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Throwback Thursday: Curriculum Reviews

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One result of the introduction of the Common Core Standards is a need for a curriculum review.  District leaders are called upon to be sure that classrooms, grade levels, and subject areas are aligning their curriculum with the new standards. The Common Core may have been the provocation this time, but curriculum review, routine for some, should be for all; if not before, at least now. 

The turn of the century brought with it an increasing velocity. Change that could be gradual in the last century no longer enjoyed the comfort of a 55 mph speed limit.  Now, fueled by the communication technologies, collaboration, and innovation in the world, change has turned from an option to a requirement...at warp speed. These changes impact content, skills, and practice in our schools. An ongoing process for keeping up must become a requirement in this century.

A framework can be found in a 1983 Education Week article entitled The Curriculum-Review Process in which they reported on ASCD's recommended six steps for performing a curriculum review. They are: establish a process, adopt a model, define specific skills, planning curriculum changes, recommending changes to school board, implementing changes.

They [referring to ASCD] recommend that schools first announce the intent of the curriculum review, stating the reasons the effort is needed and its expected results. A steering committee should be formed that includes teachers, administrators, school-board members, and students.

One change from 1983 is the manner of the announcement.  Most likely back then, that announcement was possibly in the form of a letter to the parents in the community, a memo or announcement in a faculty meeting, a conversation with the board of education, and maybe a conversation with a representative from the student government. In today's model, the intent and the invitation to be part of the committee can be shared through all forms of social media reaching out beyond the immediate school community and even including local businesses and health care organizations. This new 21st century reach can bring in more and varied participants who do not necessarily reside within the group with whom we are most familiar. This broad sweep can provide a level of diversity in thinking and perspective that can make the process richer and more sound.

Establish a Process 
Following the communication about the intent to review curriculum, developing the process as an ongoing practice is essential. Whether outlined before the initial meeting of the steering committee, or in the initial meeting of the steering committee, a process must be developed and communicated to the teachers, leaders, parents, community members, businesses, and students. Their interest and attention to the process can only be enhanced through their understanding of what to expect and when to expect hearing more about the committee's progress. As the questions and concerns arise along the way, hearing from constituants before the process is complete, allows for a softer landing; reducing the opportunities for questions and challenges after decisions have been made. 

Adopt a Model
Also unlike in 1983, a Google search for  "curriculum review models" offers a menu of options for which model would work best in that school/district at that particular time.  Whether a four step, five, six, or seven step model, or selection of checklists and rubrics, the process to be used can still be decided by the "steering committee" and shared with the public from the beginning. Using social-media, progress can be shared at each step of the way. Questions and concerns will arise and can be addressed during the process and not at the end when all is said and done.  

Define Specific Skills
This one is different from1983 in that the skills, competencies, and concepts that must be mastered are found in the Common Core Standards. Language and vocabulary needs to be parsed and communicated. Rolling up sleeves as the "steering committee" and digging in to what the anchor standards, for example, look like in practice in ones own particular district and how they look in each of the grade levels is essential for implementation. Foundational skills in 4th grade reading, for example, include fluency. "Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension." Coming to an understanding with what "sufficient accuracy" and "fluency" is needed to support comprehension must be decided upon. Those conversations are important not only within the "steering committee" but among teachers across all grades and subjects. This aspect of curriculum review is paramount.  If there isn't a common understanding...

Planning Curriculum Changes
Here, 1983 and today are the same except for the language. Today's language would call this a crosswalk. 1983's language called it analysis. The idea is to align what is being taught with what has to be taught in order to plan well for the change. Care must be taken to protect what should remain, while plans are being made for the changes that have to be made, in order to meet the new demands. Doing a crosswalk between the present curriculum and standards of performance with the new ones is what opens the conversation that informs the change process.

Recommending Changes To The School Board
Reporting to the board of education has not changed much in these 31 years.  Public presentations on the progress of any area of school operations remain the same, with one difference. Many board meetings are either streamed live and/or are recorded and posted on the districts' website.  Using this vehicle, as well as other social-media outlets, public and  transparent communication about the progress of the work is amplified even as the information is being shared with the board.

Implementing Changes 
Here again, little change from 1983:

Schools should complete the curriculum-development project by selecting materials, conducting staff-development programs to ensure that all understand and can work with the changes, and planning ways to assess students' mastery of the new required competencies and skills.

The selection of materials today is much broader than in 1983.  The plethora of digital resources presents opportunity for technologically adept members of the committee to be sure that if resources are selected that go beyond the skill base of the faculty, professional development and support are provided. The opportunity for the manner in which students' mastery is measured opens the door to engage in reflection upon and learning about aligned, authentic assessments as they related to the curriculum shifts. These, and all steps taken in curriculum review require thoughtful, informed engagement of the leadership.

Thoughts on Leading the 6 Steps
There has been much written about change leadership.  One model is found in the work of John P. Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School. His eight-stage process seems a natural fit.

  • Create a Sense of Urgency
  • Form a Powerful Coalition
  • Create a Vision for Change
  • Communicate the Vision
  • Remove Obstacles
  • Create Short-Term Wins
  • Build the Change
  • Anchor the Change in the Culture (p.21)

There is little question that we now are experiencing a sense of urgency as schools work to understand the demands felt by the requirements of the Common Core Standards. But whether the building and district leaders sit in and are a part of the "steering committee" or not, they must remain engaged in its leadership. The provision for professional development, the observation and feedback process to the teachers as they work at the implementation and at developing new assessments of the students, supervising the entire implementation process, acknowledging successes and encouraging new practices if the tried ones fail are all essential elements of the leadership role in this 21st century curriculum review process.  And, to return to Kotter, "anchoring the change in the culture" cannot happen without the leadership.

Kotter, John P. (1996). Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press

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