Monday, December 12, 2011

Writing my own curriculum: Part 2

I just spent a substantial portion of time talking mostly about what other people are doing when it comes to creating course materials and thought I would take a second to share some of the things I learned from creating my own curriculum. Here is a brief list of lessons I learned.

1) Create context
In Writing my own curriculum: Part 1 I talked about how I used articles from a lot of different sources as jumping off points for many of my units. At first I used them as introductory reading assignments to introduce students to the material and then in class addressed the ways I wanted the students to apply the ideas to our class. But I soon began to feel that this was artificial and that I needed to help students make the connections from the very beginning. Then I started using large chunks of articles and then using the edit functions in Adobe Acrobat program, or the comments in Microsoft Word, or copy and pasting things together and then typing my own voice in italics. I even just wrote in the margins of one article before I photocopied it. I found that all of these were more effective because then the students had me right there with them as they were reading and also helped get from the material exactly what I intended.

2) Use a format that fits
Traditional textbooks are meant to be fairly stand-alone. They have written unit and chapter introductions, review questions, and lots and lots of words in bold. We all know that the words in bold are meant to be new vocabulary words that students should memorize and synthesize, but in the whole semester we had a total of 4  vocab words (ethos, pathos, logos, and the speaker's triangle for those of you who care). I didn't need bolded words in my content material because we were learning new ideas not new words. And my class is very interactive, so I want to remain the chapter introductions and review questions. So I had to find a format that did fit. And, actually, what I chose is exactly what you are reading now. (I once read a list of rules for being a blogger, and the list included: write lists, don't write about your kids, don't write lists, don't write about work, write about work, write about your kids, etc. I can't find the  article right now to save my life but it was funny and the point was to do what works for you.) Students today spend a lot more time reading on the internet then they do those old school textbooks: this is cliche but true. I did not seek to match the format of what my students are reading, but when I was looking for up-to-date articles to supplement my lessons I found them in the format of the internet, which is list format.

I came to love the list format because it facilitated several types of lessons:
*Divide into groups, take numbers x-y with your group, read and come up with an example
*Do such-and-such a short assignment and then tell me which three elements that we talked about you used
* Look at the list of a million ways to do blank and see which you could add to make your work better

This all just made a lot of sense when it came to the way we use consume language in today's world.

3) Backwards design
This is edu-speak for: know where you want to go and then figure out how to get there. This seems obvious but for years the tradition was to figure out what activities you want students to do then write a test...but there was not necessary a conscious intent to have the assessment directly correspond to the activities, and then there was the whole teaching to the test fiasco, and now we have backwards design. Honestly, this is the only reason I was confidant enough to create my own curriculum because I knew that I knew how to DO public speaking so I was sure I could figure out how to help others know too. This may sound simple, that you can teach someone anything you know how to do, but figuring out the order and depth and activities in itself can be extremely dauting if you don't know where to start. But, I know that the place to start is with where you want to end up, also known as your objectives, and you will always figure it out.

4) You need to know where you fit into the grand scheme of the whole curriculum.
Yeah, I have no idea where I fit, but I am actively trying to figure that out. I am now to the assistant superintendent because by head coach told me we don't exist outside ourselves and my department chair told me that I should just exist on my own with no context and my principal told me to use my best judgement. So, if the assistant superintendent (well, actually assistant head master...because I teach at Hogwarts) still tells me I can do my own thing I'm going to take that as permission to do some crazy stuff, like spend an entire month watching a movie and debating about robot autonomy.

Oh wait, we already did that. And the kids love and and their arguments were AMAZING.

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