What to Look for in a New Curriculum

This upcoming school year, our school will be looking at adopting a new high school ELA curriculum.  I have a very limited background when it comes to school districts and their adoption or development of curriculums.  I have seen many documents online as I have done my own research for my own, which was based solely on the incorporation of the state standards, researched-based strategies, and strong texts.

I have been through several textbook series and curriculum support presentations in my career, and this summer would be no different.  Before the presentations began, I sat down and made a list of all the features I would want the ideal ELA curriculum to have:

  • Standard-based lessons and activities
  • Reading, Speaking, Listening activities
  • Close Reading
  • A strong writing program
    • Synthesizing information presented into a product
    • “Beyond-the-text” assignments
    • MLA/APA/Citations/Plagiarism support
    • How to do research – online and in libraries
  • Rubrics
  • The text selection would be both rigor-appropriate, but also high interest
  • Technology & multimedia must be incorporated
  • Digital copies of the texts for the students and teachers
  • Differentiated options
  • Support for ELL/ESL students
  • A user-friendly interface
  • Support for teachers (professional development, customer service support)
  • Options for teachers to customize the content/assessments/assignments

Educator Question of the Day: What other features do you look for in a new curriculum?

Google Docs in the Classroom

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I’m trying to convince myself that it’s time to get to know Google Docs, and I’m using the excuse that it’s time to revamp my classroom.  I’m starting my 10th year of teaching this fall and it is time.  It’s easier to remain stagnant, but if humans were meant to stay the same their entire lives, I wouldn’t be buying regenerist serums by the gallon.

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Anyway, I have started fiddling around with how to make Google forms with my personal account.  I am going to be meeting weekly with my department members and I want to streamline the process as much as possible.  Here is the final product:

Meeting Minutes

I can open this form on my iPad during the meeting, fill it out, and then have the results accumulated in a spreadsheet for my convenience.  I also figure out how to have the results directly emailed to me for easy sharing with the individual teachers.

It was a little tricky getting used to the format and platform, and because I’m still working the kinks out, I won’t attempt to explain the process.  I’ll leave that to the experts.

It got me to thinking about how I can use Google Docs in the classroom.  I am completely envious of teachers who work in a 1:1 school or where technology is more consistently accessible.  What I do have control over is the use of my iPad in the classroom.  I can also provide Google Docs/Forms for students to use at home if they cannot access them on their smartphones or tablets.  So here is a list of uses that I intend to implement this year:

  • Behavior Logs
  • Individual/Group meetings with students
  • Surveys
  • Spot Checks
    • This has become the nomenclature at our school to replace the term “quiz.”  It will ensure me that students have read their assigned reading.  Through our PLN, we have decided that the first question must always be, “Did you complete the reading assignment?”  At first, we thought students would automatically respond, “yes,” but eventually as students became more comfortable, their honesty improved.  It helps the teacher know if there is a comprehension problem or if it’s Christmas treeing.
  • Lesson planning
  • Rubrics – I’m still new to this usage, but I definitely plan on getting better acquainted.

Question of the Day: If you use Google Docs/Forms in the classroom, what is your favorite method?  If you haven’t started, what is holding you back?

 

Pros and Cons of Final Exams

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Tuesday marks the beginning of Finals Week at my school.  I’ve been teaching for nine years, and each year I change the way I have administered and developed my midterm and final exam.  I have rarely been required to follow a particular format by my administration, which was a joy but also could be taxing.  I have utilized objective assessment formats: multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and matching; subjective and project-based have also served as my culminating assessments.  I have reflected on the merits of the multiple formats and have determined a list of pros and cons for each.

Subjective Assessments (Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-Blank, Matching, etc.)

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Pros:

  • Easy to grade
  • Relatively easy to create
  • Trends in comprehension (number correct/incorrect) efficiently identified
  • Format can parallel standardized tests which allows for students to be more familiar and comfortable when assessed (ACT, SAT, state tests)

Cons:

  • Only assesses one type of learning/interpretation
  • Creating questions that truly align with objectives/standards can be difficult
  • Leaves little room for students to express themselves and their understanding
  • Little-to-no creativity or individuality allowed

Objective Assessments (Short Answer, Short Essay, Essay)

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Pros:

  • Students able to express themselves and their understanding in their own way
  • More room for individuality
  • Questions can be more easily created because they can encompass more ideas/skills

Cons:

  • Takes longer to grade
  • Some students are not strong writers
  • Addresses one learning style
  • Usually there are fewer questions (sometimes only one), therefore if it is interpreted incorrectly, students’ responses may not fully encompass their full knowledge
  • ESL/ESE students may struggle
  • Extensive rubrics required

Project-Based/Presentations

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Pros:

  • Allowance for multiple interpretations and approaches to answering the prompt
  • Creativity is encouraged
  • Application of classroom content to a real-world issue
  • Students are allowed to connect to the content in a real way
  • More learning styles are addressed
  • Collaboration is an option

Cons:

  • Requires outside of class time – teacher has little control over if it is completed
  • Developing the project requirements is more complex
  • Multiple aspects need to addressed when grading
  • Students need strong support in developing presentation skills; scaffolding required
  • Multiple days required for presentation
  • Extensive rubrics required

Conclusion

Ultimately, there is no one proper way to assess students; all formats present their advantages and disadvantages.  A good teacher who wants to truly assess their students’ complete understanding and skill level will not choose just one format, but will allow for multiple assessment formats.