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by Erica Fischer on Apr 13, 2012

Develop Your Own Curriculum

Hello everyone and welcome back to #langchat! We had an enjoyable and fast-paced discussion this past Thursday via Twitter, and we’ve included the summary of the night’s discussion below for your convenience.
Our topic for the night was how to develop your own curriculum for world-language classes. Thanks to all our participants for the night, and a special thank you to our moderators Diego Ojeda (@DiegoOjeda66) and Don Doehla (@dr_dmd).

Designing Your Own Curriculum

Why do we design our own curriculums? While some teachers may just not like the textbook, a better reason is to empower your students through a directed curriculum that spans more than just your class. @DiegoOjeda66 put it clearly: The textbook allows teachers to work in isolation. Your own curriculum makes you work with your peers toward a common goal.

Many participants have to follow a certain course or plan, but they have the flexibility to bring in their own elements. The amount of flexibility with your curriculum varies. Some participants have to follow the textbook consistently, others only have to follow certain areas and others use it only as a guideline.

When there is flexibility to create one’s own content, participants like to bring in lots of authentic materials and design a curriculum that appeals to students’ levels and interests. As much scaffolding as possible is included.

Total flexibility

What do you do when you have total freedom in your curriculum decisions? Most participants do not — they must follow some guidelines or a textbook, or perhaps they have proficiency targets decided for them. @MartinaBex has complete flexibility, however. With this flexibility she scaffolds students to help them comprehend authentic materials.

She takes the most common words in a language and focuses on these. In one year, students learn 100 words, or 25 words a quarter. Students learn other words, of course, but the focus of the units are on this core vocabulary.

1. Setting Proficiency Targets

Setting proficiency targets for your students’ target language ability is a key step when designing your own curriculum.

When @tmsaue1 and his colleagues designed their last curriculums, they set proficiency targets before deciding how to help students meet the targets. @suarez712002 agrees: when designing a curriculum, we need to first answer what we want students to be able to do with the target language. @MartinaBex adds that once proficiency targets are set, you can manipulate any content to match. Many participants mentioned using the ACTFL guidelines for proficiency targets.

Student proficiency targets

While it involves more planning in a shorter timeframe, @klafrench enjoys letting her students set their own proficiency goals. This allows her to direct her curriculum to what students most want to do. This might be best for high levels, and you could pose the question as a survey to students at the end of one school year.

2. Designing Assessments

Many participants prefer to create assessments after setting proficiency targets and before choosing how to teach. In this way they are sure that students will be taught what is assessed, and the assessments are also closely related to the proficiency goals. Some teachers prefer to wait for assessments, however. They feel that sometimes, better and more tailored ideas will come to them later once the students have begun the learning process.

@suarez712002 believes in creating assessments as the second step, but she also stresses the importance of reflection and flexibility when it comes to modifying the assessments later on. When designing, sometimes a simple general outline of the assessment is enough. Will it be a debate, maybe a report?

For designing assessments, participants lamented that teachers are sometimes pushed toward standardized tests and the like rather than proficiency-based assessments that do a better job of measuring students’ abilities. Language is an art, and perhaps we can learn from other arts-based subjects. @klafrench went to the theatre/fine arts department of her school to get ideas for her rubrics and assessments. For more ideas on assessments, check out these past #langchats: Individual Assessments, Formative Assessments and Authentic Assessments.

Self-evaluation

Providing opportunities for students to evaluate themselves is also important in any curriculum (@DiegoOjeda66). Self-evaluation aids students in understanding their own strengths and weaknesses, and it also shows them where they are in relation to the class goals. For some information on @dr_dmd’s recent experience with self-evaluation and reflection in the classroom, check out this Edutopia article. When students self-evaluate using a rubric, @dr_dmd likes to have students check off where they are and describe why.

3. Selecting Authentic Materials

Several participants believe that choosing authentic materials can at times be switched with planning for assessments. Occasionally, choosing an authentic material leads to an idea for a proficiency target as well.

But generally, after deciding on assessments, work backward to plan the necessary steps using authentic materials such as texts, videos, documents, etc. @suarez712002 suggests that your learning objectives and assessments will determine the authentic materials you’re going to use.

