Ok, we’re off the PD train for a little bit and onto one of our favorite topics, the self paced classroom! We’ve been talking about the steps to building great curriculum and finding resources that make your curriculum engaging but today we talk about the ultimate way to differentiate that great and engaging curriculum: making your curriculum self paced. Not sure what I mean by that? Click here for more of our self paced blog entries!
Back to today though! How can you take that fabulous curriculum you worked so hard on and use it in a self paced classroom? Honestly, if you have done all of the ground work on finding resources, the rest gets a lot easier.
We suggest trying a self paced unit before fully committing to a self paced classroom. Testing out a unit will give you a good idea of whether or not it works for your students and for you. So right now, take a minute and think about a unit you teach that you would consider making self paced.
Do you have it? Alright, time to figure out how to make it hypothetically self paced!
Go back to the meat of your curriculum to start! Ask yourself these questions.
Now that you have the end goal in mind, what will you do with your resources to make this unit self paced?
For Becca, she found it useful to give a short version of each lesson about twice a week to the whole class. If students were already ahead of the material she was teaching, they just kept working on their own or assisted her in the lesson. Everyone else was given a short version of the notes but mainly a lot of examples. When she was finished, it was pretty easy for her to tell if students were completely lost or ready to work. She could then work with small groups to help those who were lost understand but all of the other students were still working on their own. With online lecture videos, fill in the blank notes, examples with answer keys, and links to immediate feedback math problems, all students were working on what they needed to and she was still able to help students understand parts that they were confused on. Students would decide when they were ready to take a 5 question quiz corresponding with the lesson they felt they had completed and get immediate feedback. Whether they passed it or not, they would show Becca their score which gave Becca the perfect time to check in on progress and either congratulate them on their success or help them see their mistakes. Students could tell whether they were "on track" or not by looking at the checklist of mastery quizzes. While having a true deadline is not completely self-paced, we all have a last day of school and students need to understand what they are expected to complete. Having suggested due dates let them know what they needed to do and helped them monitor their progress and understand the expectations.
For Danielle, it really comes down to working with small groups. The students go through self-guided material, but in addition to the self-guided material Danielle does small group instruction twice a week on average. The self-guided material is a variety of activities that she used to do as a whole class that are modified for self-paced and some new ones she has found or created. The students have access to videos, website, books, etc for the activities and many of them are not online activities. She still does hands-on activities as much as possible. For the small group activities, she picks particular skills that correlate to where students are in the curriculum and has mini lessons that she does with the students. This allows Danielle to have carved out time with each student and make sure that they are understanding the material.
Danielle also makes it clear that, if any student would like, they can schedule class time to work with Danielle in a small group or 1:1 and work on specific content. Danielle also uses formative assessment to create remediation small groups. Students have to complete 2-3 formative assessment activities per unit and they have to be reviewed with Danielle before they can move forward. This allows Danielle to check for understanding frequently and forces students to pause and make sure they understand material before the summative assessment.
Danielle also makes a point on certain days of the week to do what she calls 'rounds'. She goes around the room and talks to each student about their progress and goals for the content and class. This is when many students make appointments for small groups or she assigns students to specific small groups. It is a really great way to check in and have one on one conversations with students.
We've filled out this section of the template below to give you a snapshot version of what it looks like! These are the questions that lead you to the logistics of your self paced unit.
Now for the setup and what your classroom will look like during this unit:
How can we not advocate for this process when we see how much it has meant to our students? This is why we do it. This is why we love it!
Here is the plan for the communication of a self paced classroom at a glance! We have a lot of the items we use available on our TPT store!
In the end, you have to do what is best for you and your students. Feedback is so important not only to let you know how the student feel about the process but to get ideas for how to continue to improve your class and the positive feedback has lead us to continue and advocate for self paced classrooms. If it doesn't work for you and your class, abandon ship after one unit and do what you need to do!
If you are really interested in attempting the self-paced learning concept, we recommend starting with one unit or a specific project or skill that you could have students work on at their own pace throughout the year or semester. Check out the self-paced classroom section of our blog to see all of the pieces we went through to get our classes started. This is something that we are really passionate about and it has helped students learn in our classes. We are still trying to improve as well and we welcome any suggestions and ideas from other who have or plan to take the plunge into self-paced learning!
Step 5 of creating a great curriculum is finding all of the amazing resources that you will use throughout the school year! It is the most time consuming part of the process and often happens on a continuous cycle which is why this step gets its own post! (See the other steps to creating a great curriculum here!)
Once you have figured out your standards, the hard part is making sure that your activities match up with your standards and that you are creating learning intentions (targets) that reflect the standards. To me this is an ongoing process. One thing that unites all good teachers, is the drive to make things better and improve on we have done in the past. My department likes to joke that I rewrite my curriculum every summer. This is somewhat true in that every summer around mid-July, I start reviewing my previous year’s activities, lessons and standards and see what could be better. Am I really teaching to the standard? Is there a way to make this more interactive? How can I create a better assessment? How can I give the students more choice?
