In a conversation recently with my colleague and friend, Janet Hale, we were discussing the thoughts behind the importance of vertical conversations in schools. These conversations are among multiple grade levels and entail conversing and learning about what students should know and be able to do from grade level to grade level. While vertical conversations may happen within a grade level or two above and/or below a particular teacher’s assigned grade level, they don’t often happen as easily with representatives from a full K-12 cadre of teachers. With summer coming to an end and a new school year beginning, we thought it would be a good time to get the curriculum conversations started anew.
We thought a good way to spark these conversations would be to plant a seed of modern instructional practice. (see Figure 1)
Once maps or units are in place, the impetus is upon us to keep them growing and evolving. We do that through continued collegial curricular conversations and through intentional actions to grow and modernize learning from instructional moment to instructional moment and from year to year. This could include conversations and actions around modern methodologies, modern tools, or the engagement of multiple modalities.
As an example, let’s think about the informative essay that students are always being required to do. Students pick a topic, find information on that topic, and right a five-paragraph essay with a complete beginning, middle, and end.
What if we planted a seed about what the modern informative essay might look like? We could brainstorm possible alternatives/modalities, whether or not it would even be on paper, and what web tools we might invite students to choose as they both researched and wrote. In Figure 1, I set the “seed” at the 5th or 6th grade level. (The seed could be set at any grade level, depending on the seed that is to be planted!) That is where the conversation would begin.
Then, we would need to consider some or all of the following:
- What would a 5th or 6th grader need to be proficient in a modern way with researching, writing, and representing/presenting their informative creation?
- What do we need to consider in terms of college and career readiness?
- What of the total package of methodologies, tools, and modalities would we accept as evidence that students learned what we intended for them learn?
- How would the teacher’s role in this scenario be minimized for the sake of student choice and voice to be maximized?
Next, we take the conversation vertical, to roots and blooms! In order to meet a particular level of proficiency by the time a student is in 5th or 6th grade, what must happen in earlier grades that grow the roots and foundations to prepare students for this new form of learning?
- What does preparation look like in previous grade levels to scaffold the laying of the foundations of modern learning?
- What do students in previous grade levels need to know and be able to do from one level to the next?
- How is this scaffold and the seed represented in curriculum maps or in vertical unit plans from one grade level to the next?
When we get to the “bloom” (Bloom’s!!!) level, we are extending and sophisticating. As our students go beyond the seed, what do the levels of sophistication look like?
- What is it that is higher level than the seed we planted?
- How can we sophisticate the levels of methodology, tool, and modality as our students get older?
- How deep can we go? How can we leverage the bloom to “uncover” learning while keeping student work student-centered?
If you’re looking for a way to breathe new life into your curriculum or into your mapping initiative, this is a good place to start. Continue the conversations. Continue considering the college and career student. Continue discussing scaffolding and sophistications around the seeds you’ll plant.
In the coming weeks, Janet and I will be sharing some examples of K-12 seeds we’ve planted, as well as the roots and blooms around them. Stay tuned!
Jacobs, H. H. (2010). Curriculum 21, essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, VA: Assn for Supervision & Curriculum.
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