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Curriculum and Lesson Planning: Outpacing Design via Textbooks

Sep 10, 2015

The [Good?] Old Days

Close your eyes and imagine a typical classroom from the 1950s. What do you see?

If you are like most people you probably have a vision of desks neatly arrayed into rows, a chalkboard with traces of dust, pull-down maps, and an open book on the teacher's desk. If you listen closely you can probably hear the teacher addressing the class: "Turn to page 57, where we will begin our lesson for the day."

The Modern Classroom

Now open your eyes and consider the current state of education.

We live in a changed world. There are still desks, but more often than not they are arranged into learning pods. Chalkboards are being replaced by whiteboards and even smartboards. Due to easy and cheap color printing, classrooms are decorated with highly detailed collages of important information. Students are just as likely to pull a mobile device out of their pocket as they are a pencil. And on the teacher's desk, there's just as likely to be an open laptop as an open textbook.


Curriculum Development Progresses Too

In the past, “curriculum development” served as a euphemism to represent a process that mostly resembled "textbook selection". Teachers would meet for a few afternoons over coffee and a donut to pore over the wares of various publishing companies. The evaluation consisted of gazing at the sample textbooks by comparing content, weight, and color. A session of "curriculum development" ended with the selection of a book that would be the focal point of pedagogy for the next several years.

However, several important trends are pushing us into a "post-textbook" world. The explosion of digital resources, many available for free over the internet, has led many teachers to supplement their lessons generously with digital content.

No longer is a biology teacher stuck with showing static image of a cell when hundreds of visualizations of biological processes are freely available on YouTube. A simple search in any domain area will quickly yield thousands of potential supplements to a lesson, some much more engaging than what is offered by the textbook.

Academic Standards Evolved Rapidly

Another force is pushing us into a post-textbook world: changing academic standards. Textbook publishers work to keep pace with the adoption of standards, but in our dynamic educational world the standards outpace publishers.

Many states have adopted the Common Core standards, but these standards are not set in stone and continue to evolve over time. To use one example, the state of Pennsylvania has revised its set of educational standards several times over the course of 10 years, moving from several sets of standards, to assessment anchors, and then finally onto its implementation of the Common Core and Keystone subject tests. Anyone betting on one textbook as their sole source for materials, even over just 3 or 4 years, would end up regretting the decision. The textbooks just become woefully out of date quickly.

Textbooks on Mobile Devices

Mobile devices are also thrusting us into a world beyond textbooks. For under $100 a person can buy a mobile reader that can access and store more books than an avid reader consumes in an entire lifetime.

Mobile textbooks are available anywhere, anytime. Students today use their phone as reading devices as well. As this generation matures they will be increasingly resistant to the idea of carrying around bulky items that they could just as easily access on a screen.

Hindering Differentiated Instruction

Finally, differentiated education relegates textbooks to the learning periphery, while also forcing educators to rethink traditional classrooms and bell schedules. A one-size-fits-all education model is doomed to fail all but the fictional, average student.

The situation is Goldilocks and the Three Bears. One textbook is too challenging for some students and too basic for another. A “just right” textbook for all students doesn’t exist. As a result the education system breaks kids into targeted subgroups for additional instruction. This practice ought to force us to reconsider what it means to truly "cover" a subject.

Curricula and Lessons in this Brave New World

So what does this new world mean for a curriculum mapper and online lesson planner?

Curriculum Development ≠ Textbook Selection

First, it means that curriculum development needs to be thought of as a process separate from textbook selection. Textbooks continue to play some role in education, but curriculum needs to be thought of more broadly. No textbook can by itself replace the myriad of available resources for any subject.

A Nimble Curriculum

Second, forward-thinking school districts keep their curriculum in a system that allows it to be revised, updated, and distributed quickly to all district stakeholders. People has become accustomed to accessing information online. This will spell the end for the curriculum binder.

An online curriculum system is vital in order to provide easy access to the most up-to-date version of the curriculum for all who are involved in the education of students.

A View from All Sides

Third, curriculum needs to filter down into lesson planning in a way that makes it easy for teachers to look "up" to the broad curriculum, and administrators to look "down" through the curriculum to the specific lessons that are taught.

Online lesson planners link curriculum with lessons, providing certainty for teachers that core concepts are covered. Through the online lesson planner administrators know that the teachers are taking full advantage of the strategic thought put into curriculum development.

Tether Curriculum Updates to Student Data

Finally, curriculum must link to student performance data in a way that allows curriculum to be evaluated and adjusted. Adjustments may be made in response to students' summative assessments (between school years) and benchmark assessments within a school year.

Administrators who can look at curriculum and student performance data side-by-side have powerful tools to shape and mold their districts' teaching practices to increase student performance.

A Tool for 21st Century Curriculum Design

Monitoring, adjusting and distributing an ever evolving curriculum is no easy task. One suite of software does all of that and more.  EdInsight.

Our EdInsight system has been crafted from the ground up to embrace a forward-thinking curriculum process. In this system  student achievement databenchmark assessmentslesson plans and curriculum maps all link together to provide a powerful, cohesive view of what is going on at any moment with the district's many teachers, students, and classrooms.

The sum of the EdInsight suite is truly greater than its individual parts. Each provides an understanding of how typically disparate systems interact to amplify instruction.

Seeing Is Believing – Get a Demonstration

OnHand Schools has highly educational experts available to show you how the connections within EdInsight improve instruction and deliver visibility into your district’s educational process.

Click here to let us know you would like to know more.

Category: Commentary

About The Author

Ashley Bartko