Standard Three Essay
Knowledge of content and integrated curriculum
Educators should know, understand, and use the central concepts and tools of inquiry appropriate to the subject matter and age/grade levels they teach. They should be able to create meaningful learning experiences that develop children’s understanding of subject matter and increase their skills. Educators should plan integrated units of curriculum, instruction, and assessment based upon their knowledge of subject matter, curriculum goals, and developmentally appropriate practices among the families, communities, and cultures from which their children come.
Knowledge of content and integrated curriculum tells me that teaching is about more than instructing out of a textbook. Teachers should be able to take what is most important for the children to learn and then plan educational experiences that help the students reach that understanding. Assessment of the learning needs to be developed to most accurately assess student progress and knowledge. Good educators need to be aware of the developmental levels of their students before they plan instruction, and they need to format that instruction to best fit their students’ needs.
This standard is important because it challenges teachers to think outside the structure of scripted curriculum so they can best meet the educational needs of their students. It reminds them to use materials and topics that their students will be able to manipulate and understand but that will also stretch their thinking. The standard also reiterates that good educators plan learning experiences that allow students to discover the material and make it their own. Finally, knowledge of content and integrated curriculum is important because it tells instructors to plan these learning experiences with a broader goal in mind: the big goal of the unit is what dictates each lesson.
Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2006) address the importance of thinking about the end goal before designing individual lessons in their book Understanding by Design:
Deliberate and focused instructional design requires us as teachers and curriculum writers to make an important shift in our thinking about the nature of our job. The shift involves thinking a great deal, first, about the specific learnings sought, and the evidence of such learnings, before thinking about what we, as the teacher, will do or provide in teaching and learning activities…Our lessons, units, and courses should be logically inferred from the results sought, not derived from the methods, books, and activities with which we are most comfortable. (p. 14)
Backward design is important because as educators we have to make sure that each of our lessons relates to the goals of our unit. Teachers can have the most engaging and exciting lessons planned for their students, but if they do not connect to the overall goals and big ideas of the unit as a whole then these lessons will not serve the students in the long run. Educators also need to plan the assessments that they will be using throughout the unit so they can adjust their lesson plans as needed. Backward design is key in developing your own curriculum.
With these principles in mind, I planned the Revolutionary War Unit that I implemented during my Leadership Week in my full-time practicum. Artifact 3.3 is both the rough draft of my unit plan (with corrections made by Professor Samuels-Peretz) and the final copy of the lesson plans that I handed in for my practicum seminar. These plans detail the big ideas that I wanted my students to learn about, the understandings they would achieve, and the measurable objectives I would use to make sure they achieved these learning goals. Only after developing these aspects of the unit was I able to begin thinking about the individual lesson plans and how I would achieve these objectives. This was the first unit I planned on my own in which I wasn’t using previously developed curriculum. The backward design curriculum was crucial in this process so I could make sure that I was meeting the needs of my students.
When planning a math lesson for the fourth graders at the Joseph Lee Elementary School about multiples, I knew that I wanted to make the lesson a bit more hands-on than they were used to. The Investigations curriculum called for the students to understand and use multiple towers (and we knew that there had been questions on past unit tests that involved multiple towers) but I knew my students weren’t ready for these just yet; multiple towers were a bit too abstract for them. According to the Omnibus Guidelines (2001) my students were right on the fourth grade level, because they could “interpret organized information and draw conclusions from it” (p. 107), but since the multiple towers were not labeled in any way and the students hadn’t encountered them before, I knew they were going to need to see them in another way before making them on their own.
I decided to combine ideas I received from the TERC curriculum so the idea of multiple towers was particularly concrete for the students. We had been working on showing the students why it was important to know how to find multiples by giving them word problems that related to their lives. For example, one question we used was, “Andy wants to give all the students in E pod a pencil. He buys 20 boxes of pencils and each box has 5 pencils in it. If there are 100 students in E pod does Andy have enough pencils?” The students would then have to figure out what the 20th multiple of 5 was. Rather than counting by 5’s 20 times, the students could find the 20 multiple on the multiple tower, and from there figure out the 10th multiple and locate other patterns on the tower.
Knowing my students, I knew that they would need to see this tower in action before being given instructions on how to make their own. For the lesson, I had three students come up to the front of the room to assist me in creating our class’s tower. One student called on the class to give them the multiple, the second wrote the multiple on a post-it note, and the third stuck the note on the wall in tower form starting at the floor. We built a tower up to a student’s head and then stepped back to look at patterns. We first found the fifth multiple, and then doubled it to find the 10th. From there the students began to locate other multiples using those telltale numbers on their own. After this learning experience, the students were split into groups of two to create their own towers with new multiples and then find the patterns on that tower. At the close of the lesson, each group got to share something they learned. The students all referred to that lesson as they continued in the unit. Artifact 3.2 is a picture of the multiple tower we made as a class as well as ones the students created on their own.
One aspect of this standard that I would like to continue working on is connecting the learning to my students’ families. While I know the basic backgrounds of all my students, I don’t know the professions of their parents or traditions that they share. We sent home a questionnaire to the parents or guardians of all the students in the beginning of the year but received few back. In the future, I will work on getting a greater parent response and making sure that the students’ families and communities are well-represented in the curriculum. To do this I would plan a variety of family events throughout the school year that are specific to my class. Open houses for the whole school are great, but I feel that parents are more likely to show up for events that are geared specifically towards their children. Family breakfasts are great because parents can show up early before they need to be there for work and holding class nights or presentations to show off the students’ work in the afternoon give parents who work early in the morning a chance to participate as well. While this would be a lot of work, it’s also quite rewarding in the long run.
Ashley, L. A., Dichtelmiller, M. L., Marsden, D. B., Jablon, J. R., & Meisels, S. J. (2001). Omnibus Guidelines. Vol 2 K-5th grade. New York, NY: REBUS INC.
McTighe, J. & Wiggins, G. (2006). Understanding by Design. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.