Meta Reflection ED6524 Curriculum Design

Being a part of the MEd Literacy program, I took ED6524 Curriculum Design as an elective. This summer I will be transitioning from early childhood teacher to an administrative position within my school, Curriculum Coordinator. I decided that taking a course on curriculum design would be appropriate and immediately useful for my career path. 

I was beyond correct in my assumptions that this class would be useful. Working in ECE, I rely on my SPU classes and classmates to keep me up to date on current happenings in pubic education. The Common Core debate helped me take time and focus my energy on a big concern facing education in America. After completing the debate, i can honestly say I still have no idea if it is a great idea or a terrible one. There are so many different directions the CCSS could head, depending on many factors such as available funds, properly trained teachers, a smooth transition into the CCSS and so much more. According to many resources I used, the CCSS, if successful, could put US education closer in rank to many successful international education system, which is something we all hope for.

This curriculum design class also introduced me to Understanding by Design, created by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. This curriculum design format encourages teachers to focus on major understandings and ‘big questions’ and work backwards to build units around those concepts. Focusing on the six facets of understanding can help encourage deeper understanding and more authentic learning experiences. The Six Facets of understanding shared by the authors are: share are (2005, p. 84):

• Can explain-via generalizations or principles, facts, data, make insightful connections, provide examples
• Can interpret- tell meaningful stories, offer apt translations, provide personal dimension to ideas and events
• Can apply- effectively use and adapt what we know in diverse and real contexts
• Have perspective- see and hear points of view through critical eyes and areas, see the big picture
• Can empathize- find value in what others might find odd, alien or implausible. Perceive sensitivity on the basis of prior direct experience
• Have self-knowledge- show meta-cognitive awareness, perceive the personal style, prejudices, projections and habits that impeded our own understanding. Reflect on the meaning of learning and experience.

During the step by step process of creating my UbD unit, I had many revelations about the way I usually create lessons and units and how much more successful my curriculum would be if I used the UbD design. Many of the problems I encounter as a Pre-k teacher is the lack of common standards to base curriculum on. Many preschools focus on concepts like ABC’s and numbers, while ignore real learning and understanding of even basic concepts. These six facets of understanding build on each other, getting more complex as they build and encouraging students to dig deeper until full understanding of an idea is achieved. I can apply these six facets of understanding to what happens in my class, both what I teach and what my students learn, and better gauge where my curriculum needs to be focused. Building a unit backwards based on these understandings as well as ‘big questions’ ensures that my students will get the best lessons and gain the most understanding possible. 

One aspect of the class I wish I’d had the benefit of participating in was the in person meetings. I read the notes from several of the meetings and found that my fellow classmates gained a lot of insight not only into the class, but also into curriculum design during these times. Regardless of what I may have missed, I know I will leave this class with the tools I need to better design and implement curriculum that better serves my students. I look forward to using all that I have taken from this course and applying it to my teaching career. 

Resources

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J., (2005) Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/publications/notes/why-common-core-bad-america

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/eight-problems-with-common-core-standards/2012/08/21/821b300a-e4e7-11e1-8f62-58260e3940a0_blog.html

http://teaching.about.com/od/assess/f/What-Are-Some-Pros-And-Cons-Of-The-Common-Core-Standards.htm

http://neatoday.org/2013/05/10/six-ways-the-common-core-is-good-for-students/

http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/myths-vs-facts/

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Dr. Bergeson’s Visit

Living out of state, I was unfortunately unable to attend Dr. Bergeson’s visit to campus. I would have really enjoyed hearing her speak. I have, however, read through the notes take by several classmates and have come away with a rough outline of what Dr. Bergeson talked about.

The first thing that stuck out to me was her statement that it is vital we remove the punishment factor from standardized testing. I did my student teaching in Texas a few years ago during a time when districts and teachers were under great pressure to perform on tests. I witnessed seven teachers let go in the middle of the year for low benchmark scores. Nothing was more frightening for these teachers than the every approaching test dates. Not only does this make for panic-stricken teachers, but that feeling of stress can easily spread  to the children they instruct. This is especially stressful for teachers who already feel under-prepared and lack training. Punishment for under-performing has so far, done the opposite of what it was intended for, to better the education of young people.

I really wish I could have attended to hear Dr. Bergeson discuss the Common Core State Standards. I don’t currently work in the public school system, but in early childhood, which is obviously much less regulated. I have worked as a 2nd and Kindergarten teacher in Texas in the past and remember the effects the Texas State Standards had on the curriculum and even the atmosphere of the entire school. I hope that with hard work and knowledgeable professionals that work together towards a common goal of successful, excellent education, the Common Core State Standards can become the positive step that the education system needs.

