Tag Archives: Curriculum Organization

Curriculum and Customized Learning

We are one of the 29 districts who make up the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning. Together, we are on a journey to implement Customized Learning. Further, Maine statute now requires that, by 2017, students in Maine will graduate based on demonstrated mastery of the State's rigorous content knowledge standards, rather than by course credits (seat time).

When you start changing how you organize school for performance-based learning and recognizing that people learn in different ways and in different time frames, you quickly realize that the center of school shifts from courses to the curriculum and where students are within the curriculum.

How you organize the curriculum becomes critically important.

You need an explicit model of curriculum.

Curriculum Model

The model we have adopted views the curriculum as 3 overlapping domains – Complex Reasoning, Content Knowledge, and Life-Long Habits of Mind (“Use these reasoning strategies to learn this content knowledge to develop these habits of mind.”).

So this is the first in a series of posts that hopefully will shed light on how Customized Learning districts are using and organizing the curriculum. Future posts will include not just how we're organizing content knowledge, but the Complex Reasoning curriculum, the Life-Long Habits of Mind curriculum, and learning progress management.

 

Is the Common Core a Good Thing?

Bill Ivey at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School in western Massachusetts started a conversation on AMLE’s MiddleTalk Listserve about the Common Core:

I suddenly realize, Common Core would be pulling the country away from the direction I would love to see education take of more fully individualizing and personalizing each kid’s own path of learning. Maybe they could be used in such a model, and more power to them if they can. I somehow doubt it.

The conversation spurred a bunch of great responses (including Jill Spencer’s post on the Bright Futures blog). Below is what I submitted about Maine’s Customized Learning work and how it may fit with the Common Core:

Maine is moving in the direction of customized learning. I think this would go by a lot of different names around the country: standards-based instruction; performance-based instruction; individualized instruction. And there are lots of models: RISC (Reinventing Schools Coalition); Integrative Curriculum (see here or here); the Foxfire Approach; student designed projects ala Minnesota New Country School and Projects4ME; etc.

At the core are the two key principles that people learn in different timeframes and in different ways.

Maine has a grass roots effort: The Maine Cohort for Customized Learning. There isn’t much online about them yet, but they are currently 14 or so districts working together to implement customized learning. The Cohort’s roots are the RISC model, and Bea McGarvey’s work around Mass Customized Learning. Also, Commissioner Bowen has just recently announced his strategic plan for the ME DOE, Education Evolving, which essentially provides all the policy support for a standards based (NOT Carnegie unit based!) diploma and for performance-based customized learning.

AND, Maine has signed on to the Common Core.

How does this all fit?

The Cohort districts are taking the Maine Learning Results (our learning standards, which by next year will include the Common Core), and are dissecting them and reformulating them into a collection of user-friendly (well, relatively speaking), performance-based learning-friendly list of measurement topics. We’re using Marzano’s framework, and each measurement topic includes a leveled description describing what is necessary for a Level 1 or 2 (essentially lower level Blooms attainment) and for a Level 3 or 4 (essentially an upper level Blooms attainment). The Cohort is sharing these with any district the wants to start exploring or using them.

This has been quite a task. Anyone who has worked at true standards-based learning (not just standards-referenced, but where you are looking for artifacts and evidence of student mastery of the standard) knows that many sets of state’s standards are not really designed to be used this way. Some standards you would need a 3-year portfolio of work to demonstrate, or aren’t clear, or are linked to a specific task or assessment strategy (write a report about X, etc.). Our teachers have had to strip out all the assessment info in the standard, so it is just the content topic (in some cases, once the assessment information is gone, there is little left to infer what the content topic was!).

So this all boils down to the fact that Maine will have a viable curriculum, based on the Common Core, that will lend itself to an individualized, customized, standards-based, performance-based approach.

One of the follow up questions that comes from this work (trying to be more standards-based) is how will we monitor student progress and know where they are in mastering their learning topics?

Some districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning are using Educate, a progress management system in development by some of the RISC folks. It is in the early days of development, but feedback from our districts is being used to shape the development, and I hear from colleagues using it that each new release is better and better.

I’ve been using Project Foundry for more than 4 or 5 years, including for Projects4ME (Projects4ME is Maine’s virtual, project-based program or at-risk youth). They earn credit by designing and doing standards-based projects. Although Project Foundry was designed for programs like ours and the one’s that ours is based on, it is being used mostly now by schools looking at standards-based activities, not just student designed projects. Project Foundry doesn’t only allow project proposals and time logging, but the uploading of artifacts and evidence of learning, assessment against correlated learning targets, and individualized, data-based learning plans, transcripts! and progress reports.

