There are many factors to consider when designing the ...

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Do your homework: A practical guide to designing your curriculum.

Jennifer D. Smith

Prescott College

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Do your homework: A practical guide to designing your curriculum.

There are many factors to consider when designing the curriculum for your classroom. The information that teachers impart to their students forms the very foundation of their intellectual base that they build upon throughout their lives. This base is second only to the foundation parents give their children before they enter school. One must consider the cultural diversity of their students in order to design an engaging curriculum that is inclusive and sensitive to multicultural backgrounds. There are tried curricula that have proven to be beneficial to students’ repertoire. Teaching the rules of grammar and writing mechanics, sharing classic literature and training students in thoughtful reflection, educating students about people, places and things of historical significance and imparting to them how these things apply to them are just a few of the factors to consider when developing an engaging curriculum that is worthwhile for your students. The best piece of advice a teacher can follow is to “do your homework” in order to seek out the curriculum programs that will best suite their class.

Factor #1: Not all children are raised equally. Plato once said, “The most important part of education is right training in the nursery” (Bennet, Finn and Cribb, 1999, p. 21). One cannot deny the powerful effect of our upbringing. In the book titled The educated child: a parent’s guide from preschool through eighth grade., Bennet et al. assert that children must be taught such personal traits as “responsibility,

self-discipline, and perseverance” in order to achieve their greatest potential in school

(p. 67). The authors conducted a study of many teachers and schools and recorded that the majority of teachers told them much of their class time is spent “raising children”.

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Due to shortcomings in the home, teachers are finding themselves teaching hygiene, manners, rudimentary respect to the rights and property of others, counseling children of

divorce, teaching the facts of life, teaching conflict resolution, etc… all the while that they are expected to be teaching the fundamentals of reading, writing, multiplying and dividing (p.16). It is the stand of the authors that since students only spend 10% of their life from birth to age 18 in school, it is not enough time to teach both basic socialization and basic academics within the school setting; therefore, it is up to parents to bring up their children with a set of moral values that will prepare them to meet their education with enthusiasm and the skills necessary to succeed (p. 17).

It is true that a teacher’s time in a student’s life is limited, and that the teacher’s primary responsibility lies with the teaching of academics; however, it is equally true that if success is to be found in the school both for the teachers and for the students, some social skills are going to have to be taught within the school because in today’s homes more often than not, these values are not being taught. In their book entitled How to talk so kids can learn at home and at school, Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish, Lisa Nyberg, and Rosalyn Anstine Templeton explained that we have an “additional responsibility to today’s generation of children.” (1995, p.16). They further explained that:

“Never before have so many young people been exposed to so many images of casual cruelty. Never before have they witnessed so many vivid demonstrations of problems being solved by beatings or bullets or bombs. Never before has there been such an urgent need to provide our children with a living model of how differences can be resolved with honest and respectful communication. That’s the best protection we can give them against their own violent impulses. When the inevitable moments of frustration and rage occur, instead of reaching for a weapon, they can reach for the words they’ve heard from the important people in their lives.” (pp. 16-17)

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It is clear that we are not dealing with an ideal world. The audience for Bennet et al’s book (1999) are parents who actually are taking an active role in their child’s education

and therefore would benefit from the advice to train their children in social values. The rest of the children of the world may not be so lucky as to have parents that are as involved in their educations. It is therefore wise for teachers to assume that role of social trainers as well as academic trainers if all children are to be given the opportunity to learn the social values and skills necessary to be successful in school and ultimately in life. Curricula Resolution #1: Teach social values.

Factor #2: Children come from various ethnic, socio-economic, and cultural backgrounds. In the book entitled Teaching American Indian students, the author, Jon Reyhner (1992) stated that “Good teaching requires that teachers understand and respect the individuality of all children. Neither appreciation nor respect are possible without knowing the children’s cultural and environmental backgrounds” (p. 14). There are many social influences that shape a student’s perceptions and learning styles. For example, research indicates that many of the Native American populations from the Southwestern United States are predominantly visual learners (p.84). This population also tends to be more cautious learners who will be inclined to study a problem out rather than jumping in and taking a risk (p. 83). These tendencies stem from the social mores that exist in their culture where one would be ridiculed if they took a risk and failed. It is imperative for teachers of children with varying cultural backgrounds to familiarize themselves with the differences that exist in order to be more sensitive and inclusive of students who may perceive the world from different standpoints.

