In February 2013, Supt. Taymore initiated formation of the Curriculum Materials Working Group, facilitated by Asst. Supt. of Teaching Dr. Margaret Adams, and composed of elementary, middle, and high school teachers and administrators along with a School Committee member. Our charge was to review curriculum materials that were recommended for purchase (using both district and money that was bonded by the city) and vet them based on criteria such as curriculum documentation (like topic outlines), how assessments inform instruction (e.g. if students aren’t understanding, content needs to be taught differently), accessibility and implementation of technology components (is the book online? can students study using online quizzes?, etc.), professional development training and help (helping teachers learn how to make best use of the book/tests/etc.), and whether the materials support differentiation and advanced learner needs (is there help to modify teaching the topic to help students who struggle and also challenge students who need more rigor?). Content area department chairs presented their recommendations for the courses most in need of new materials, and after agreement that the recommendations met the criteria, they were purchased. Those materials are now fully employed in classrooms.
This year’s work has centered on instructional practices (e.g. teaching strategies). We met most recently this past Monday, and spent the majority of time working with Gr. 6-12 English Department Chair Angela Singer, who built on past information presented by Math Dept. Chair Christina Cardella, on Understanding By Design or UbD, a framework developed by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. (More info here: http://www.authenticeducation.org/ubd/ubd.lasso.) The primary goal of UbD is “student understanding: the ability to make meaning of “big ideas” and transfer their learning.” Teachers are “coaches of understanding, not mere purveyors of content or activity.” Lesson planning is done “backward from the desired results.” Ms. Singer shared staff work related to applying this philosophy and practice in 10th grade English; for example, looking at a unit on “Viewing Ourselves and Others” that includes learning new literary terms, “discussing how events in a person’s life affect his or her perspective,” reading a selected work like To Kill a Mockingbird, and then engaging in activities that might include writing an essay analyzing relationships in the book, annotating the text, writing a dialectical journal, and/or using a learning practice like “Turn and Talk” where pairs of students share thoughts specific to the lesson with each other. Learning in this way makes the work meaningful to students (engaging them and helping them become more responsible for their own learning) while providing them the skills and abilities required by the state. Teachers are working incredibly hard to develop lessons structured in this way, using planning time and staff meetings (and arguably some personal time!) in the interest of helping students maximize their academic potential. Outstanding work by our teaching teams and leaders!