructional targets, promote vertical alignment across grade levels by establishing the use of common terminology, and ensure that the terms are both taught and assessed.
Get students up and moving with this quick assessment strategy! At the end of a lesson, make a statement or ask a question regarding content. Students will move to the corresponding corner of the classroom to share their response to the prompt. Responses can be degree of agreement (strongly agree, disagree, not sure), answers to specific questions, or self reflection of content understanding (I’ve got it! or I still need some help!).
Teachers and students alike experience their day in a schedule of time based on various academic subjects. Your morning may consist of a block of English Language Arts, followed by science, social studies, and fine arts classes, and the day might end with Math. We spend a great deal of time learning these schedules and routines, perfecting them to make sure adequate instructional minutes are met. Breaking up the school day based on subjects does seem to be a very manageable way of ensuring all students are spending equal amounts of time learning each disciplinary area.
Perhaps just as important as making sure students are immersed in all subjects equally, is the importance of creating an authentic learning environment where students are able to apply the skills they learn throughout their scheduled-subject day. Another factor of importance is to deliver instruction in a way that allows students to connect their learning to real-world experiences. As adults, we find ourselves applying the skills and knowledge we learned throughout our educational experiences to navigate and survive in the real world. As we travel to the grocery store, we might use a map to get there (geography), need to assess our needs and wants as we navigate the aisles (economics), and calculate the amount of money we need to give to the cashier (math). All of these academic disciplines come into play together in one real-world experience. Using this example, we can already see the first of many benefits of cross-curricular instruction.
What is Cross-Curricular Instruction?
Cross-curricular instruction is an instructional strategy that offers a way for teachers to plan lessons that incorporate more than one disciplinary area. This allows students to broaden their lens of understanding and apply skills and strategies they learn in lessons to deepen their overall understanding and make authentic, real-world connections. Cross-curricular instruction also allows students the opportunity to learn skills in different contexts. For example, if a student has a passion for science, they may be more engaged and willing to take risks by applying concepts they have learned in math. If a student is apprehensive about writing, but passionate about history, incorporating writing into social studies lessons allows them to have a positive mindset and increases their engagement with the skill they are practicing. Cross-curricular instruction also lends itself to project-based learning. This authentic learning experience and strategy allows students to further put into practice the skills they have learned in their studies. Students are able to make meaningful connections to each curricular area, but also see the learning experience as a whole.
Planning for and implementing cross-curricular instruction may seem like a daunting task. Although we want to create meaningful learning experiences for our students, we are still tied to state standards and maintaining the fidelity of our curricula. To get started using cross-curricular instruction, consider using the following tips:
Have a Plan One of the key steps to ensuring success with cross-curricular instruction is clear, long-term planning. Mapping out priority learning targets for each curricular area will help those involved in the planning process have a clear vision.
Clear, Natural Connections Another important strategy is looking for authentic links between subjects. The connections between disciplines should be natural, not forced. Choose areas where the connections occur naturally and make sure that these connections are concrete enough for the students to understand.
Plan Thematic Units Thematic units are a great way to get started with cross-curricular planning. You can take one idea or theme and tie it into many different subject areas. This strategy will allow those connections among subjects to occur more naturally. Once a theme is established, you can choose a key concept to guide instruction, and then lessons within that key concept from different subjects.
Reflect As with any new initiative or strategy, reflection is by far the most important component throughout the process. The willingness to be flexible in your planning, to go back and reflect on different strategies and the effectiveness of lessons is what will bring your cross-curricular experience to the next level.
Using these strategies will help with planning and implementing opportunities for cross-curricular instruction. Finding a link across subject areas will allow your students to experience a truly authentic, engaging learning experience where they can apply new skills in a multitude of ways.
Have you ever been in a conversation about learning targets, and the textbook was called the curriculum? At first, it may seem like a simple error of using the wrong term. However, a common belief among some educators is that the textbook or resource is a curriculum. The curriculum is the knowledge and skills students should know and be able to demonstrate. A resource is a tool used to provide instructional support to teach the curriculum.
Misconceptions about textbooks.
A textbook is a curriculum. Those who have not experienced local curriculum development may have this belief. A local curriculum should be aligned to standards, include scaffolding learning topics, and incorporate what is important at the grassroots level. An aligned resource needs to support the local curriculum allowing flexibility in instructional methods, but not be the curriculum. Resources are not limited to texts and may include manipulatives, equipment, online support, guest speakers, and field trips.
