Matching Kids to Curriculum
Oftentimes schools and districts will purchase a set of curriculum and teachers are asked to use it, regardless of whether or not it meets the needs of their students. Homeschool parents, and teachers with more flexible administrators, may have the ability to make purchasing decisions and/or supplement their prescribed curricula. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding on a curriculum.
Who will be using it?
Parent-teachers who homeschool have the big advantage here, in that they can usually choose curriculum based on the needs of one student. Teachers in traditional school settings need to find materials that will work for their entire class, and potentially, several years’ worth of students. Will a teacher be using the curriculum to deliver instruction, or will it be taught by a classroom aide? Is it for an entire grade level, or just a small sub-section of students?
Does it ACTUALLY teach what it is supposed to teach?
With the imperfect rollout of CCSS, individual schools and districts began making purchases to ensure that their curriculum was “aligned” to the new standards. Unfortunately, many publishers released new versions of older materials and simply slapped an “Aligned to CCSS” sticker on the front cover. It is absolutely essential that the people making curricular purchases vet the materials properly before signing on the dotted line.
Is the curriculum engaging for students?
Even a well-designed program will prove ineffective if it does not engage the students. Think about whether or not the curriculum is interesting and appealing. Do students have fun and look forward to using the material, or does it suck the joy out of learning? Be honest – is the program too boring? Or is the structure provided one that will help build confidence and motivation in your students?
Does it require much supplementation?
Think about how many outside resources or supplementary materials are needed to make this curriculum “work.” Does it require a teacher to make trips to the library to gather related resources? Will the teacher need to spend hours on Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers finding related materials? Consider if the curriculum is “plug and play” or if it requires more preparation on the teacher’s part.
How much review is included?
Some curriculum includes a lot of review, which is perfect for students who need it, but may be extremely tedious for those who do not. Find out whether the curriculum you are investigating is set up sequentially, in a spiral system, or some other format. Are there regular intervals for checking for understanding? Is the student able to use portions of the curriculum for review? Does the curriculum make attempts to fill in gaps and review material from the previous year, or does it assume that all students have an understanding of the previous grade level’s materials?
How is differentiation addressed?
Many materials today include ideas and supplementals for students who are not working on grade level. For example, there may be sections for students “Below,” “On,” and “Above” grade level. There may be pieces geared towards gifted learners or those who need extra challenge. There may be special sections for ELD students at different levels. Consider the group of students who will be using these materials now and in the future and determine if the curriculum makes it easy to differentiate.
Is the curriculum heavily scripted, or open-ended?
Some students may enjoy the structure and routine of a heavily scripted curriculum, but others may be easily bored with these types of materials. Similarly, some administrators may require their teachers to stay with their grade level when teaching, which is much easier to do with a scripted curriculum. Teachers and administrators who want more freedom when delivering instruction would do better off with more of an open-ended curriculum option.
How does the curriculum address learning styles?
It is well known that students learn in different ways. There are auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (hands-on) learners; most people learn best using a combination of two or three of these modalities. When choosing a curriculum, it is essential to see how it meets the needs of all three types of learners. A program that relies solely on the student’s ability to listen and repeat would be perfect for an auditory learner, but a visual or kinesthetic learner would certainly have difficulty retaining information when presented in this way.
Is there enough technology (or too much)?
Many curricular offerings now include an online component, related app, or some other technological integration. Consider the age of the students and the amount of technology exposure that is preferred. Do students have Internet access at home? Are the web features properly maintained so as to prevent broken links and other negative tech issues? Do students enjoy the format of the online programs, or are they used more by parents and teachers? Do the online components actually teach students new skills or help them practice what they’ve learned in face-to-face instruction? Does the program rely too heavily on technology?
Will the curriculum stand the test of time?
Curriculum, (especially hardcover textbooks), can be extremely expensive. Training teachers on how to use new curriculum takes time and money. Before making a large purchase, consider how long the curriculum will last, both physically and through future educational shifts. Is the next wave of politics or set of standards going to make the curriculum obsolete? Will the material be relevant for students in 2 years? 5 years? 10 years?
Curriculum choice should not be taken lightly, but is not the end-all, be-all either. A strong teacher can make the best use of any curriculum and can supplement it in ways that reach all learners. And while no curriculum is a perfect for all students, it is certainly worth the time and effort to find a program that matches the needs and interests of both students and teachers.