Bethel Online Curriculum Improvement Project
When I first started as a teacher at Bethel Online Academy, one of my very first projects was a collaboration with another teacher, Sabrina Schongalla, to improve the state of the Communication Arts curriculum (Bethel School District’s term for English). I had come into the program, the curriculum was largely based on fact-recall. Most of the answers could be copied and pasted from the text. Additionally, there was little to no scaffolding in the curriculum to help students build skills. Nor were there any rubrics or criteria set for grading. You can see an example of one of the old lessons below. Assignments were limited to a reading and a worksheet, the worksheet asking about things that happened in the reading (rather than asking the students to analyze the meaning of the reading).
The Online Curriculum Improvement Project
Sabrina had already begun the online curriculum improvement on 10th grade communication arts, and I quickly jumped in to help. We began with a thorough analysis of the units and learning objectives for the courses. We analyzed the readings we wanted to cover and an idea of the assignments, and then mapped out the units to build on Bloom’s Taxonomy through the year and assessed the curriculum for potential gaps in the GLE’s. The chart below helped us identify the level of skills used, and ensure our course hit all the GLE’s.
By the end of that year, we finished the 10th grade. Sabrina left after that year, and I continued on, developing new 11th and 12th grade curriculum in the next two years. The new curriculum aligned closely with the state Grade Level Expectations (GLE’s) and matched the state test—the WASL at the time—using 1, 2, and 4-point responses for multiple choice, short answer, and long answer respectively.
Additionally, we developed grading rubrics for all the essays and projects (like the one below) so that students had a clear sense of the expectations and assessment of each assignment. In 10th grade, we put a heavy focus on the writing process, expecting students to make substantive changes to their essays through multiple versions. We found that as students learned to revise and edit, their essays grew much stronger and they learned more about their own writing process.
Unfortunately, we were still limited by Advanced Academics, our Learning Management System. Our ability to comment on a students work was limited to a small plain text box. However, we could attach files back. Previously, teachers had been writing out their comments in the box. This was both laborious for the teacher and ineffective for the student. Comments had to be somewhat limited and they could not be tied easily to where the problem existed in the student’s work. To truly give students effective feedback, I made a push to use tracked changes to respond to student assignments. Although this was not widely adopted, I did use it within my own grading.
We also designed assignments that required synthesis of skills, like the Journey Assignment that I designed for the 11th grade course. While reading a short story that was an extended metaphor of how we change as we go through life, students were asked to identify the parts of the metaphor and begin to understand how the metaphor helped the author show us, rather than just tell us, how our views shift as we grow.
After, students were asked to create a park map that represented their own journey. Rather than having them write an essay analyzing the metaphor of the story, we had them synthesize what they had learned and create a metaphor. This activated their own experiences and was a more powerful way to show they understood what a metaphor was.
Additionally, to help guide students through the different processes of learning (direct instruction, guidelines, practice, assessment) we designed instructional cues to tell students what was happening at any point in time.
Once we had shown the example of what could be done, I began to coach other teachers with how to revise and strengthen their own curriculum. Using the concepts of backwards design and mastery-based assessment, I began presenting to the other teachers and the school and worked very closely with some of the teachers to improve the instructions content of our curriculum. Below is one of the main presentations I used when coaching other teachers through well-designed curriculum.