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?

Bookstore Behavior

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Earlier this week I was invited to accompany my dad to Barnes and Noble to look for a specific book he was interested in.  While I am a traditional reader who becomes excitable about the prospect of going to a bookstore, but I am of two minds about it.  The negative feelings are not because I become overwhelmed by the number of titles that I want to purchase, or because I find the commercialism to be indigestible.  I get torn because I feel guilt that I don’t want to buy any of those books.  There’s a strong sense of guilt because I know that I won’t give a proper home to anyone, but I will write down a laundry list of titles that I will go home and purchase for my Kindle.  So despite my neurotic approach to bookstores, I do have a specific approach to how I navigate a Barnes and Noble.

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Phase One: Entering the Building 

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Allow your eyes to drink in all the New Releases, Hardcovers, and Staff Recommendations.  They’re new, they’re sparkly, and they’re enticing.  It reminds me that while only about 10% of those titles that blast your senses as you first enter the bookstore are going to end up on my To-Be-Read list, new ideas are always flowing.  Keeping the proverbial mind going by thinking/rethinking thoughts and solutions equates to a promising future (and yes, that does include the Romance and Sci-Fiction titles, not just nonfiction).

Phase Two: Sales Baby!

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Typically, Barnes and Noble will have a section of the store that will feature all the Sales books.  These aren’t necessarily “bad” or “boring” titles.  Most of the time, this section will be located relatively close to the New Releases.  I like to go through these books, but not all the genres.  I will avoid the cookbooks and other nonfiction sales titles because 1) I don’t cook and definitely not based on a discounted pile that tend to include recipes with ingredients I can’t pronounce, and 2) I’ve got all the WWII and automobile knowledge I’ll need for a lifetime already.  I will go directly to the fiction section for the sales.  I will stock up my classroom’s bookshelf in this section, and there are always diamonds in the rough if you spend the time to look for them.

Phase Three: Criterion Tables

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These tables are like breadcrumbs that lead you to the back of the Barnes and Noble, and will help you find your way (usually with arms fully loaded) back to the cash registers.  I like to look through these books because I tend to follow certain themes in my reading, and when I’m in the mood for a “beach read,” I don’t want to have to hunt-and-peck through the Fiction shelves and hope that I locate a properly dressed, neon pink and yellow book cover that will satisfy my needs.  The helpful employees have taken the time to arrange a cluster of books that cut down on my shopping time (Gifts for Grads, Dads, Moms, Husbands Obsessed with Lord of the Rings) or help me complete a “If you liked ________, then read __________” puzzles.

P.S. Sometimes these little nuggets will offer “Buy 2 Get 3rd Free” discounts.  But choose wisely friends, choose wisely.

Phase Four: The Leftovers

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There are certain sections of any bookstore that I won’t travel to.  This includes: Children’s Books, Technology, Self-Help, Humor, and Magazines.  All the remaining genres are up for grabs.

Conclusion: For me, a trip to the bookstore is the equivalent to doing an initial search for scholarly articles for a college midterm paper.  You have your general purpose, but you must first scratch the surface of many subtopics before you can decide, with confidence, which thesis you’re going to pursue.  Thankfully, I’ve learned that you don’t have to purchase each book you want to eventually read; this is the equivalent of printing out a copy of each 40+ page article from JSTOR.  I feel accomplished with a  list of titles to file away for a rainy day.

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:

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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?