Last week a colleague gave the members of the curriculum committee at my school a document to read, written by one of the World's Foremost Authorities which was an attempt on his part to discuss what we are talking about when we talk about curriculum. While I duly read the document, and liked some of the points it made, it seemed to me to miss many of what I would take to be the more salient points to made about curriculum, and so, I thought I'd have a go at it myself, on the theory that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing yourself. Obviously this is a largish topic, and it may very well take more than one or two posts to do it justice. But I'm gonna give it a shot, a little bit at a time, and see if I can say anything that holds together. So here goes.
I. Some observations about structure.
Curriculum, broadly considered, consists of at least three things: what you and your students do before class, what you do during class, and what you do after class or between classes.
Before class the teacher, and presumably the students as well, need to put some thought into both what the content of the course is going to consist of on any given day, and the process by which that content is going to considered. I'm not going to say too much about curriculum content here, for two reasons: first, because it varies so much from course to course and subject to subject that the sheer infinitude of possibilities would make it unlikely that I would ever get a proper start, much less get finished, with what I want to try to work through here; and second, because frankly, as those of you who have been following Throughlines over the years will be unsurprised to hear, content doesn't interest me that much. Never has, probably never will. What interests me is process. I'm going to try to resist the temptation to go on a big long digression about why that is so. Maybe later.
So let's think a little about process as it pertains to lesson planning. For sake of discussion, I'm going to assume that the lesson we are talking about is a one-hour lesson in a course that meets four or five times a week over the course of a semester. Given that assumption, there are a host of process questions that are worth considering as you go about designing a particular lesson. Among them:
- Where are the students now, and where would you like them to be?
- What is it that you are going to ask the students to do during the class?
- What's the connection between this lesson, yesterday's lesson, and tomorrow's lesson? How does what we are doing today build on what we did yesterday or set up what we will be doing tomorrow?
- How many chunks or modules do you plan to divide the hour into?
- What is your role as teacher going to be during the hour?
- What role(s) will the students be asked to play? Where during the course of this lesson do individual students get to be who they are and say what they have to say? Will they be working individually? in pairs? in small groups? in a single large group?
- How will you accommodate different learning styles? Is there a visual component? An aural component? A social component? A writing component? A hands-on component? A reflective component?
- What is going to happen today that is the same as what happened yesterday? What's going to happen today that is different than anything that's ever happened before? For the students? For you?
- Is there a technology component to the lesson? If so, why? If not, why not?
- Is there a reflective or metacognitive aspect to the lesson? If so, why? If not, why not?
- Is there an ethical or spiritual component to the lesson? If so, etc.
- What is the likelihood that the students are going to be able to make a connection between this lesson and anything that they might actually care about? What can you do to increase that likelihood?
- What will the homework be? What purpose will the homework serve? For you? For the students? How long do you expect them to work on it? How soon will you get it back to them? Will that be soon enough for them to be able to apply whatever feedback you have given them to the next assignment?
- What is it you want the students to take away from this lesson?
- How will you determine whether or not they have done so? What options will the students have in demonstrating what they have learned?
- What choices will the students be allowed/encouraged to make during the lesson?
- What input have the students had into the process by which you will come up with answers to any of these questions?
- What's the connection between what your students are doing today and what students are doing in other sections of the same course taught by other teachers? What input have they had into the process?
Okay, so that's not a complete list, but you get the idea. Lesson design is a complex topic, and the choices you make as a teacher are significant even when you are not aware that you are making them. Developing an awareness of the pedagogical issues involved in lesson design is hard. Maintaining that awareness is harder. Given the realities of day-to-day teaching, it's easy to just fall into a pattern, set up a one-size-fits-all frame and stay with it. But good lesson design is flexible, multifaceted, interconnected, collaborative, and attentive to the immediate needs of the students.
I'm going to stop here for tonight and let those questions rattle around in my head for a while. If you think I've missed any, feel free to add.