Textbook authors always know best. Many well-educated people usually participate in developing a text, but do they really understand the student population for which the local curriculum is intended? Local teacher experts are more familiar with their school community population and are specifically trained to meet their needs.
The entire textbook has to be covered in sequential order. This belief is to prevent possible gaps in student learning. While it sounds like a great idea, the reality is far from the intention. It is impossible to ensure guaranteed and viable learning with this approach. There are many topics included in the textbook to allow teachers some options and flexibility when teaching. Does covering the entire textbook even allow an in-depth study of essential topics? Maybe, but a concept of covering material and getting through the text could replace true mastery of learning.
This textbook is thoroughly aligned with my state standards. Textbooks are designed to be broad enough to address standards in many states. This cost-effective approach of lumping everything together is to obtain mass sales from potential customers. Textbook companies will provide alignment charts to show their product aligns to the standards from all states. Be cautious when accepting this document at face value. Do the homework yourself and find the cognitive level AND the entire content of the standard expectation. You may be disappointed to discover the only “match” is a word or two on a page.
What should we do now?
Selecting resources to support the local curriculum requires careful consideration of many factors. In the CLI Model, we recommend resource adoption after implementing and validating the draft curriculum. The resources should align with the curriculum, support student learning, and address the instructional needs of teachers. During validation of the curriculum, teachers have identified specific materials they have used to teach the topics and found some favorites. Carefully evaluate those materials for how well the entire curriculum is supported.
In order to make the best choice, teachers should use a rubric with qualitative descriptors to assist with the selection. Consider incorporating these questions: Was there information about all outcomes? Were there plenty of support materials, including online, to help with student learning? Were there formative checks of learning to help prepare for the next steps?
After a thorough evaluation, the Subject Area Committee (SAC) brings their choice to the Curriculum Coordinating Council (CCC). If the SAC’s recommendation is accepted, the next step is for the CCC to go to the board to approve and adopt the chosen resource.
Using the adopted resource to support the local curriculum
How do you make the most of your newly adopted resource? First, it is a great idea to have solid professional development for all staff utilizing the materials. Arrange an opportunity for teachers to ask questions, try out the technology, and explore the support materials soon after the resource arrives.
Good planning involves a variety of instructional strategies, differentiation for student learning, and checking student understanding. These areas are a part of CLI’s Instructional Planning Resource (IPR) and are in most resource packages. Also, consider using the suggested cross-curricular connections to maximize instructional time and relate academic content.
When developing local assessments, both formative and summative, teachers could review the resource’s test bank of questions for ideas. Questions should only be used as written if there is complete content and cognitive alignment with the local curriculum. Modification of the resource questions is also an option to create alignment.
When is the best time to start a resource review?
It takes time to determine which resource is the best fit for a district. Utilize the first semester of the school year to carefully evaluate options so the SAC and CCC can recommend their choice to the board of education shortly after the second semester begins. If the board approves, a district can place the order right away unless there is a public review policy. Either way, the timeframe should still be in the window so materials can arrive by the end of the current school year. Proper planning for the implementation of the new resource can follow.
While all of these steps are necessary, it is essential to remember that the goal is to support student learning of the local curriculum. Making the resource request with that goal in mind will increase the chances of student success.
America is beginning to change. So are its schools. The reasons are obvious. The COVID 19 Pandemic is one of them.
Other important reasons are associated with social disparities, funding, shifting governmental policy, and the purpose of education in a developing 21st Century.
School boards, curriculum councils, teachers, and administrators are under more pressure than ever. Parents and school patrons demand solutions to nearly unsolvable problems. Most of which involve virtual learning, social distancing, and learning quality.
Meeting agendas often include topics shown below:
- keeping students engaged using distance education,
- the role of curriculum and instructional design,
- the extent to which students are “falling behind,”
- internet access,
- availability of electronic tools like computers,
- budgets that sustain the many changes in learning configuration,
- family support systems,
- teacher salaries and morale, and
- the health of both teachers and students.
These topics have long been areas of concern. They are challenges made worse by the pandemic.
The first three topics in the list should be discussed as priorities by the curriculum council. They need both immediate and long-term attention. Subsequent E-Hints will offer ideas for solving immediate issues. However, now is a good time to ensure long-term policies are still in place and working.
