Perhaps the biggest challenge in implementing a concept-based curriculum is making the jump from the person who wrote the curriculum to implementation in the classroom. In my dream world, each teacher would have enough training, apprenticeship and time to write their own well-researched, engaging curriculum from enduring understandings to daily lessons. This is often no where near reality — which looks more like high turnover rates, too many initiatives and not enough training and planning time for teachers.
Curriculum and assessment writing is a skill that takes years to cultivate. I am a MUCH better writer now than I was at 22 — and I know I get better every year. At the same time, too much meaning is lost in translation from the writer to the teacher. So we have to figure out how to do a better job at having trained people write it and skilled teachers deliver it.
Over the years many people have asked me for advice on how to ensure concept-based curriculum is successfully implemented in the classroom. Here’s a sample of important steps and tips:
1) Curriculum writers and school leaders (principals, etc.) are trained by an Erickson certified trainer on concept-based for at least three full days, preferably a week. This is critical. If the school leaders do not have a foundational understanding right from the start, it is too difficult to implement concept-based.
2) Curriculum writers collaborate with teacher leaders to draft all the pieces of concept-based unit plans. Dr. Erickson and Dr. Lanning’s books give step by step guides and plenty of examples. It’s essential to have people who are knowledgable in both the content and pedagogy. Involving well-respected teachers in the writing process helps not only for buy-in with other teachers but they provide important insights as teachers still in the classroom.
3) All teachers and school leaders receive at least a day of training on concept-based, including the Structures of Knowledge and Process, synergistic thinking, the conceptual lens, guiding questions, experiencing a concept-based lesson plan, viewing a concept-based assessment and hearing from the curriculum writers of their class on how they went about writing the unit plans.
4) Teachers and school leaders provide feedback on unit plan drafts. Curriculum writers meet regularly for book talks and discussions on concept-based curriculum to improve their skill at writing unit plans for deep understanding.
5) Curriculum writers and teacher leaders edit the unit plans according to the feedback and their ongoing understanding of concept-based curriculum design.
6) Teachers and school leaders receive at least another half day of training where they experience another concept-based lesson plan on introducing the ideas to students, receive a lesson guide for designing concept-based lessons, and review their curriculum with another think aloud from the authors about why they wrote the curriculum the way they did and answer any questions the teachers may have.
7) Curriculum writers compose blueprints for common assessments. All teachers receive a half-day training on concept-based assessments and give feedback on the blueprints.
8) Curriculum writers finalize the assessment blueprints, distribute to the teachers and answer any questions the teachers may have.
9) Teachers receive at least two days to develop lesson plans and formative assessments. The curriculum writers provide feedback on their plans.
10) Concept-based curriculum is finally rolled out and implemented in the classroom.
11) These steps are followed up with ongoing training, analyzing student work, analyzing assessment data, norming on grading and editing the curriculum after it’s taught.
It is a huge commitment but without these steps the effort may not pay off!