So in this post, I want to share with you my process of reviewing my curriculum and how I look at my activities to see if they are what I want to do and match my class goals and standards.
Step 1: Review Standards and Learning Intentions
In Missouri we are going to through a process of approving new standards, so this was definitely something I needed to do this summer to see what had changed. The unfortunate thing for me is that there are no specific geography standards. They are embedded into the other social studies contents. This makes them very specific to the content. To combat this I am using those standards, but I am also using National Geography Standards that are more specific to teaching geography on its own.
Above is what we have designed for our building curriculum. It is housed in Google Drive and it is this same format for all of our units. The first thing I did was read through all of my standards to make sure I understood them and the language used in the standards. Then like in our previous post on designing curriculum, I went through and made sure the standards listed were my essential standards that I will be assessing.
Once I have my standards decided on, I evaluate my learning intentions and success criteria. If your district doesn't use these, they are basically the statements of what the students should be able to do by the assessment for that unit. The key is that the learning intentions and success criteria should lead the students to the standards which is what the students will be assessed on. For me this means breaking down the different pieces and wording of the standards, then creating success criteria that matches each standard in a student friendly way. This leads me to the learning intention which I always phrase as a question, because I want to students to think about broad questions that relate to the concept.
Step 2: Review Activities to Match Standards, Learning Intention, and Success Criteria
The next step for me is going through my activities and looking through my resources to make sure everything matches up and to see what needs to be improved. For me this means going back and making notes in my plan book from last year, writing notes on my copies of student checklists, and writing ideas and notes in a notebook. I process through writing and talking, so I always write things out to help me think through things and I look for a partner (usually Becca) to talk about my ideas and bounce things off a person.
This process is really about deciding to make changes and what areas need to be worked on. I look for lessons that are weak or really just didn't perform the way I wanted them to and mark them for change and what ideas I have for changing them. I go through a series of questions like the ones below to get me thinking about what kinds of changes to make.
Step 3: The Hunt for Resources and Ideas
Next is the hunt for new ideas and resources, to make those changes you want to your lessons. Honestly this is something that is personal to every teacher, but the best place to find these ideas is:
Step 4: Create!
To be honest, this tends to happen simulataniously with step 3, but basically as you gather your resources and ideas, you can start creating and doing the improvement you had in mind for your lessons. This is the best part, since you get to see finished products and see your work amount to something.
This process may seem endless and intensive and it can be which is why some teachers don't go through it every year or they spread it out throughout the school year. If your standards don't change, then you are really only working from step 2-4 or even just 3 and 4 depending on how solid you feel about the earlier pieces. The important thing is to have a mindset of growth and always looking for ways to improve your craft and make learning meaningful for our students.
What process works for you? Feel free to leave some comments about how you approach creating activities to match your standards. How do you review your lessons?
Curriculum can refer to so many things because its actual definition is so broad - referring to the subjects comprising a course of study in school. As teachers we could think of curriculum as the standards we teach, the activities and lesson plans we make, or the books and resources we use but the truth is that a great curriculum is all of those things. If you have struggled with putting together curriculum, we wanted to take a full post and talk about how to build a great curriculum. With a couple of weeks left before school starts, now is a great time to look at your current curriculum and make a couple of tweaks if necessary. If you are a first year teacher, I highly recommend reading through these steps and familiarizing yourself with the process! You’ll use it many times in your career!
Step 1: Identify your priority standards. There are a million standards you are supposed to teach but we all know some of them are more important than the others. Which ones are the most important in YOUR class? It is best if you can get together with the grade above and/or below you and have a good conversation about what is the main focus of each grade. If possible, use a top down approach and have your high school/upper level teachers identify their priority standards. Once you know the end goal, each grade level can choose the priority standards that they will be most responsible for. These are the things that you are committing to spending the most time on. Your students should be amazing at the standards you choose as priority standards! Here’s a really important part of this first and most important step - you can’t make everything a priority. We have these books that are “aligned to the standards” that have endless resources. We may even feel like a failure if we don’t make it through the book. But while your instincts will continue to push you to make everything a “priority” and push through the book, the book is a product made by a company trying to appeal to as many people as possible. It will be a great resource but it is not your curriculum and some standards will have to be less important than others. You cannot make all of the standards a priority in a great curriculum. That just can’t happen. The best thing you can do is communicate with your team teachers and the grade levels above and below you and choose carefully and strategically.
Step 2: Identify support standards. Most of the rest of the standards that you didn’t choose as a priority fit under the umbrella of one of your priority standards. For me, it works best to organize it visually just that way. I like to use a spreadsheet (preferably a Google Sheet so everyone working on it can see and contribute) or a giant whiteboard. Separating the support standards under each priority standard begins step 3.