Of course, the next step is not just learning progress management, but also utilizing a database of learning activities correlating to the measurement topics but appealing to different learning styles. Imagine as a student completes a measurement topic, getting a recommendation from the system of an activity for the next measurement topic which is an approach the system thinks the student will like. Think Amazon book recommendations, but for learning activities…

So, depending on how much flexibility you believe you have (or are willing to take regardless!), it isn’t so much the Common Core, as it is what you decide to do with them…

Apple’s “Textbooks” Potential: Curriculum Creation for Customized Learning

Apple’s announcement about selling interactive textbooks, iBooks Author for creating interactive textbooks, the iTunes U app for iPad, and opening iTunes U to K-12 prompted me to blog about my reaction to textbooks in general, how Apple’s tools might be useful for students to create products in PBL, and how the tools might be used as a platform for on-demand PD for teachers.

I think there is at least one other area of potential for Apple’s new tools: as a curriculum creation tool for educators working in customized learning environments.

In Maine, there are currently 12 districts who are members of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning (MCCL), and other districts and teacher preparation institutions are chomping at the bit to join.  MCCL has it’s roots in six districts that dove deeply into the work of the Reinventing Schools Coallition (RISC), and in the numerous districts who have read Bea McGarvey’s and Chuck Schwan’s book Inevitable: Mass Customized Learning.  These districts are working to start implementing some hybrid of ideas around preformance-based, standards-based, student-centered approaches which we in Maine have come to think of as “customized learning.”  In fact, Commissioner Stephen Bowen had all departments heads in Maine’s Dept. of Education read the book, and his new strategic plan focuses heavily on reinventing our schools to provide customized learning and having students work toward a standards-based diploma, not one based on seat time and credits earned.

Teachers are getting trained.  Cohort members are collaborating on converting the Common Core and Maine Learning Results into “measurement topics.” Schools are working on fostering a classroom climate of student voice and choice. And educators are exploring the kinds of instruction and school structures that can make this happen.

I also recently wrote about how we might consider structuring the curriculum as a series of shorter seminars, instead of semester-long and year-long courses.

What if MCCL had its own iTunes U account, where they posted videos of their best instructors (or their instructors’ best lessons). And what if teachers in Cohort districts created their own texts for seminars and these were shared across the Cohort (many hands make quick work). What if seminars could be set up as “course” in the iTunes U app, linking various videos, assignments, teacher-generated interactive texts, and other resources.

Focused collaboration with tools such as these could be a powerful way for teachers doing the grass roots work of customized leaning to restructure their curriculum.


It’s Your Turn:

How else could these tools (or others!) be leveraged to help organize curriculum for customized learning?

Cross Industry Borrowing, Scouting, and Organizing the Curriculum

Yesterday, I wrote about how Cross Industry Borrowing might help us think about how we should organize the curriculum for Customized Learning. When I think about one group that does an exceptional job organizing curriculum and operating from values similar to those for Customized Learning, it is Scouting. Where Customized Learning recognizes that people learn in different ways and in different timeframes (within a culture of voice and choice), Boy Scouts recognizes that scouts need choice and voice, ever Increasing responsibility, learn by doing, and learning at their own pace.

So, let’s explore how the Boy Scouts organize their “curriculum” to see what those of us working to implement Customized Learning might be able to borrow.

Merit Badges are certifications for small chucks of knowledge and skills. The requirement booklets and checklists for each badge clearly delineate what a Scout needs to know and be able to do, while providing some choice know they master it. Each Merit Badge has one or more Councilors who oversee the scouts’ work on the badge, but will also lead seminars for groups of scouts working on the badge. Seminars are offered as often as there are scouts actively working on that badge.

Merit Badges, however, are only half the Scouting curriculum. Scouts also have clearly defined advancement paths through various rank. Each rank outlines a combination of specific tasks and Merit Badges the candidate must earn. Some Merit Badges are required for a specific rank, some are “either/or,” some are choice, and some are required for Eagle Scout, but the Scout chooses a certain number to tackle for each rank prior to Eagle. Each level of rank also requires serving in certain positions of responsibility. Each scout earns Merit Badges and rank at their own pace, but all the supports are offered, either in an ongoing way or at specific intervals designed to facilitate scouts moving at a “normal” pace.

I think Scouting might tell us something about how we might organize curriculum into “courses” for performance-based learning, as well as about “grade levels.”

A high school I worked with in Philadelphia would award credit in tenths of a credit. Each year long course was divided into ten one-month units. Although a new unit was started every month, students could keep working on each unit until they had showed mastery. Each unit they completed earned them that tenth of a credit. And if they failed some of the units, they only had to make up those units, not the entire course.

This example makes me think that the “Merit Badge-like” organization of courses could work for schools. What if, instead of instead of having year-long and semester-long courses, those same courses were broken down into 4 or 5 or 10 smaller courses – for now, let’s call them seminars. Prerequisites could preserve scope and sequence where necessary, but we may find that there is much more flexibility in seminar sequencing than we think.