Understanding by Design: Unit Calendar

Unit Calendar 
Day 1- IntroTeacher will read aloud some of Aesop’s Fables and lead a discussion about the moral of each story. Day 2- FablesStudents will work together to compare/contrast fables with other fictional tales using a venn diagram. Day 3- AssessStudents create a rubric or checklist for determining if a story is a fable. They will apply this checklist to several stories, practicing retelling and assessing skills. Day 4- CreateUsing their checklists as a guideline, students will create a story web for an original fable, including characters, a problem, a solution, and a moral. Day 5- DraftStudents will create first drafts of an original fable.
Day 6- EditFocusing on content, students will edit their rough drafts Day 7- ReviseStudents will revise their second drafts, focusing on grammar and punctuation, to produce a final draft. Day 8- EvaluateStudents work in groups to evaluate each other’s final fable drafts using checklists previously created. Day 9- PresentStudents will practice and perform one original fable they have selected from their group. Day 10- PresentStudents will practice and perform one original fable they have selected from their group.

This curriculum calendar, suited for 1st or 2nd grade, depending on the stories and complexity of the material. I am enjoying working with Understanding by Design because I am able to take any learning outcome I desire and formulate an entire unit around it. While creating lessons for my early childhood students, I often find myself creating lessons that I know they will enjoy and that contain activities that meet the needs of the children. For early childhood education, where there are no concrete learning standards, lessons tend to be all over the place. It’s hard to create entire units. Using the Understanding by Design format, I can create units based on a few ‘big questions’ and then my single lessons, which all work towards a large goal, can contain smaller skills that need to be practiced.

 

Beginning next school year, I will no longer be teaching, but will be a curriculum coordinator for my early childhood development center. My job will be to help teachers create and implement developmentally appropriate curriculum that the students will most benefit from. I plan to spend the summer adapting UbD to meet the needs of my school and training teachers to work backwards when creating lessons. I look forward to using this instruction design technique with teachers and students. The authors of Understanding by Design discuss several rules that teachers need to keep in mind while designing a unit. They all focus on advancing students’ understandings as they work through the unit. One rule, “Understandings are of two kinds, topical and overarching.” (2005), is often overlooked by early childhood teachers. We tend to focus on either topical or overarching understandings, instead of combining the two. In my school, I see this most often because teachers are creating their own curriculum without a set of common standards or a knowledge of the standards in the grades following their own. UbD can help these teachers create units of study that guide children through all the necessary learning and still provide the topical understandings that ECE teachers are always so excited to teach!

 

References

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J., (2005) Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

 

Understanding By Design: Curriculum Map

Curriculum Map

 

Theme, Enduring Understandings, and Essential Questions for Unit

How Students Will Demonstrate Their Understanding

Standards-based Essential Skills and Concepts to be Targeted Throughout

Strategies/Best Practices Used to Explicitly Teach the Skills and Concepts

Resources for this Unit

Theme: Fables

Enduring Understandings:

Fictional stories, called fables, are used to teach a lesson.

 

Fables contain specific elements that make up the story structure.

 

Essential Questions:

How do we learn lessons from the characters in fiction?

 

How is a fable different from other fiction?

Summative Assessment: Teacher will use a rubric to assess final drafts of students’ original fables.

 

Formative Assessment: Student/Teacherconferences during editing/revising process of fables, peer evaluation using rubric/checklist after final draft of fables.

Students will identify key elements in popular fables.

 

Students will write fables in which they appropriately use the structural elements of a fable.

 

Students will practice reading fables aloud with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression.

 

Teacher will model and lead collaborative effort to complete venn diagrams.

 

Students will connect prior knowledge from other writing units to continue strengthening their writing abilities.

 

Students will learn by watching, listening, and participating.

Venn diagram template

 

Student Original Fable rubric

 

Conferencing Sheets for teacher

 

Writing Supplies (pencils, lined paper, etc.)

While creating a curriculum unit using the Understanding by Design format, a teacher must first determine the learning outcomes desired. This approach focuses on the standards and learning that are to be learned by students, rather than the instruction and activities planned by the teacher. According to Wiggins and McTighe (2005), ways to assess student learning should be created along with determining learning out comes, or big questions to be answered. They recommend teachers follow the following three steps to correctly implement Understanding by Design in their curriculum design.
Stage 1- Identify desired results.
Stage 2- Determine acceptable evidence.
Stage 3- Plan learning experiences and instruction. (p. 18)

During the creation of my Understanding by Design unit, I have been reflecting on my own approach to instruction and lesson planning. I created a unit for first grade, as UbD lends itself to elementary to high school learning, however, I currently teach in the early education field. As I attempted to focus my lessons on answering ‘big questions’ instead of the instruction itself, I considered how this would translate into an early childhood classroom. I believe that the big questions in early childhood are even more broad. For example, for many of my students the concept of writing carrying meaning is a ‘big question’ they are beginning to answer. This both complicates and simplifies the Understanding by Design units that I can create for my students. I feel the more broad the question, such as teaching the alphabetic principle, the more options I have when it comes to helping my students answer this question. However, the attention span of my students is much shorter than those of older children, therefore my units have to remain short and simplistic. Understanding this approach to instruction has already increased learning in my classroom. By working lessons backwards I am able to ensure that my lessons are meeting the needs of students.

