What an opportunity we have right now; to restructure ELL methodologies in curriculum and instruction and create engaging, relevant 21st curriculum to better prepare our English language learners for post-secondary opportunities. Our English language learners deserve better curriculum, instruction and assessment and it is through the Common Core State Standards that can make their dreams come true.

But how do we build curriculum and ensure that a focus on language proficiency and academic achievement is realized?

Attending many ELL conferences over the years, I have come to the conclusion that teachers focus on finding classroom activities, activities that they can take right away and use in their classrooms the following day.  This is unfortunate because 21st century curriculum does not revolve around activities.  Today’s curriculum must revolve around skills.  The roll out of the Common Core State Standards is just what we need to better prepare our English language learners. But how do we use the CCSS as the vehicle to drive curriculum?

4 Step Process to Build Curriculum

Choose a standard

To develop literacy and proficiency, focus your unit of study around a set of skills you would like your students to be proficient in.  For example: Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text (from CCSS Reading Standards for Literature).  The basis of the unit of study is around this skill set. So, students will focus on citing textual evidence, drawing out explicit information and making inferences during the curricular unit of study.  You can teach other skills and strategies, but the main focus must be on the standard we have designated.  Now that we have a skill, what is the next step?

Develop an assessment to measure the skill, not just the content

Too often we give assessments that ask students to regurgitate content that we expected them to memorize. In 21st century curriculum, the assessment should measure performance of the skill being mastered.  So, the second step is to create an assessment that measures the skill.  With our example, develop a pre and post assessment that measures if the student can cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. A pre-assessment gives the teacher base-line data and guides the instruction and activities of the unit.  The post-assessment will give a true measurement if the student has met expectations of the skill being learned.

Add relevant and engaging content

Having a plethora of information at our fingertips, choose content that is engaging and relevant to our students that would best help them learn the skill.  If we want to break free from the shackles of textbook publishers, it is this step that can do it.  Teachers can choose text that best connects with their students.  Traditionally, we have followed a textbook or curriculum and moved through the pages, not concerned with skill development, but rather content comprehension. Let’s promise to use text that best helps our students learn the skill.

Now it is time for the instructional activities

The last step?  Yes!  If we want our students to master skills, we must match effective activities that are based on research with the skills being learned.  “This is a fun activity” does not necessarily constitute an effective strategy.  Not sure which instructional strategies are based on research?  Please read the likes of Robert Marzano, John Hattie, Douglas Reeves, Michael Schmoker, and Virginia Rojas.  They have spent many years researching strategies that do make a positive impact on student learning.  The bottom line is that there are instructional activities that yield better results than others.  It is our job to focus on those strategies that help students learn the skill.

For whatever reason, the institution of education tends to move slowly.  We stick to the way we have been taught.  We don’t want to accept the ideas of standards-based curriculum, 4-point rubrics, differentiated instruction, alternative grading.  But if we want to better prepare our students for their futures, it is through the Common Core that we can start building curriculum that will better prepare our English language learners to be productive global citizens.  By creating units of study around the Common Core, we will build the leaders of tomorrow.

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