Step 3: Arrange your standards in the order you would like to teach them. Technically you could switch step 2 and 3 if you want, I just like to get everything I plan on teaching up on the board/sheet. Keep in mind what prior knowledge students will need to have for each priority standard. This is another time that having the general outline of the course before and after yours is helpful. It would be great to be able to pick up where your students left off and set them up at the end of the year for their next class.
Step 4: Identify learning intentions and success criteria. This is the lingo we use in my school district but you may know it as “I can” statements. What specifically do you want students to be able to do? Standards are not put into students or parent friendly terms. Go through each standard you have chosen and decide what you really truly expect to see with your own eyes in your classroom that would mean the student has achieved mastery of the standard. Does this feel like too big of a job because there are too many standards? Go back to step 1 and try to be realistic about your school year and your expectations for your students.
Step 5: Decide how you will help the students master the learning intentions. This is the fun part! Now that you have laid out exactly what you want students to learn, you can be so much more intentional with how you teach it! Make GREAT lessons specific to the learning intentions and success criteria rather than thinking how a worksheet or activity in a textbook says it meets the standards. Your learning intentions meet the standards and make much more sense to everyone involved. Work with those! If you find resources in a textbook, great! There are amazing resources online. So many resources have been created by teachers who know exactly what its like to be in your spot! Look at teachers pay teachers or teacher’s notebook! Check back on our site for some ideas and resources! Try to find ideas for your content in your everyday life! TAKE A TRIP TO TARGET! We all know that’s the best place to get the creative juices flowing! :)
Step 6: Keep working on step 5 and the rest of your classroom organization/management. We are continuously finding resources and perfecting lessons which means we tend to live in step 5. Don’t forget the ever important part of revamping curriculum: communication.
A GUEST BLOG BY DR. STEPHEN GILBRETH
Dr. Gilbreth has worked for the Joplin school system for more than 20 years. He began at North as a teacher of technology, reading and communication arts for five years. He later became North's assistant principal for three years and then principal of Memorial Middle School, which is the current South, for the past 12 years.
He has a degree in English education from Missouri Southern State University, master's and specialist degrees in administration from Pittsburg (Kansas) State University, and a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Saint Louis University.
- Description taken from The Joplin Globe
Teachers have many jobs and duties they must perform every day. Understanding what is most important gets distorted and sometimes neglected. Having a solid curriculum is crucial to a teacher’s focus and success in the classroom. Robert Marzano has written about school districts having a guaranteed and viable curriculum. In education today, many things have gotten in the way of solid teaching practices. So many districts are trying to capture the magic offered in the form of numerous well-marketed educational programs.
Educational programs very rarely live up to the hype that got them into the classroom. Many factors play a part in that. The kind of professional development it takes to get any program implemented to its fullest very often does not make it to the table. Instead, it is typically one false start after another.
Districts that take the time to understand their state’s standards and get down in the weeds to develop curriculum, find success on many levels. First, teachers who participate in the development of curriculum have the opportunity to define the standards and vet out what students are asked to do. Second, teachers become experts of their content area.
Curriculum done right carries with it the reward of clarity for teachers about standards and what is to be taught. Great lesson plans and resources can be gathered once an understanding of what needs to be taught is in place. Developing a common vocabulary, clarifying objectives, and student outcomes are also components of a well-developed curriculum. The time teachers will spend collaborating about the mapping process of curriculum will help them effectively use tools like Bloom’s taxonomy to scaffold the intensity of lessons as students migrate through the grades. Using a pacing guide helps all teachers stay on the same page and especially helps students who move from building to building within a district of any size. A lack of common pacing guides can spell failure for students who tend to be transient. They can often miss whole concepts established through learning that scaffolds material, like math and science.
Teachers are asked to do so many things for their students today. Struggling to find the right materials to meet state standards should not be one of their battles. In an attempt to teach often nebulous standards, fundamental skills (number sense, phonics, phonemic awareness, etc.) are very often not adequately taught.
Teachers can master their content areas when they are involved in writing curriculum. Defining standards and collaborating with one another to map and pace the work, brings about a guaranteed and viable curriculum, which spells success in the classroom.
The Importance of Good Curriculum
Stephen Gilbreth, EdD
Assistant Superintendent, Learning Services
Of all of the things teachers are, first and foremost teachers are leaders. We lead school programs, other teachers, community organizations, and most importantly we are leaders in the classroom. Our students look to us to show them how to learn and how to operate in society. Our individual styles of leadership vary but there are 3 qualities that all leaders have:
Take this quiz to see what type of leader you are!
Before school starts back up again it is important to think about our actions and behaviors and how to be the best leader we can for our students. Our leadership skills are what can make or break a school year. A teacher’s leadership skills impact student learning, behavior, and connection to school.
If you feel like you need to brush up or improve your leadership skills here are a few ideas from across the internet:
There are tons of resources out there on how to build these skills if you are interested in working on your leadership skills for the classroom. It would be an investment well worth the time.