Navigating the Curriculum

It is amazing the amount of curriculum and resources that exist for teachers today!  Sometimes it can be cumbersome to navigate curriculum.  Knowing what to use, and how to use it, requires some work.  Beyond that, you have to then know how to share your knowledge and execution of the information with students and parents so that everyone gets the most of it.  Today in our joint blog series for new teachers, Beth from Adventures of a Schoolmarm and I will both tackle different aspects of navigating the curriculum to help you better understand what to do.

There are tons of resources available to you as a teacher today. It amazes me how many more resources we have accumulated in availability since I started teaching 14 years ago!  No matter what resources you have, it is important to start with your standards.

locate curriculum in your district or for your child

So let's talk curriculum documents.  Here in Texas, we use the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).  These standards are created by the Texas Education Agency.  Other states may have state documents, and I honestly don't know which ones do, but the rest of the United States uses Common Core standards.  The difference for me is that in Texas, our standards are for all of the content areas, not just English/Language Arts/Reading (ELAR) and Math.

To find the documents, search online and they are usually pretty easy to find.  For your convenience I am listing the links for TEKS and Common Core below.

Click here for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills
Click here for Common Core Standards

When I went to college for my undergrad, I didn't understand the importance of these documents.  Here is the deal:  these were created to spiral the curriculum and to help you to know exactly what you are required to teach.  To think it is the only thing you will teach is misguided.  You will still have to go lower to cover skills for students who are behind, and for advanced students or in certain topics, you may choose to extend thinking and challenge your students.  That is okay, too.

Now, once you have the documents used by your state, you will likely also have district documents.  This is called the Scope and Sequence.  Sometimes super small districts can't afford to have this.  They purchase them from other districts or use something from a textbook.  I have found it helpful as I moved from a larger district to a smaller district, that when I find holes in our documents (they have been rewriting them and I needed something right then) that I would search other districts that I knew were close by and see if I could find documents on their sites.  This gave me some idea of what to do for certain standards.

The great thing about a Scope and Sequence is it will take your standards, break them up and tell you in what order they should be taught, and will give you references to resources to use as well.  A well planned scope and sequence will also let you know to what depth you are going to teach the concept, and let you know of any misconceptions.

I SO wish I had understood the value of the Scope and Sequence and standards before I started teaching.  I was exposed to it in college, but did not fully grasp it until I had taught for a while.  With  the help of my grad courses in my Master's and PhD programs I was able to understand how to develop them.  Once I understood the process, and how and why, it made me have more appreciation for these documents and their worth to me as a teacher.

how vertical alignment impacts student growth

Beyond helping you with understanding the what and how of teaching your content, using your curriculum documents can help you understand your students, where they are and where they need to be.  If you know where your students came from academically, where they need to go and what they are doing next year, you can help them in the present much better.  This promotes growth in your students in ways you can't imagine.

To illustrate this for you, let's talk about my first year teaching.  I was so excited my first year of teaching! I had such a great group of kids, and I was so excited to teach them everything I had learned in school using hands-on methods and interactive lessons.  That year I taught second grade.  I was fortunate to have a team that helped me to understand the curriculum and to do lesson plans together.  Even with all of that planning, though, I still didn't quite understand where they needed to be for the next year.  It wasn't until I taught third and fourth grade that I realized how extreme the jump for my students was academically.  This altered my thinking on how I approach the lower grades.  It isn't that I would have not continued with the hands-on activities or things of that nature, but in looking back, I would have raised the rigor.

Had I understood my curriculum documents back then like I do now, and had they been as developed as they are now (because a lot has changed), I would have known where they had to be.  You have access to every grade level in the standards and in your curriculum documents.  Use that to your advantage.  If students say they don't understand and seem really be really struggling, go back and look at the previous year.  See where they left off; it can really help fill in the gaps.

Also, as you look at these documents, if you see things with phrasing like "such as" or "for example", you NEED to teach that specific concept or content.  For instance if a standard says you will study graphs such as bar graphs, pictographs ... and so on.  The graphs listed are the ones you are expected to teach.  If you look at the standards you will find that there are different degrees of depth that are taught in each grade level and the types of a specific content vary by grades. For instance, place value.  Students learn place value early on starting in first grade.  How it looks in first is very different from third.  In first grade students recognize the numbers to 1,200.  In third grade they have to know the value of the numbers to 10,000 and then in fourth we had decimals and knowing the numbers to the millions.  Knowing where they have to be, and go, will help a lot in your teaching.

navigating and understanding district curriculum

You can find other resources, of course, to accompany your documents.  Use your Scope and Sequence for clues.  Districts typically list required resources and suggested resources.  Many times these are things that are available to you even if they are not in your classroom.  Make sure you note what is required so that you are teaching what you have to teach.

Beyond this, you can of course come online for the many resources available to you from Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers.  Also, check with your colleagues and campus library for teaching materials.  I often forget that our librarian is excellent at providing books and materials to us.  It is a great place to find new ideas and access to ideas to implement as you go through the year that align with the Scope and Sequence.

how to post your learning standards for your district or campus

Once you know what your curriculum is and how it is used in your district, it is also important to find out what the requirements are for posting your standards.  There are many theories as to how this should be done and each district wants to see it done a different way.

When I first started teaching, this wasn't even a thing.  But they have found that telling students what they have to do does help guide the lesson and give it purpose.  We always had learning objectives before, but it has gone a step further in having them see and read that objective.  I have found this does help me to stay on track to, because I refer back to this before, during and after the lesson.

Ways you might see objectives or standards posted include (and I'm sure this isn't all of them):

4 Part Objectives
Posted Standards
I Can Statements

I will talk more on this at another time, but ask a colleague or your principal if you don't know. Usually they will tell you at new teacher orientation.  Once you know the expectation you can also search online for ideas and clarification.

My preferred way to share the standards when I was expected to post the TEKS was to use illustrated pictures of the standard.  I ended up creating these for Grades K-3 for the Texas Standards, but there are others who have them for Common Core.  You can see the TEKS version by clicking on the images below.

How to ask for help with curriculum

Lastly, ASK.  Don't be afraid to ask about what is available to you.  Teachers love to share and they will share and explain. You are not expected to know everything and where to find it, especially as a new teacher.  The more you ask and use the knowledge given to you the more responsible you actually look.

Which is the follow up to asking ... DO IT.  If you are given materials and suggestions to use, take some of them and try them no matter how uncomfortable they may seem at first. I can't tell you how many times in my career I have listened to experienced teachers give me advice and I smiled and nodded as I thought, "That will never work with my kids." But I tried it, and guess what?  It did! Your best resource as a teacher is other teachers, which we will discuss more as we get farther along in this series.  Those teachers have had the training, have been evaluated based on expectations, and know what is expected.  Asking them to help navigate you through will help you to understand it and apply it in your classroom quicker and easier than doing it alone.

I hope you have enjoyed reading today!  If you have questions about curriculum still, please feel free to leave us a question or ask in our closed Facebook group, New Teachers Unite.  It is a great place to meet and collaborate with other new teachers, and there are a few of us with experience in there to help you as well!

Don't forget to click through to Beth's blog post and read her tips on navigating the curriculum as well.

Next week we will talk all things student relationships!  You won't want to miss it!

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