Twitter Chat: Designing Units in an Age of Scripted Curriculum

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to host a chat on Twitter for teachers. #engchat is the brain child of Meenoo Rami and Cindy Minnich, two teachers who wanted to create a professional learning network. Extraordinary teachers from all over the U.S., England, and Canada joined us last night–in the middle of the holidays–to talk about designing curriculum in an era in which more and more districts and schools adopt scripted curriculum (curriculum which teachers are expected to read word for word in their classrooms).

The discussion went quickly–people posted their ideas, links, and suggestions for further reading for about an hour. Some participants were new to #engchat, yet they still plunged into the discussion. I’ve noticed over the last two weeks of my participation in #engchat what a kind, supportive group it is. In our tweets, we try to understand each other and no flame wars ensue.

I’ve attached a link to the transcript of the Twitter chat at the end of this post. But here are just a couple of the ideas that arose from our hour together.

One of the more interesting ideas that surfaced in our discussion was the importance of helping administrators and other teachers (particularly new teachers) understand how we design units. Good teachers need to blog, share ideas, make their classrooms open, and otherwise model the thinking we do when we create curriculum. Through sharing our unit plans, we demonstrate that “teacher-proof” curriculum is neither necessary nor desirable. Why is that the case? Because we know our students, we plan for them, we adapt when necessary, we re-teach, and we create engaging, relevant units that will capture their interest.

Moreover, open classrooms and shared thinking help new teachers learn how the best teachers teach. @TeachMoore, a teacher whose comments I always respect, made this point “Veteran teachers and newbies need to build new paradigms of collaboration rather than competition.” As I plan for my Methods class next semester (for pre-service teachers), this is one idea that I really need to consider. In fact, I’m wondering if I can enlist experienced teachers to mentor my students through the process of creating curriculum. I’ve also been thinking about how to model collaborative teams in my Methods class by having students design a unit together on a wiki. Another teacher, @mwaiksnis, addressed the importance of something to work with, something to adapt and make one’s own: “when I started teaching, I took whatever was available to gain traction. Then I messed w it and made work for me.” Since several of the participants were new teachers, I think this comment was especially important–one doesn’t have to start from scratch. Borrow from others and “mess with it to make it work.”

Our chat also addressed the problems with scripted curriculum. @CBethM shared my concern that it too often dominates the classrooms of students who have fallen behind: “All stdts – but esp those behind-need enthusiastic & well-prepared teachers who can find best way to move them forward.” I agree that intervention classes need the best teachers to figure out how to help students learn. And @Edu_Traveler asserted: “Scripted curriculum seems to take the students out of the conversation.” That’s a fascinating idea–scripted curriculum is not about the teacher or the student, it’s about the program, the district, the consultant. @thereadingzone said something similar: “I would put Acc Reader in the scripted category, in the sense that it provides a way for teachers to remove themselves from teaching.” I worry that scripted curriculum ensures the de-professionalization of teaching; teachers no longer need to think, explore, create, they just need to read what someone else has produced in this type of classroom.

I suspect that everyone got something different out of the discussion. One very practical suggestion that will change how I design curriculum came from @mrami2: “Does anyone else tag resources in @diigo for each major unit/text?” Wow, what a great idea. I’ve been using Diigo for awhile now, and it hadn’t occurred to me to do this. This morning, I started bookmarking resources for classes–and I’m excited about how this will influence the creation of my syllabi each semester.

One participant remarked that she felt joy in creating curriculum, another referred to unit design as an art. Frankly, I want teachers who feel this way in the profession rather than teachers who are content to read, present, and ask scripted questions in robotic fashion.

To read all of the tweets in yesterday’s #engchat, download this pdf: Transcript of Twitter Chat

One Comment

  1. Lori

    I love the discussion about designing curriculum. My entire elementary ed program at Ohio State 20+ years ago focused on using literature to teach across all subjects and we designed units that integrated subjects as well as different learning styles. I was fortunate to teach for 13 years in columbus city schools (Title 1 Schools) where the administration and professional development opportunities supported/encouraged/enriched teachers to design & share curriculum. Those were the days where I felt as if I was engaging students and inspiring them to be learners & readers. Our adopted texts are not engaging students or teachers but because they are aligned with the state standards, our district assumes it can raise test scores. We need to move beyond test score focus and return to developing learners/thinkers/readers and skilled teachers can design integrated units and align them to standards. Love the technology references, too! What is Diigo? I have so much to learn!

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