use model curriculum to improve district curriculum

Using Model Curriculum as a Tool to Improve District Curriculum

By Erin Peacock, Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction Cranbury School

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Use Model Curriculum as a Tool to Improve District Curriculum

All schools should develop and implement a curriculum that is rigorous, intentional, and aligned with national, state and local standards and district requirements. To assist with the curriculum planning process, many states and educational organizations have published model curricula and other related tools. The purpose of providing a “model” is to support districts and schools with implementation of the standards by providing an example from which to work and/or a product for immediate classroom use. School districts are not mandated to use these guides, but, by doing so, educators can benefit from elaboration on the standards and examples of each curricular element, which can assist in developing local curricula and instructional plans.

What is a Model Curriculum?

A model curriculum provides a framework for the development of a more detailed, local curriculum. Model curriculum are developed through the work of consortia of a variety of education and community practitioners, including practicing teachers, administrators, higher education faculty, and discipline experts. A typical model curriculum includes some or all of the following elements:

  • Multiple units of instruction – and each unit of instruction suggests a guiding question, a unit overview, the estimated number of instructional days necessary to complete the unit, and student learning objectives. The student learning objectives (SLOs) elucidate what students need to know and be able to do within the unit.
  • Formative assessments included in the model curriculum help clarify the level of rigor expected from the standards and provide a set of assessment tools that are often difficult for districts and schools to create on their own.
  • Unit assessments included in the model curriculum provide clarity about the level students need to reach to achieve proficiency.

The availability of model curriculum was the stimulus for using model curriculum and Rubicon Atlas to create courses based upon the sequence and duration of the instructional units in a model curriculum; and then use the Comparative Unit Calendar Report to compare the instructional units, unit sequence and unit scope (recommended number of instructional days) of the model curriculum versus your current course of study for the same grade level and discipline. The elements of a model curriculum that are necessary to begin the Comparative Unit Calendar Report include only the listing of the units of instruction and the estimated number of instructional days necessary to complete the unit. Atlas makes the process quick and easy to complete.

The most important reason to conduct this activity is that the Comparative Unit Calendar Report can help to initiate important conversations around the most fundamental questions teachers ask themselves:

  • What should I teach?
  • In what sequence do I teach these concepts?
  • For how long should I teach these concepts?

After these primary questions are answered, a more thorough comparison between the existing district curriculum and the model curriculum occur. Model curriculum and curriculum progressions documents are available for every discipline and grade level from a variety of sources. Using the New Jersey Department of Education Model Grade 4 Science curriculum as an example:

Step 1: Create a course for each model curriculum.

Select the Admin tab from the top of the dashboard, scroll down and select Manage Courses and then select the Add New Course button. Create a new course for each grade level and discipline model curriculum that you would like to compare to your existing in-district curriculum. I named each model curriculum course built by using the grade level, discipline, and source of the model curriculum. In my example, I added “NGSS” to represent the Next Generation Science Standards (Grade 4 Science NGSS). See New Jersey Model Curriculum All Subjects  or NGSS Example Bundles, Topic or Phenomenon Model Curriculum Frameworks.

Step 2: Populate each new course with the units listed and suggested length of each unit in the model course.

Select the Unit Calendar tab and type a Unit Name in the text box under the Create a New Unit button. Select the number of weeks for the unit, keeping in mind any school events or holidays listed on the Unit Calendar box. Click the SAVE button next to the Unit Weeks in order to populate the Unit Calendar box with each Unit Name and Unit Length bar.  Changes to the length of each unit can be done by shortening or lengthening the Unit Length bar from within the Unit Calendar box. Changes to the teaching order of each unit can be done by moving the Unit Length bar up or down within the Unit Calendar box.

Step 3: Select the Comparative Unit Calendar Report under the Scope and Sequence section of the Reports drop-down menu.

Use the filters to locate the courses you wish to compare (for my example, the Grade 4 and  Science filters reveal the two courses that I want to compare, Grade 4 Science NGSS (model course) and Grade 4 Science 53234G (school course). Check the box next to the courses in the drop down list box that you wish to include in your report and then click Close.

Step 4: When you have returned to Comparative Unit Calendar Reports under the Reports tab, click Submit to create the report.

See the sample below, Model Curriculum versus School District Curriculum.

As you can see, this report generates many questions best discussed by a grade-alike and/or discipline alike professional learning community. These questions include but are not limited to:

  1. What topics do we teach during our available instructional time? What topics do model curriculum  documents suggest that we teach during our available instructional time?
  2. Do you have your key academic dates listed on your Academic Calendar so that your true instructional time is represented?
  3. As compared to the model curriculum, do we spend to much or too little time on certain topics?
  4. What topics does the model curriculum include that our district curriculum excludes? Are the topics taught at other grade levels?
  5. What topics does the model curriculum exclude that our district curriculum includes? Are these topics genuinely locally important or simply remnants of past priorities or activity-based traditions?
  6. Do we present our units in a logical sequence? Use Model Curriculum, (i.e.NJDOE Model Curriculum, etc.), Progressions (i.e. Council of the Great City Schools Math Progressions, Illustrative Math Progressions, etc.) and/or Matrices (i.e. Matrices of Learning Progressions- Science NJDOE etc.) as comparisons to your district curriculum.

Please add to this list of questions as you compare your district curriculum and a published model curriculum and share your insights and next steps for the good of all who seek to create curriculum that meet all national, state and local standards and district requirements and especially the needs of their students and communities.

Learn about another school’s journey using Atlas for curricular improvement, and be sure to try a free demo of the Atlas curriculum mapping software!

Erin Peacock is the Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction for the Cranbury School District in Cranbury, New Jersey. Her professional interests include Assessment for Learning, Data Driven Instruction, and the power of Professional Learning Communities. She celebrates her 30th year in education in 2018.

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