Also, rather than automatically scheduling all 5 or 10 seminars in a row, since we are recording and monitoring progress, we could simply offer a seminar when a group of students needed it. Our progess monitoring software should assist us with that scheduling. Depending on need, we might offer the same seminar over and over (or have several sections with different teachers) to serve a large group of students who need it. If students don’t need a seminar, perhaps it isn’t offered for some time.

Since curriculum is organized in smaller units, we should gain a great deal of agility with the curriculum. Most students would get exactly what they needed right when they needed it. A student who didn’t successfully master a seminar could either repeat just that one seminar (not a whole year-long course!) or take a different seminar that helps meet those requirements differently. A student who completed the seminar quickly wouldn’t have long to wait for the next one, making independent work in between seminars more palatable. The smaller unit of organization may also mean that teachers could create specialty, elective seminars, or different teachers might create different seminars with different pedagogical approaches to the same learning targets, allowing students even greater flexibility in the pathways they take to graduation.

Further, instead of being 4th graders or 8th graders or Juniors or Seniors, based on your age or how long you’ve been in school, we could establish rank (perhaps even call those rank what we currently call the various grades), but clearly articulate what is required to achieve such rank. And Scouting models for us that those requirements do not have to be a rigid, specific set of subjects or courses. It could be a combination of specific tasks, required seminars, and choice seminars.

For example, perhaps there is a list of 12 specific seminars that are required for the rank Freshman. So the requirements to graduate from 7th Grader to 8th Grader may include that the student has completed 8 of the 12 Freshman seminars, the Digital Citizenship Seminar, the Adolescent Health Seminar, 4 other seminars of their choice, completed their first research project, and participated in 100 hours of community service.

Perhaps some of Auburn’s educators should make a close study of the structure and organization of Scouting Merit Badges and rank advancement in preparation for thinking about how we want to structure the Curriclum for customized learning.

It’s Your Turn:

What are your thoughts on how to make the curriculum more flexible for customized, performance-based learning?

Customized Learning, Curriculum, & Cross Industry Borrowing

Since Customized Learning starts with the premise that how we design our educational systems needs to reflect the facts that people learn in different ways and in different timeframes, educators often get frustrated quickly with trying to figure out what they are going to do with 25 students each learning different things at different times, or what they will do with that student that finishes their course in March…

Some of that angst comes from folks, new to performance-based learning models, misunderstanding how most schools implement those models (totally understandable, since most teachers have never experienced performance-based learning themselves). But I think the challenge comes primarily by trying to fit Information Age teaching and learning into Industrial Age structures, like putting a square peg In a round hole. (For schools doing this work, I don’t think we can remind them often enough that Deming, the man who invented Total Quality Management, says that 95% of our challenges come not from people, but from our structures.)

The square peg is instruction that recognizes which measurement topic a student needs today, giving them instruction, coaching, and support while they master it, using assessment to provide feedback, until the measurement topic is mastered.  The round hole is learning organized into semester- and year-long courses where everyone is doing the same thing at the same time, assessments simply tell teachers who knows the material and who doesn’t, but the course moves on to the next topic, whether everyone is ready or not.

Bea McGarvey points out that when teachers ask “Well, then, how should we structure our schools?” she responds, “Yes, how should we?” and reminds us all that creating the schools we need today will require educators to develop strong problem-solving and invention thinking.

But she and her co-author, Chuck Schwahn, also point out in their book Inevitable, that we do not need to invent from scratch.  In fact, in most industries, they participate in something called “Cross Industry Borrowing,” (see Chapter 2 of Inevitable) where they see how other industries solve similar problems and then adapt those solutions to their own situation. For example, what would it mean to education if every day we could tell how many students where on benchmark with a math concept, just as Walmart knows at 5pm how many pair of sneakers have been sold that day.  Or if students received recommendations for how they might enjoy learning the next measurement topic, just like Amazon.com suggests other books you might like.

So when educators start looking at the structures they might employ for organizing the curriculum for customized learning, where might they look, if they don’t want to start from scratch?  For me, the question gets reframed as “who has structures in place for certifying learning?” 

Bea is quick to point out, for example, that if you want to become a CPA, you can retake the test as many times as you need to, and you only need to retake the portions you did not pass (teachers newer to the profession know the same is true of the Praxis tests).

Modern manufacturing and assembly plants have new employees master individual skills before progressing on to the new skill, and aren’t certified in the position until they master all the skills for that position.

They U.S. military has a performance based educational system. Ironically, I think most people equate military training with boot camp and it’s focus on taking direction. But once through boot camp, most advanced training is a well organized combination of skill development, and cognitive training. There is great transparency.  Manuals are available for almost any desired advancement or certification, and service men and women can find out exactly what they need to know and be able to do in order to achieve their goal.

But for me, as I think about how the curriculum might be organized for customized leaning, the model I keep coming back to is the Boy Scouts. 

Tomorrow, I will look more closely at this model and what it might mean for schools looking to organize curriculum for customized learning.


It’s Your Turn:

Where do you see ideas from other “industries” for implementing customized learning?