Distance Learning

I guess I have a lot going on.

While I’ve been thinking about my teaching and what it needs, where it’s lacking and where it may be just fine, something else has been needling me: curriculum. I should say curriculum writing, thinking, articulating. If you know me, you’ll perhaps also know that I love words; sometimes maybe even too much for my own sleep health. But when it comes to curriculum writing I can do the essential questions, I can make educated guesses on enduring understandings but after that I quickly tire and wish nothing more than to be left alone with my colleagues and our perfectly functional pacing guide. I’ve written about my difficulties with curriculum work before.

And every day I go in and teach with the big picture in my head of where we’re headed and what we should try to do to get there. Some of what I try works and some of it doesn’t. Some of the ideas I keep coming back to stick with some kids but not with others. Sometimes I can follow through with my plan-as-written and sometimes I have to abandon the plan to prevent an all-out mutiny. No amount of vertical or horizontal articulation, of detailed and neatly formatted unit plans will change these facts of the teaching life.

And the struggle that I face in conquering this disconnect between the tidiness of the professional document and utter messiness of real learning experiences in the gym and classroom reminds me of what school must feel like for a lot of kids. The distance between the content we teach our kids and what they feel is directly relevant can seem like an insurmountable gulf. There’s this distance. Hence, the title ‘Distance Learning.’

We teachers as amateur curriculum designers and writers can struggle too with this gulf between the neatly documented unit plans and the shifting realities of our teaching days. Sometimes our lessons may look like what’s on the page but not always. We may reach the stated objective but by an unexpected route. In my best case scenario, the curriculum document becomes flexible enough to take this into account.

What this iteration process can change, however, is my capacity to recognize both the wisdom and possible redundancies of the big picture concepts I carry in my head. This work has changed the conversations I have with my colleagues around what we consider essential and worth doing. We can share our respective ‘big pictures’ and make them understandable to each other and ultimately to our students.

Nevertheless, my resistance to long, wordy documents describing what I ought to be teaching remains.

That said, there’s another piece to this that I forget but is also important. My input in this process is expected and required. My colleagues and I determine what goes into the document and what stays out. This is privilege. It may not feel that way because it is work we may not feel especially inclined to do in the prescribed format that has been chosen. And yet, we as teachers have conversations with our curriculum director describing what will work best for us rather than the other way around. That is a critical distinction that it might be easy to dismiss. When you’re swimming in privilege, you can easily lose a feeling for what “wet” means, particularly to those who have no access to open water.

So the next time you hear me tending to wax disgruntled about the curriculum work my colleagues and I are grappling with, remind me of where I’m sitting and what it might look like from a very different perspective.

Some more thoughts on curriculum, standards and such

This week happened to be #calmEdchat and the focus was on questions around curriculum. I noticed two things: I had a lot of questions and there actually was very little chatting going on. Why was that? There are tons of educators active on twitter participating in multiple chats and in this particular case where one question is posed for response per day (hence the title “calm”), the lines were perceptibly quiet. And relative to last month’s #calmEdchat in which quite a few folks were sharing personal experiences related to being on twitter and being connected, I was astounded at the dearth of lively discussion this time around.

My two questions which were included were decidedly open: What is curriculum actually? and What would your dream curriculum do for students? For your teaching?  Although I enjoyed the spirited back and forth with chat organizer, +AI Elliot (@ellication) on the first night, I missed a wider participation by my connected colleagues.  The situation makes me wonder what it is about curriculum that leaves so many speechless, disinterested, or unmoved if that is in fact, what they were.

There are so many useful thoughts out there on curriculum, standards and assessment out there that I want to simply highlight some of the readings that have influenced and opened up my thinking on these topics, particularly this week. Read them in good health and I welcome further contributions to my broadening understanding.

Why It Is Unlikely That I Will Ever Become a Curriculum Guru

pixabay.com
pixabay.com

Most of the 20+ years that I have taught have been dedicated to elementary Physical Education.  When I am in the gym, scrambling to shift and adjust equipment between classes, playing my eclectic mix of 70’s –  90’s pop, and doing a cartwheel on my way to pick up the next class, then I am in my element.  Once the kids arrive and I’m responding to a series of requests and questions all within the first 30 seconds while I try to get everyone moving as soon as possible, then I reconnect with the gritty reality of how many decisions in a single class period? and remind myself, this is a choice.  Teaching is so familiar to me. I have earned my 10,000 hours of practice and while there’s still so much to learn and certainly to improve, I feel at home in my methods, my philosophy, and in my commitment to doing right by kids.

Down the road and to the left of my day-to-day teaching are those conceptual edifices: curriculum and standards, scope and sequences, benchmarks, exit criteria; essential questions and enduring understandings, and so on. They hold their ground and need constant refurbishing.  Where they stand in relationship to me and my teaching and student learning can confuse me on occasion.  Of course, there need to be  structures for determining what we are teaching, why we are teaching it at all, and how it should be taught.  This makes sense to me. There needs to be *a plan based on students’ needs; a way of deciding how those multiple and varied needs will be met in achieving the desired learning outcomes.  Accepted.

As one would expect, my colleague and I create a road plan of what topics we intend to cover with each grade level every year. We have objectives, a clear time frame in which to fulfill those objectives, and we have a wealth of lesson plans and activities to get us where we believe (and our curriculum says)  our students need to go. Great.

And yet, whenever we sit down and are presented again with fresh standards and their intended outcomes – pages and pages of color-coded charts, loaded with text and cleverly notated with abbreviations like: S1E7 24, well then, I have to admit, my eyes glaze over and I wish I could be doing something, anything else, but this.  Although the conversations my colleagues and I  get into over the categorization and terminology  of our craft are stimulating  and often charged, most of us also struggle with the process of documenting and (ultimately justifying) our inventory.

What’s funny about this situation is that I’m a language lover.  I can formulate and reformulate until the cows come home. Wordsmithing is second nature.  When it comes to curriculum writing and mapping, however,  I would be your girl, if only it excited me enough. And sadly, curriculum design and standards alignment, just do not do it for me. Yet. Participating in the conversations, having the need for the “refurbishing” process explained to me once again, and engaging with the material – these all have value.  Even so, I feel like a very impatient middle-schooler while sitting in that room, folding and unfolding my arms while I try my best to appear focused in front of my peers.

Becoming a connected educator has helped me to appreciate that although this post feels embarrassingly confessional, like I’m telling a dirty little secret, there are probably at least a few folks out there who can empathize. I am connected and therefore not alone. And there may be someone out there who will say, “Hey, I hear you and I can help!”  Perhaps there’s someone out there who can say: “here’s how I learned to make that process work for me.” Because I don’t want to shut out the possibility.  I never used to eat cheese and now I enjoy mozzarella.  I know that I can learn and change.

While it does seem highly unlikely that I will ever become a curriculum guru, I do intend to continue becoming a better teacher.  Being and staying connected with my diverse and highly engaged Personal Learning Network (PLN) means that I have every opportunity to keep working at just that.

 

 

*”a plan, based on children’s needs” – maybe that’s where my disconnect originates – I’m not always sure that standards and curriculum are truly developed with kids’ diverse needs in mind. That’s a conversation for another post.