Resources:
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J., (2005) Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Common Core State Standards Debate

             For the Common Core Standard Debate, I worked with Danni to argue the negative case (common core state standards are good). 
                   Hello my name is Allison Whitney and working with me today is my associate Danni Sandall. This topic is very significant to the current state of the American education system and we are excited for the opportunity to debate this topic.
                It is our goal to show how Chief States School Officers have not overstepped their authority in developing and recommending the Common Core State Standards for U. S. Schools and that there is no need to change the direction of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.
               To begin with, these Common Core Standards are internationally benchmarked, meaning they compare favorably to the standards set by other countries. Recent U.S. educational rankings have fallen considerably when compared to the rest of the world and by introducing a set of standards that more closely compare to other countries; we should see improvement in our world educational ranking.
               The Common Core State Standards are more rigorous than many of the state standards that are currently in place. These standards are also the same across the nation, opposed to the current standards that vary state to state. This means that we will see increased rigor in every classroom across the country, regardless of location or income level. These standards will go a long way in challenging all students and help to close opportunity and achievement gaps. Equity in the quality of education can lead to opportunities to attend to college for students who would have previously struggled.
               As these rigorous standards are put in place in the classroom, achievement of students is going to be more accurately monitored. First of all, the Common Core State Standards Assessment allows for progress monitoring, meaning that teachers will have at their disposal, several tool to help determine what a student knows, where they are going, and to construct educational plans to get them there. There is more accountability throughout the academic year for students to meet standards, as well as the ability for teachers to compare a students’ progress to themselves rather than putting one students’ achievement against another’s. Although standardized tests will still be required for students to graduate, each student across the nation is being help to the same standards, therefore tests will be a more accurate depiction of educational achievement.
                              Lastly, the Common Core allows teachers to take charge of how they will meet individual students’ needs while providing them with the framework to address what curriculum should cover at each grade level. Teachers are able to focus on concepts that should be taught at their grade level, instead of backtracking and teaching what should have been learned in previous grades. There is the ability for teachers to choose how to teach each standard, addressing learning in a way that best meets the needs of the students. This freedom combined with the rigorous standards put forth by the Common Core State Standards, will lead to more academic success for students.
     In conclusion, adopting the Common Core State Standards is a positive step towards improving education in the United States. The Common Core implemented correctly into classrooms will be the best way to individualize academic materials to all learners and hold those learners to a higher academic standard.

References:

http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/publications/notes/why-common-core-bad-america

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/eight-problems-with-common-core-standards/2012/08/21/821b300a-e4e7-11e1-8f62-58260e3940a0_blog.html

http://teaching.about.com/od/assess/f/What-Are-Some-Pros-And-Cons-Of-The-Common-Core-Standards.htm

http://neatoday.org/2013/05/10/six-ways-the-common-core-is-good-for-students/

http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/myths-vs-facts/

Human Development and Principles of Learning: Meta Reflection

During the course of this class, I have gained an understanding of how the brain of both adults and children functions, from the areas of the brain that effect language, to the difference between the male and female brains. Throughout each week, I have attempted to take what I learn in this course and apply it directly to my work in the classroom.

As an early childhood educator, my students are at a point in their development when their brains are growing rapidly. Synapses are forming and children are wildly curious about the world around them (Wolfe, P. 2010). I have aimed at providing as many discovery opportunities for the children in my class as possible. This class has helped me make sense of the developing brains of my children and guided me through their brain development and learning process.

In her book, Brain Matters, Wolfe discusses the concept of “sensitive periods” of learning for young children. Many parents and educators believe that children have a period of brain development where it is easier for them to retain certain skills, such as language. Wolfe claims that during this time, a normal environment with plenty of adult interaction is all that is needed for children to develop properly. I encounter many parents who believe that children need extra stimulation to aid in brain development and learning during these times. I am now able to point to research that suggest otherwise and better able to provide the best environment for children to grow.

