cte curriculum

How a School Designed Their CTE Curriculum and Instruction

By Amber Villa-Zang, Rubicon International featuring Patty Adolfs, Oakland Schools

This blog is adapted from a webinar, which you can download here.

Patty’s journey in curriculum development started 7 years ago when she worked at an Oakland County School District, which uses Atlas to design their curriculum. Patty saw the many ways that curriculum development had the potential to help strengthen their Career and Technical Eeducation program and was vocal about finding a way to make sure it could fit their needs at the four Oakland School technical campuses. This included working with a team of people to add the CTE program standards to Atlas and customize the curriculum template to reflect the needs of CTE.

Developing Comprehensive CTE Instruction

Patty’s task was to usher a shift from the existing comprehensive CTE framework of curriculum and assessments that had been created by a large committee and existed in several separate documents, to one that put all pertinent information in one location in a friendly format with two maps: curriculum and instructional plans.

To begin, instructional and teacher leaders developed the curriculum map. Once those were complete they developed the instructional plan map that would be used by teachers. Finally, they created a style guide for the maps to provide consistency and clarity when introducing the map components and leading staff with curriculum development.

Our main goal was to make sure our map would meet our CTE needs.
Career and technical education curriculum

With a focus on job-related skills, CTE programs are also held to the same standards and requirements of your standard classroom. This necessitates a focused approach on the development of CTE curriculum to meet both its needs for real world application and academic requirements.

Explore how five schools are developing CTE curriculum that is transforming student learning >>

Steps for Developing CTE Curriculum

To begin the task of developing Career and Technical Education curriculum, Patty’s team took the following steps:

Step 1: Developing components of the curriculum map and the instructional map

Instructional and teacher leaders developed the curriculum maps. Once those were complete, they developed the instructional plan map that would be used by teachers. Finally, they created a style guide for the maps to provide consistency and clarity when introducing the map components and leading staff with curriculum development.

Style Guide Sample: OSTC Curriculum Category Definitions

Style Guide Sample: OSTC Instructional Plan Lesson Sequence

Style Guide Template: OSTC Instructional Plan Lesson 

Step 2:  Developing content for curriculum components

To begin this step, Patty first focused on building a team by determining who would be involved and when and how they were going to move forward.

  1. First they identified who was interested, willing and able to commit the time it would take to develop the curriculum.
  2. Next they determined the best times and options for each group. They used a variety of options, including hiring subs for teachers during the instructional day, or having evening, weekend, or summer time workshops.

To do this work, Patty strongly recommends starting by identifying all of the units, and then creating the units within the curriculum map. Many times they would start by identifying the standards they felt would align with the unit.

The process of developing the content consisted of a cycle that includes filling out each component within the unit plan. This takes time.

The process involves completing each component, which really is done in a cycle format:

Development Cycle:

  • Identifying units/CWFs (Critical Work Functions) and overarching questions
  • Identifying the key activities
  • Aligning standards for the units/cwf
  • Write the unit abstract
  • Identify key concepts
  • Write the focus questions
  • Develop the graphic organizer
  • Repeat as necessary
Step 3: Providing teacher professional development

Once all curriculum development was complete, it was time to focus on professional development designed to support teachers and ensure they understood how to access and use the curriculum.

Patty wrestled with the question: How will we have time to roll it all out so teachers can utilize it?  Her answer, “Well it wasn’t easy and we hit some bumps along the way.”

Needing to prioritize, Patty felt it was most important to make sure teachers and instructional leader understood the curriculum and how to use Atlas. With that in mind, Patty explained how their teachers were pulled out of classes for five days during the first semester. That soon shifted as they moved to one last 3 ½ hour session during their cluster meeting to finish the professional development.

Meanwhile, Patty visited and worked with the 28 teachers individually to answer questions and guide them, and she continued to offer assistance after the final session as needed.

Final Considerations

  • Stakeholders partake in the template design: Include stakeholders every step of the way if possible. If issues arise reconvene and ask for their input. The product will be stronger and you’ll have greater buy in.
  • Honoring the work of others: Do not reinvent the wheel unless it is necessary. If changes do need to be made, discussions should be held and agreements made.
  • Capturing the anchor elements of CTE curriculum: Make sure the template works for you and captures the anchor elements of CTE curriculum. Hold strong as it may need to look different than the district maps for core academic classes. If this is the case, Patty recommends honoring the district elements, and adding any necessary categories to ensure it meets the needs of CTE instructors.
  • Create a timeline and adjust as needed: Establish a clear timeline, and plan the what, when, who, how long etc. Remember that sometimes forces hit that are beyond our realm of control, so be flexible and prepared to shift to a “plan b”. Patty’s team originally planned to begin instruction and assessment work last spring but couldn’t start until the next fall. Delays might happen. Roll with it, make the best of it, and stay positive.
  • Establish common language and consistency: Make sure to establish and use common language in all documents, even the supporting documents. Make sure to have consistent content where applicable.
  • Build a network: Talk to others from your world, who might be outside your organization. For example, Patty spoke many times to people outside her district to share what they were doing, offer advice and talk through ideas. In Michigan they have an association known as the Michigan Career Curriculum Development Association. Support is awesome when facing difficult work!

View Oakland’s CTE Curriculum here >>

Patty Adolfs is a veteran CTE educator. Hailing from Michigan, Patty works as the curriculum consultant for Oakland Schools Intermediate School District’s 4 technical campuses, as well as the Oakland County Districts with CTE programs. She has extensive experience as both a CTE teacher and administrator, with a focus on curriculum development and instruction.

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