Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elementary Curriculum Thoughts

As the crocuses begin to push their way up through the hard, winterworn earth, thoughts of next year's curriculum and efforts begin to fill my mind.  I won't make the decisions by myself.  Our team will discuss objectives, materials and efforts -- I'm fortunate to have a thoughtful, experienced, dedicated team of educators whose ideas and points of view always positively affect my work with children.

Today I created a chart of the efforts currently in place.  Our efforts, in general, are based on the Massachusetts State Standards -- a worthy list of concept, skill and knowledge goals.  We integrate these standards into a meaningful, student-centered program.  Soon, we will begin to weave the common core standards into our program too.

Now I want to think about the essential elements of an upper elementary school student's academic program.  I've listed the primary components below with some focus notes.

Community Building:
We do this with morning meetings, social competency, and curriculum efforts that build in social awareness such as our Just Like Me Program and Culture Studies.  I believe our classroom social network (NING) also fosters community and communication.

We develop reading skills in so many ways including interactive read aloud, comprehension strategy instruction, reading workshop, reading focus lessons, reading intervention groups and nightly reading homework. I want to think deeply about how we can minimize "print disabilities" for students with the use of technology such as iPods, ebooks, interactive stories and more.

We use the Lucy Calkins' program as a guide for our writing program.  Fourth graders' main focus is the personal narrative.  Other writing includes paragraphs, poetry, fiction stories, and a research report/slide show.  Currently, we utilize Google docs for most of our writing work.  Blogging on our social network and ePal letters also encourage and develop writing skill.  We use Inspiration, KidPix, Google Presentation, and other venues too.  What tools, routines, and methods do we deem best for student writing development and growth?

Currently, we use the Everyday Math Series as our curriculum program.  We deliver lessons in a variety of ways utilizing a large variety of materials and tools including That Quiz, online games and activities, and classroom projects and investigations.  I continue to wonder about the best approach to math education.  I teach with two threads -- one is a computation/problem solving thread, and the other is a concept, knowledge, skill thread.  Of course, the two connect and overlap.  EDM moves quickly from concept to concept, rather than spending a significant amount of time on one math concept; that makes it difficult to differentiate and foster deep questioning and understanding of math concepts.  I will continue to think about and research math instruction with respect to these considerations.

Social Studies/Science:
We integrate math and ELA into many of our social studies and science content units.  This might be an area where we can think more creatively about employing more technology and 21stC skills for student success.

Field Studies/Special Programs: 
We choose a myriad of field studies and special programs to enrich our content/skill teaching.  We revisit those choices each year.

Reflection/Habits of a Good Student:
Students utilize reflective pieces such as portfolios to collect, share and think about their efforts and goals.  Is it time to move our portfolios online.  We now have a new tech vehicle for this.

This list is just a start as I begin to think about the rest of this year and the year ahead. What's missing?  What should we include as part of our lesson/project delivery menu?  What are the priorities?  What is admin. thinking with respect to our program and priorities?

Let me know what your thoughts are related to optimal curriculum for young 9-11-year-old students.  In the meantime, I will continue to reflect, revise and review what we do, possible revisions/additions, and information related to our students' developmental profile.  Execution of an optimal program fosters happiness, pride and success for all members of a learning community.  Optimal programs also continually evolve.