Rather than search out authentic materials to match the situation, @dr_dmd always has an eye out for them and sets them aside for the moment when they’ll work best. In this way, sometimes excellent authentic materials lead to a great idea for an assessment or learning objective.

For more resources on authentic materials, check out the past #langchats on Authentic Materials for Novice Learners and Increasing Relevancy with Authentic Media.

4. Planning Activities

The fourth and last step of the curriculum-writing process is to plan the activities and language acquisition strategies that will get your students to the targets. We choose authentic materials before activities so that we know where and how to fit them in (@Sra_Hildinger)

Scaffold activities as much as possible to gradually raise students up. @dr_dmd likes to keep a list of communication structures at hand when planning activities to ensure scaffolding.

Activity tips

Differentiation is important in order to engage all students. @Sra_Hildinger runs through a mental checklist for each unit to make sure she has varied activities for all learners.

@SraSpanglish keeps in mind the students who have the most trouble when planning assignments, as she wants to get them to the objective.

@DiegoOjeda66 advises keeping students’ experiences in mind when deciding on activities. This both increases student engagement, but also improves students’ learning opportunities. A bonus is that  when we decide on a curriculum with the students in mind, we are challenged to not repeat it year after year.

Curriculum-Writing Tips

@cadamsf1 asked participants how long they might take to write a curriculum from start to finish. Answers varied, but most teachers mentioned they like to take their time and revise as they go. @tmsaue1 likes to build one year at a time, then reflect, revise and move on. Reflection and self-evaluation is key to growing as a teacher as well.

@DiegoOjeda66 also cautioned that it is important to design a curriculum that inspires or promotes autonomy and choice in the student. If your designed curriculum is too restrictive or imposing, there is little difference between your creation and the textbook.

For those of us struggling with creating a curriculum for a large number of classes, participants suggested starting with one or two levels, finishing and then moving to the next. It can be overwhelming at first, but stick to the pattern and inertia will build.

Overall, the steps given above are what most participants use. The system can be more fluid, and some participants mentioned that they often swap the final three steps. However, step one, on proficiency targets, should always be first in our minds.

Resources

@tmsaue1 shared the JCPS World Languages’ approach to curriculum building.

@SrtaLisa shared a digital “techbook” — a great way to collaborate digitally with colleagues to create a digital textbook. The previous textbook was outdated and didn’t work for their learning goals, so they created the “techbook.”

Similarly, @trescolumnae shared a language-learning resource that is being created across multiple continents.

Thank You!

Thank you once more to everyone for participating in our chat — it was a fast-paced and very useful discussion. If you weren’t able to make it on Thursday, we hope that you enjoyed the summary. If you’d like to read the entire archived chat, please go to our Google Docs page. If you have any comments or suggestions on the thoughts expressed during the chat, please feel free to share them on Twitter using the #langchat hashtag, or by leaving a comment below.

Thank you, and see you next week on #langchat!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

3 Comments

  • cristina

    I have been following Sarah Cottrell & have enjoyed her thoughts on breaking away from the textbook!! Your article/archive helps a lot! Thanks for taking the time to share it with “chickens” like me. I “feel” that I need that book-I’m a bit embarrassed to say that!!
    I hope to be able to write my own curriculum this next year! I’m lucky enough that I don’t have major constraints. Again, thanks for the insight.

    • It does take courage to make radical changes. I wish you great success!
      I encourage you to get the RSS feed for Sara-Elizabeth’s blog (http://musicuentos.blogspot.com/) and also take note of some of her favorite blogs. She has had lots of encouragement and inspiration from great teachers.
      Also, feel free to join our conversations on Twitter. #LangChat takes place on Thursday evenings at 8 pm Eastern time, and the hashtag is used throughout the week by language educators to share ideas.

  • ¡Muchas gracias Cristina! Breaking free from the textbook is certainly a long journey that takes some getting used to – especially since it’s the opposite of what teacher training programs teach you to do! But it has been so rewarding for me and my students and has seemed to fit so much better with all the great advice I’ve gotten through my state organization (KWLA) and comments on my blog and especially Twitter. It’s contributed a lot to adding a sense of the real world to my classroom which has greatly increased motivation. Good luck in your own journey and let us know what you learn!

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