I have been working in a school district that works tirelessly at preparing a curriculum for all grades. I have even been one of those curriculum writers, and I know that the individuals that take up their time to write, add and triple check state expectations/objectives/assessments do so because they believe in the power of alignment. These writers are not trying to stifle creativity or tell teachers how to teach. Instead, these writers are trying to take state expectations and make it manageable for all teachers (especially the teachers walking into their first year). Unfortunately, this creates the idea that every teacher needs to be “cookie cutter.”
As an instructional coach, I have found a few steps that can help bring back that excitement for you and your students. I have been fortunate enough to be apart of a few collaborative meetings with a few grade levels that have done just that, and I can tell you the benefits outweigh the negatives. The teachers are starting to feel their excitement again. Instead of feeling paralyzed by this written curriculum or basal agenda, see the curriculum as your ‘what’, follow these next four steps and breathe life back into the curriculum.(finding your WHY)
First, make the curriculum about THEM
I have the pleasure of meeting and planning with grade level teams to discuss summative assessments that allow us to examine what objectives were mastered, what skills need to be reviewed or retaught, and rearrange the curriculum to allow for flexibility and genuine instruction that focuses on the WHOLE child.
- Collect the data
- Pull out a six weeks calendar
- Plan for the given curriculum
- Add in or rearrange to review objectives not met from previous lessons
- Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, aligned with state and district expectations, relevant and time-bound)
- Be reflective
Secondly, find what makes YOU excited to teach
It is truly difficult to feel as if the cards are stacked against you when you are teaching something that you are truly interested in. Unfortunately, there are times when we have to teach subjects or content that is not that interesting to us. For six years, I had the pleasure of teaching Texas History- a native Kansan teaching the same Texas History to a crowd of very prideful Texans- I was out of my league. I was not born with the PRIDE that came with being a Texan as my neighboring teacher did. She embraced her Texas pride through and through and it showed in every lesson she taught, with memorabilia from the Alamo for students to place in their hands, the very large Texas flag proudly hanging from her ceiling and pictures from her visits to many of the important cities in Texas to pass around while she was teaching. Therefore, I had to ‘fake it until I made it’ if my students were going to get excited and learn anything.
As a previous thespian and current writing teacher, I decided to have my students create Reader’s Theater of some of the more important Texas History events. Videos became a huge backbone to my social studies lessons because movie clips and portrayals are what make me excited. I am also very competitive, so Jeopardy and games became a primary tool for instruction to help bring to life some of the content I was not always so thrilled to teach.
It is important to understand what makes you excited as a person, what your talents/hobbies are- outside of content- and embrace it in the classroom. If you are excited about coming to school/work, then the students will feel that. They will know everything you do is genuine.
Are you competitive? – add games
Are your crafty? – add room transformations like Hope King or projects to recap content objectives (elementary shenanigans)
Are you a singer? – add songs, lyrics and chants to classroom vocabulary
Are you an avid reader? – add book talks, SKYPE with authors
Do you like to cook? – Showcase the idea of recipes or food to your content areas
Thirdly, deliver the curriculum creatively
Now that the curriculum is arranged for your students, and you have figured out what makes you excited, deliver that curriculum and those ideas in the most creative way possible.
From the words of Hope and Wade King, ‘creativity is a mindset’. (The Wild Card) The curriculum is not your prescription of HOW to teach, it is provided to help guide WHAT you teach. This is your chance to get uncomfortable and, in the process, make learning fun and exciting for your students. I have seen teachers transform their classrooms, encourage students to become punctuation detectives, and helped students create a flexible seating that helps every child learn in their best way possible.
Here are a few book recommendations that have helped me step outside my comfort zone.
Reading and Writing Genre with Purpose– by Duke, Caughlan, Juzwik, and Martin- The collective group of professors wrote this book to bring in ‘color’ into the instructional lessons of reading and writing. When teaching 4th grade, I found this book quite helpful because it allowed me to make the genre of reading and writing go together in creative projects. The book helps students notice the genre, explore and scavenge while discovering what makes reading the genre and writing the genre so powerful in our society through creative outlets.
Tanny McGregors- Comprehension and Genre Connections- If you are struggling with making comprehension and genres concrete for your demographics; these are the books for you. Her launching sequence made my instruction creative, fun and a little bit wacky at times. I remember bringing in my recycling bin filled with recyclable materials for students to go through as a concrete introduction to making inferences. I KNOW my students will not ever forget ‘that teacher who brought in trash’.
Passionate Learners by Pernille Ripp – Ms. Ripp talks about making the curriculum your own, by becoming well versed in what it is you are teaching. She also encourages teachers to make everything about the students; ask for their feedback, ask them what strategies or learning styles help them the most. Most importantly, her book helps the reader learn how to plan with the end in mind, which goes along with my first point- if you know what they need to learn, what they find interesting, and then you know how to teach. @pernilleripp
Engage, Engage, Engage
Last, but certainly not least- Engage!!!!
I want you to think about the most engaging movie, play or sporting event you have ever seen. What did that event have?
Two teachers that have helped me create an engaging classroom (one where it does not look like I am trying too hard) are…
Rich Allen- Green Light Classrooms An easy read that lays out nine great engagement strategies, examples and even a few lesson ideas. Each of these strategies are easy to follow and can be added to every classroom lesson.
Marcia Tate- Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites– A book that has many of Marzano’s Best Practices listed, explained, and show how these researched strategies can help increase achievement, decrease problem behaviors and make teaching/learning fun. Throughout the book, Ms. Tate also explains how these engagement strategies support brain compatibility.
Finally, stop making excuses
It is easy to think of all the reasons why students are not performing where you would like them. The hard truth– it is usually the delivery, the presenter that brings the largest roadblock for these students in your classroom.
Student Home life, district curriculum, student attitude/mindset, family economic status, student demographics
Unfortunately, those ARE just excuses. It is our job, as teachers, to believe in the potential of every student. And to do everything in our power to make sure that learning becomes important to them, to make sure that we are the reason they jump out of bed every single morning with a smile on their face ready for the exciting world we are about to present to them. I am not saying to take any of these variables out of the equation, but instead embrace these variables and make the learning fit.
The journey that we take every year is one of the best parts about being a teacher; it is never the same. “Without roadblocks it wouldn’t be a journey.” (The Wild Card by the Kings) Besides making a difference, I believe most of you became teachers because the challenge of a new year and a new group of students is what entices you back every August. Just remember to breathe life into the curriculum that you are given- be the reason every student can’t wait to get to school.
Thank you for the inspiration to write this – Hope and Wade King