Building a Curriculum Process that Works
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World and investor, is commonly known for his saying that successful businesses rest upon three key focuses: people, process and product. At our high school district, comprised of three large comprehensive high schools, we approach curriculum work in the same way: we bring together the right people, have set in place a curriculum process, and expect the outcome of a guaranteed and viable curriculum. This was a very intentional and thoughtful process because our district goal is to ensure that every student is college and career ready by using sound instructional practices with a guaranteed and viable curriculum.
In Marzano’s book, What Works in Schools, he asserts that developing a guaranteed and viable curriculum is the “single most important initiative a school or district can engage in to raise students’ achievement.” When a curriculum is guaranteed, it means that all students have the opportunity to learn essential knowledge and skills regardless of teacher or school. A viable curriculum is realistic in scope; it is written to ensure that students have adequate time to develop deep and lasting understanding of essential knowledge and skills.
Curriculum Writing Protocol
With three large comprehensive high schools, our administrative leadership team began to craft a curriculum protocol using Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design framework. As we began to build our own capacity and understanding, our first product was to design a district curriculum protocol. Memorializing our process was very important to me as a curriculum director because I wanted to ensure that our curriculum processes were clear and explicit, providing a solid foundation for our curriculum writing teams and leaders. We review our protocol each year and use what we are learning through our curriculum writing process to make the document even stronger.
Bringing Together the Right People
Which brings us to the people—the individuals in our organization are the key to the entire curriculum process. Our division chairs across the three buildings work together to determine the courses that are ready to enter the curriculum development process, which we have broken into three stages: desired results, assessment, and instruction.
Setting in Place a Curriculum Process
When each course is ready to embark on the curriculum writing process, staff who will be curriculum writers must first attend a large-group, district-created professional learning day on the district’s curriculum process, beginning with Stage 1—Desired Results. They experience a series of hands-on activities to discover and begin thinking about how they might design their course curriculum.
We begin with the big ideas about curriculum and then begin to explore each section of our Stage 1 curriculum map: standards, district developed literacy targets, transfer goals, enduring understandings, essential questions, content knowledge, skills, required resources, and suggested resources. This training serves as the foundation of our teachers working together in cross-building teams. Our teams are comprised of two teachers from each building and one special education or ESL teacher.
Expecting the Outcome of a Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum
At this point, all teachers have access to Atlas, whether or not their curriculum is developed in there or not. In addition, due to Atlas’s ease of use, curriculum designers enter the process from various places. Towards the end, we open up Atlas and begin to look at other curriculum maps to generate new ideas, ask questions, and build our understanding. We also sent several administrators to an Atlas Leadership Institute this past summer in order to learn about more functionally of the program and how to develop the Stage 2 – Assessment portion of our template.
We have taken a “slow and steady wins the race” approach to curriculum development. Our purpose is to ensure that curriculum writers, PLCs, and teachers think deeply about the design of our curriculum. We want to ensure they are empowered to design the curriculum based on their expertise and with the support of our administration. Our curriculum leadership team is one of the best examples of a truly collaborative group of individuals who are continually looking for new ways to assist teachers in embracing curriculum outcomes in order to ensure students are college and career ready.
Dr. Stacey Gonzales is a student-centered leader and the current Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Consolidated High School District 230 in Illinois. Dr. Gonzales has been instrumental in the development of a comprehensive curriculum process using both Atlas Rubicon and Understanding by Design. Dr. Gonzales was recently named a Top 30 Technology Trailblazer in the nation by the Center for Digital Education. She is an innovative and enthusiastic thought-leader and change agent.
Ms. Mary McCarthy is the Division Chair for English, Music and ESL at Victor J Andrew High School in Consolidated High School District 230. Ms. McCarthy is a curriculum expert and brings a strong understanding of the design process for curriculum and assessment development. Her ability to empower teachers and build consensus to create a guaranteed and viable curriculum has been honed over 20 years of experience working with a variety of academic disciplines.