Monday, July 23, 2012

A Focus on Curriculum Collaboration

Do you collaborate with your colleagues? Collaboration and particularly curriculum collaboration have become buzz words worthy of a staff meeting bingo card, but I'm finding that, like many over used terms in education, collaboration has many layers of meaning.

In my role as department chair I am planning some grade level team meeting days that will be focused on curriculum collaboration. In preparation for that I am defining for myself what I think that means.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that last year I worked with a particularly strong team of teachers and we collaborated very closely to write and implement our ninth grade English course. I have blogged about that previously in my post, A Functional PLC and about our use of Dropbox For Curriculum Collaboration.  That functional experienced shifted the way I see curriculum collaboration.

This year I will be teaching eleventh grade with a team of strong teachers and also helping the tenth grade team improve their ongoing collaboration. While planning I had a flash of insight about degrees of curriculum collaboration and an idea for the graphic below that I thought would help explain my thinking to my colleagues.

Very simply,  teachers can say they are collaborating on curriculum if their work comes together at any of these levels, but the work our team did last year showed me that collaboration is most effective when teachers are working together from the unit level all the way down to the level of daily lessons and formative assessments.

It's not enough to agree on a unit title and some standards. I want the teams I work with to collaborate on all of it, to share the work load, to review the student work that comes out of the formative and summative assessments, to agree together on modifications and next steps.

The pyramid above also represents the basics of our process. We identified units based on Common Core standards, filled in the associated standards (in English there are always lots of associated standards because many are things we work on all year long like revision skills etc.), determined our guiding questions, created or found summative assessments (and then mirrored them on to diagnostic assessments), defined what projects and or other assessments would support student learning and worked backward from there to scaffold daily lessons that would support students to meet and exceed the standards. (Our team was quite familiar with the process of Understanding By Design.)

This is the very streamlined and oversimplified process, anyway.  In reality, there were hours of discussion about text selection, text complexity, pedagogy, scaffolding, skill development, reading strategies, grammar instruction, research etc. We also ate a lot of chocolate.

I am reading Focus by Mike Schmoker. He writes that the key to successful schools is, "...coherent curriculum; effective lessons; and abundant amounts of purposeful reading, writing and talking should be our highest priorities."(17)  That is exactly how I would describe the work that happened in our ninth grade classes last year because of the curriculum collaboration that happened in our PLC. It is exactly why am working next with tenth and eleventh grade teachers to move the process forward.

9th Grade Team 2011-2012