Three are most important:
Ensure your district has a clear policy for academic program development, implementation, maintenance, and evaluation.
If there is a policy in place, is it being adhered to by the board, curriculum council, and administrative staff? If not, how can that problem be addressed?
Make certain your district has a long-range plan of action, a process that systematically upgrades the quality of curriculum, instruction, and assessment of student learning over time.
If a plan of action exists and is up to date, is it being followed according to policy provisions? If not, what can be done to resolve that problem?
Clear intentions for student learning called mastery statements are more essential than ever!
Teachers need mastery statements to guide their planning, instruction, and assessment. Parents and school patrons want to know what is expected of students. Three kinds of mastery statements are essential:
- a comprehensive description of what students who complete a district’s full curriculum will know or do
- descriptions of what students who complete each subject area in the district’s curriculum will know or do
- an accurate statement of what students will know or do after completing each subject at grade level
If those three actions were taken years ago, today’s unique challenges might require a few modifications. We suggest the process start with your curriculum council. Recommendations can then be made to the administrative staff and board of education.
As I reflect on the past 25 years or so of working directly with school districts of various sizes, I debated my last topic for an E-Hint. A staff colleague asked, “In your work, what have been the most important things districts can do to change school culture through curriculum development, instructional planning, and local assessment development?” So, I created this list of actions that I feel lead to the most significant impact for districts implementing the model. I daresay that these actions would lead to positive effects within any school district. They have led to intense study of best practice through research, consistent improvement of student learning, and powerful conversations between and among teachers, administrators, the board of education, and community members.
To achieve significant results, a district must establish:
- a “district” mindset for the governance of curriculum, instruction, and assessment by a representative group of teachers, administrators, board, and local stakeholders.
- This district mindset demands that members put aside their titles and their individualism to make decisions that will positively benefit the school district.
- District personnel bring their expertise to the table, but the stakeholders are free to discuss as equal participants in the decision-making steps involved.
- a climate of accountability for teachers and students along with district-level and building-level leadership.
- As with many action decisions, if no one is checking, it is natural to do what is “easier” when stress and deadlines encroach on planning. Accountability structures lead to productive actions for the entire school staff and foster a sense of daily accountability for students.
- a Long-Range Plan to outline timeframes for curriculum development, instructional planning, and local assessment development.
- Teachers and teacher teams will not have to wonder when changes are to be made to a curriculum, leading to instructional planning adjustments, assessment revisions, and the potential for new resources.
- Administrators can budget time and finances, for upcoming needs in advance.
- district-wide parameters for grading policies that positively impact student learning.
- Stakeholders should have opportunities for research and dialogue to identify and implement best practice grading solutions regarding the why and how students are evaluated for their performance.
- Teachers’ closely held beliefs about grading are often shared while decisions are made about what scores are “fair” to include and how to incorporate the scores into a “grade” for students.
- An environment of equity and fairness results from the discussions.
- a common, local curriculum aligned to standards allows teachers of the same grade level or course opportunities to have planning conversations.
- Teachers collaborate to develop instructional plans with common outcome targets, leading to using all teachers’ expertise of the same grade level in each classroom. Teachers learn from each other in pursuit of common goals.
- The common, local curriculum establishes the Tier One curriculum on which to base intervention plans.
- common assessments with descriptions of defined performance levels.
- Teachers carefully align local assessments to make sure they are assessing the established curriculum.
- Subjectivity is removed from grading as much as is possible.
- Results are shared within the grade level or courses to determine best instruction practices on a specific curricular goal and identify the most effective instructional strategies.
- Teachers can implement interventions in a timely manner.
- Communication regarding student progress can be more specific and include celebrations or clear steps for improvement.
- a seamless progression of content and skills in each subject area for efficient instruction.
- There is a clear “roadmap” of the students’ journey of content and skills.
- Teachers can identify where or when students may have experienced a loss of successful learning.
- Teachers can rely on the learning in previous grade levels to provide the basis for new learning expectations.
These strategies or steps to improve curriculum, instruction, and assessment alignment lead to better communication between and among all stakeholders and provide stability throughout a school district. While these actions would lead to positive effects within any school district, it is often impossible to maintain the priority without a district-mandated structure explicitly designed to require discussion.