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


One response to this post.

  1. Your analysis of the issues that face your students in your school in relation to the curriculum offered to them, and the concepts in the Parkay and Anctil text are just incredible. I was cheering for you in those meetings, advocating for more educational value for each member of our school community. Then you took it to another elegant level when describing the connection of the concept of backward’s design to the agonizing decisions surrounding your sister. Thank you for your willingness to share in each of these ways.


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