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Curriculum & Instruction

If you teach it, they will learn

I have been trained by brilliant educators. I earned a Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction. I am an unusual curriculum leaders because I started teaching in 1979 when teachers made most of their curriculum. There were no standards for us to follow. I created new material every year. (My aide used to tell me not to bother filing the curriculum because I never used it again.)

In 1979 the only guideline given to us by the State of California was the amount of minutes a week we were supposed to teach Physical Education. I don’t know why that was the first subject but it was. As each subject released a framework to guide teaching the subjects standards I worked to align our curriculum to these standards.

An example would be that in the fourth grade students must know how to do long division. We evaluated our textbooks for alignment. We designed a staff development model that helped us adopt new textbooks that were more aligned than previous ones.

Every state created their own set of academic standards for every grade level. The State of California decided to be tough, make the standards harder than any other state. The educators writing the standards were mostly teaching at Universities – far removed from the reality of the classroom.

Bothering me the most was the fact that our new standards did not align with children’s developmental stages. For instance, teaching Algebra 1 to all eighth graders. This academic leap was put in the ninth grade for other states. Children need to have the part of their thinking that can grasp abstract thought well in place before they can understand things like algebra. Most eighth grade students are only beginning to have abstract thought.

Sixth graders in the State of California were taught all about Ancient Civilizations. These kids were still trying to figure out locations on the map – today. Having them jump back in time to learn about civilizations who developed religions around the world…well, need I say more than, yikes! again an abstract concept.

I love developing curriculum. I LOVE aligning to standards. I love putting documents together. I love teaching others about the in’s and out’s of high stakes testing. It fits me. I taught in the classroom for 30+ years, and was out of the classroom for 5+. Most of my curriculum and instruction expertise comes from working in the trenches while I explored new thoughts and practices (new to me anyway).

This became evident to me in a very real way. If I teach something to my class they will learn it. I was teaching a 3/4 combination class. I had the extra bright 3rd graders and the regular type 4th graders. It was hard! I killed myself trying to give the 3rd graders a third grade education and the 4th graders a separate fourth grade education.

I thought I was doing a great job! The Standardized testing came around at the end of the school year. My kids (students) were going to shine! I would be patted on the back for all my hard work. The test results came in and everybody did very well, except for one area.

Grammar, punctuation and sentence structure scores were dismal. I was so embarrassed. The kids didn’t know about punctuation because I hadn’t taught them. Yikes! How do I make up for that mistake?

Lucky for me I was given the fifth grade to teach the following year. On top of that I had all of my class again with a few additions. And only 26 kids instead of 35! So, even though I hate to punctuate or edit sentences (and I am not good at it), I found a few students who were somehow blessed by the grammar gods and they led the work every day.

Every day we edited fifty sentences. The kids did the work on their own and then were given a colored pencil to use to “fix” any mistakes. I sat there with my own paper trying to catch up to my students.

The end of the year standardized test rolled around again. I was nervous. I knew we had covered grammar and then some so I would find out if they learned anything. YEAH! all of them were at or above grade level in grammar, etc…

The other teachers all wanted to know what I did. “What program did you use?” “How did they do so well?” “Did you cheat?” Little did they know that I could barely do the work myself (well it was kind of easy for me).

So, I learned that if I teach it, they will learn.

Years went by. State Standardized Testing became a real noose upon our neck. I was working in the district office as a Curriculum Coordinator and the first year of the high stakes testing came around. One of our schools failed miserably. There was only one school in our county that scored lower than ours, by one point! It kept us out of the newspaper but it also tossed us into Program Improvement.

What a great experience for me. I was so excited to see what they found and to make a plan to remedy the gaps. One of the big areas of concern was mathematics. I went to every classroom to discuss the math program we were using. I observed math lessons that lasted all of fifteen minutes. I was flabbergasted. After all, If you teach it, they will learn.

So, by the end of September I had a new mathematics program in every classroom. It was scriped which means that you were supposed to follow directions, say exactly the same thing as other teachers. Page six might say, “When adding two numbers…” and it was actually in quotes. Teachers were expected to follow the bouncing ball.

The program demanded a minimum of 90 Minutes of math every day. It included writing and other concepts that teachers weren’t doing (some were of course). The State of California promised a $25,000 gift to each teacher in a school if their Standardized test schools increased by a certain amount.

You guessed it. My schools got rewards. At one school each teacher was rewarded $25,000 – EACH! At the other three schools the growth was not as high so they ONLY got $10,000 EACH! Unfortunately there was no reward for administrators so principals, superintendents and curriculum directors didn’t get a dime. I was so lucky that I worked for a superintendent who thought I had earned a “bonus” so he gave me some money – not as much but it was the thought of course.

So, If we teach, they will learn.

What are you teaching your children? Do you teach them to be honest, even if they are afraid of getting in trouble? Do you teach them that they are more important than electronic devices – television, telephones. Do you teach them to be kind to animals? To be kind to their siblings?

See my resume at About Us.

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