Archive for April, 2012

Designing for the “Big Ideas” of the Future~

Curriculum Design Blog for Module 2    Designing for the “Big Ideas” of the Future~

In the midst of pondering this week’s readings and the various discussion threads reflecting the individually selected readings of my colleagues, I found myself intrigued by the range of “big ideas” represented. Not only did life applications beyond the classroom become clearer to me for the students we teach, but also within me–on a personal level.

At the beginning of the module, I responded to the question of “values imbedded in the curriculum”—specifically related to the topic of “college ready”. My high school lists on our webpage the mission statement: “…students will graduate college ready. They will be prepared to act as informed citizens in a global society and empowered to care for their community”. A separate line states that “students will complete gateway courses for college enrollment”. Parkay, Hass, and Anctil, in Curriculum Leadership, convey the great challenge before us as educators: “To provide all learners—from those with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds and with their variety of needs, abilities, learning styles, and prior educational experiences—meaningful and growth-promoting curricular experiences…” (p.). Before our school opened (in response to controversy around the phrase “college ready”) the team of educators and community members crafting the wording to “qualify” the college focus in the vision statement by including the words “post-secondary endeavors.” The concept of differences in student needs is expressed when Inlay writes that “community and belonging” is critical in “creating a safe place that accepts the different qualities of each individual” (p. 44).

I voiced the sentiment in my initial post that although the website displays “inclusive” language—recognizing that we have a diverse population within our community, the course offerings appear to be heavily geared toward the college bound students. In support of this direction, I note that a surprising number of my students are finding success in their general education classes. I agree with the following research in the article, Authentic Assessment and Student Performance in Inclusive Secondary Schools: “…with more challenging tasks, students with disabilities performed better than students with and without disabilities who received less challenging tasks” (King, Schroeder and Chawszczewski cited within Parkay p. 237). It seems, however, that as standards and graduation requirements continue to increase, the number of options and course offerings that appeal to the “less-likely-to-be-college-bound” students decreases. I expressed that sometimes I wonder what “imbedded values” some students perceive. Unfortunately, I see a number of students who become discouraged and simply drop out after finding little success in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

My response as a special education teacher is to continue advocating for my students as we together embrace these challenges. In response to my post, one colleague agreed, “Often it’s the students who aren’t headed for college who get the lousy end of the deal”. The very next day, I experienced a situation in a planning meeting requiring me to speak very directly on behalf of a group of students when a proposed schedule threatened to exclude about 25-30 out of 900 students from a full day of classes. I stated, “But for those 25—it will be their only opportunity at a high school education”. Another person suggested that maybe those students could take an independent study for their 4th period. Another teacher stated, “Often times, students who attend these programs are already credit deficient and are not strong self-starters—so choosing a schedule that would require an independent contract would put them at an automatic disadvantage”.  Thankfully, we all came to agree that we should not consider that particular schedule as a viable option.

As this module draws to a close, I see a predominate need in my setting to prepare my students to ask and reflect on the “big picture” questions pertaining to their life beyond graduation. My students must be encouraged to lift their sites beyond the day-to-day activities high school life and consider the broader scope of what lies before them. While I believe it is true that we should encourage students to pursue training and education beyond high school, we must also keep in mind what Parkay, Hass, and Anctil (2010), state: “…curriculum goals can be clustered into two broad areas, each of which should always be considered in curriculum planning: goals that relate to society and its values and goals that relate to the individual learner’s needs, interests, and abilities” (p.8).

The highly personal application of keeping the “big picture” or “long-range view” in mind may seem unrelated to the topic of curriculum and backward-design, however, I believe truly brings the issues into sharp focus for me at this time. Learning today of the rapid progression and devastating effects of early onset dementia of one of my sisters—I am coming to terms with the perspective of “backward design” as it relates to life in general. As a family we are having to “lift our sites beyond the day-to-day activities and consider the broader scope” as we together consider her “needs, interests, and abilities”—in relation to the future. Somehow the importance of some aspects of life wane and others emerge as “overarching” and take precedence as they come to the forefront of our thinking.

Parkay, F. W., Hass, G, & Anctil, E. J. (2010). Curriculum leadership (9th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. ISBN 0-13-715838


“Plan to Keep the Destination in Mind”

EDU 6524 Curriculum Design    BLOG for MODULE 1

Throughout the first six chapters of Understanding by Design, the authors provide extensive explanations of how to approach the design of curriculum by keeping the end result in mind.

Wiggins & McTighe acknowledge that “you cannot understand without subject matter knowledge” (p. 10) yet they also recognize that there is “too much content and not enough time” (p. 61)—suggesting the need for balance in subject content. As we as educators strive for balance, we are cautioned to avoid the “twin sins of activity-based and coverage-based design”(p. 20)—that is to not get so caught up in either classroom activities which may or may not lead to the intended goal, or become riveted on “plowing through” the content without a clear idea of what students are to carry with them when they leave. Again, we are to heed the warning that, “Without a focus on the big ideas that have lasting value, students are too easily left with forgettable fragments of knowledge” (p.66).

One of my colleague’s posts states, “In situations where goals were set, priorities were made, and big ideas properly expressed, understanding can happen”, and he encourages us to remember that as teachers we must focus on what the students are learning—not simply on what we are teaching. These thoughts bring to mind an analogy of planning a family vacation. Several years ago when we took our family to Glacier National Park, we could have chosen the most direct route and driven straight through—focusing on “coverage”—simply informing our children upon arrival that we were now at the park. Instead, however, we chose to strategically plan our route to include breaks to explore points of interest along the way (including an overnight stay in Spokane).  We chose to involve our kids by talking with them, showing them the map, taking pictures to reflect on, and selecting activities to ensure that from their perspective–the process was memorable and pleasurable.

We read that “national, state, district, or institutional standards…specify what students should know and be able to do” (Wiggins & McTighe, p. 13). Questions for consideration must include: “What should they walk out the door able to understand, regardless of what activities or texts we use?” and “What is the evidence of such ability?” (p. 17). The focus must be on having students generalize and transfer the use of skills to other settings outside the classroom and beyond the scope of their school lives. The OSPI website also indicates that the common core and standards approach must address,” the knowledge and skills students should have to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing, academic college courses and in workforce training programs” (OSPI, 2012).

Another discussion thread this week entitled, “starting with a clear plan”—causes me to reflect on our school’s recent “Senior Presentations”. I see a need within our special education department for more “backward planning” in preparing our students for the successful completion of their senior project. I think that if we strategically plan to focus earlier on the development of these skills in 9th through 11th grades—our students will not only be more likely to present their projects “on time”, but also have more cohesive and integrated results. I plan to be much more “intentional” in my efforts to prepare my students for this requirement, yet always keep the focus of “transferability” into their adult lives as the overarching goal.


OSPI webpage for Common Standards, Retrieved from SPU Blackboard, Curriculum class March 30, 2012

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. ISBN 1-4166-0035-3