Along the topic of a sensitive period of learning for children, I am able to reflect on the idea that there is a difference between brain science and educational psychology. The topic of a sensitive period for learning is better categorized as the latter. Most of the educational philosophies followed by teachers today stems from research in educational psychology rather than brain science. Advances in brain science will bring us educational solutions such as how to cure autism, strategies for fighting learning disorders or preventing them all together. I sincerely hope that these advances come soon as they will add a new level of clarity to the field of education.

I think the most useful portion of this class has been the chapter I read on the three levels of learning in Wolfe’s Brain Matters. Wolfe describes the three levels of learning and how children create networks based on different subjects. They eventually begin to connect these networks to create a large web of knowledge. The best that I can do as an early childhood educator is to continue to expand these networks for children and help create new connections. When we discuss a topic in class, it is my job to expand on it in as many ways as possible, exposing children to new ideas and new pieces of knowledge for their network. I have taken this to heart during my lessons each day and I work hard to answer questions, explore new ideas, and even google things with my children.

I enjoyed spending time reading through Brain Rules by John Medina and have even recommended it to a few of my friends. Both the book itself as well as the presentations created by everyone helped explain a lot of why people function as they do. My assigned chapter was on gender and how males and females brains are different. The highlight of this chapter for me was the explanation of why women tend to be more emotional. Medina claims that women’s brains are more often than not hardwired to remember the details of an emotional situation, where men tend to remember the gist of something. This generally concerns only emotional reactions to situations. Therefore, men and women respond to high stress or emotional situations the same, women are perceived as more emotional because they have more emotional data to recall than men. This, admittedly, was very validating as a woman, but also helpful as an educator. Young children tend to have emotional responses on impulse and having a better understanding of their brain’s emotional response to stressors helps me better equip myself to handle various situations. It has helped me when dealing with girls interacting vs. boys interacting. The boys in my class might fight with one another, get mad, walk away, and several minutes later they are back together again building. The girls however, are an emotional mind field as they play together. I often hear choruses of “you’re not my friend” or “they don’t like me” in the back if the classroom. A better understanding of how girls deal with things has helped me handle those situations and, more importantly, helped me explain to parents exactly what is going on with their daughters.

 

Medina, J. (2008). Brain rules. Seattle, WA: Pears Press.

Wolfe, P. (2010). Brain matters: Translating research into classroom practice. Alexandria, VA: ASDC

Dyslexia in young children and Mnemonics

Recently, a parent asked me if her 4 year old son was showing any signs of dyslexia. Upon further questioning, I was able to gather that this parent felt her child often mixed up letters when writing his name, and focused on the B in the middle of his name, rather than the first letter, J, like most children. I was able to discuss with her that we would, obviously, continue to monitor her child’s reading and writing ability, but as he is just beginning to learn to write letters, his confusion about how to properly order them is natural.

After working on the group project this week, I was keen to share more insight with this parent on how dyslexia works, and how to recognize it. Sally Shaywitz, contributor to the Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning, discusses what exactly happens when a person with dyslexia reads. There has been discovered to be a weakness in the phonological model of language area in the brain. This part of the brain processes phonemes and the alphabetic principle. This means, that the underlying issue is not that children see words incorrectly, but that their brain processes the phonemes represented by each letter incorrectly. This means that young children with dyslexia often reorder the phonemes in words. For example, saying ’emeny’ instead of ‘enemy’. These children will also often switch phoneme sounds for similar ones in a word, for example ‘lotion’ instead of ‘ocean’.

These are all language behaviors that I often see in my young students, and are developmentally appropriate. It was a relief for me and for the parent to have some substantial clues to be on the look for in this young preschooler.

The thing that stuck with me most this week, aside from dyslexia, was a section on mnemonic devices in Brain Matters. I have always used mnemonics to remember concepts and words that I otherwise seemed hopeless to retain. As I read through Wolfe’s explanationof the different types of mnemonics and when you might employ them, all of my past devices came flooding back to me. I don’t think I would have passed a single high school Spanish class without them! I was intrigued, however, because it never occurred to me why mnemonic devices work. Wolfe describes how creating these devices tie this random knowledge to a student on a more personal level, making it more likely that they will recall it later.

I work hard every day to make the skills I am teaching relatable to my students, increasing the chances of retention. As my students focus on letter/sound relationships, we made “I love…” books. Each child created their own book containing a list of things they enjoy, one for each letter of the alphabet. We spent weeks compiling the books, focusing on each letter/sound relationship. Today one of my students was trying to remember the sound that W makes “W is for my friend Wyatt and Wyatt sounds like wa wa wa.” We had created our own mnemonic devices. I think this strategy is brilliant and an important one for students to learn.

 

Jossey-Bass Inc. (2008). The Jossey-Bass reader on the brain and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.