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Another crucial point for teachers to be aware of as they plan their curriculum is the fact that some textbooks were written with language that would express a bias for or

against a particular culture. When describing the travelers’ encounters with Native American tribes along the Oregon trail some textbooks may use potentially offensive terminology such as “filthy savage” and the like which could cause harmful stereotyping. It is not only important to be aware of the language used within your textbooks, but it would be helpful for teachers to explain the diversity of cultures and the differing view points each culture may have had as it encountered the other for the first time. The important thing to remember as a teacher is to stay away from categorizing one culture as being dominant or more right than the other (Reyhner, 1992, pp.157-167).

When addressing the issue of economic differences Reyhner asserts “Although they cannot control poverty, teachers can equip themselves with the knowledge that education… can be a liberating force in students’ lives. Teachers can empower their students to use creative intelligence to break free from the bindings of poverty” (1992, p. 30). Horace Mann once wrote: “Education… is the great equalizer of the [human condition]—the balance wheel of the social machinery … This idea… gives each [person] the independence and the means by which they can resist the selfishness of other [people].” (1992, p. 14). (The words in [ ] brackets were used in place of the words from Mann’s original quote in order to carry out the continuity of this paper to be non gender biased.) Understanding the social mores and the cultures of the students we teach and focusing our curriculum to the utilization of our students’ strengths as well as the development of new abilities utilizing those strengths as a catalyst is critical for the

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development of a curriculum that is inclusive to all students of varying backgrounds. Curricula Resolution #2: Plan a curriculum that is multicultural and inclusive.

Factor #3: There is so much information out there that we can teach our students, how is one to know where to focus our curriculum? What are the crucial elements an effective teacher must include to be of the greatest benefit to their student? Bennet et al.’s book discussed this very topic in great detail. Beginning with the preschool and discussing all the grades through eighth grade, the authors described at length the curriculum an effective school should be teaching their students. From giving lists of literature classics that should be read at each grade level, to emphasizing the importance of sticking to the tried and true methods that have proven over the years to be invaluable to the learning process, to listing very specific details as to what elements of the core subjects should be taught, the authors left no stone unturned. They broke all the core subjects into their own categories and then mapped out their idea of the most important elements that were crucial to the development of an effective curriculum. For example, in the category of fifth grade English the authors suggest the students should:

• “write reports, summaries, letters, descriptions, essays, stories, poems, etc.

• use different resources (e.g., atlases, glossaries, the Internet) to write reports

• practice organizing, drafting, revising, and proofreading

• write reports that address a specific audience; define a main idea; provide an introduction and conclusion; use organized paragraphs; illustrate points with good examples document sources in a simple bibliography” (1999, p. 133).

The list goes on. This list was drawn from the Core Knowledge Sequence. The categories of Math, History, Geography, Science, Art, Music, and Language Arts are all mapped out in just as much detail. The simple message here is that there is a wealth of

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information out there that should be researched. One must study all the tried curricula and their effectiveness in order to make an educated decision as to what would be the best

information to include in ones curriculum. Curricula Resolution #3: Include the long-standing fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic.

When considering what curriculum to include in your classroom there is such a wealth of resources and information at your fingertips. You might already have a pretty good idea of what you will be teaching based upon the materials that are provided to you by the school you will be teaching at. However, it would be well worth your time to do some independent research to collect the data on what has been tried and what works. Even more important than implementing a long standing curriculum, be mindful of the particular demographics of the students you will teach, and be sure to seek out those resources that will assist you in the planning and implementation of various curriculum that will serve your students best. Some of the best changes that have come about in recent times in the field of education are the ones that have awakened our sense of the diversity of the students we teach. Each student has a unique background, a unique learning style, a unique capacity to “grow where they are planted”. It is our responsibility to seek out the best of what is out there and to adapt it to enhance the curriculum in our classroom. It is then that we can plant the seeds of the quest for knowledge within our students and watch them grow.

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Bennett, W.J., Finn, C. E., Jr., & Cribb, J.T., Jr. (1999). The educated child: a parent’s guide from preschool through eighth grade. New York: The Free Press.

Faber, A., Mazlish, E., Nyberg, L., & Templeton, R. A. (1995). How to talk so kids can learn at home and at school. New York: Rawson Associates.

Reyhner, J. (1992). Teaching American Indian students. Norman: University of Oklahoma.


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