Curriculum

The Guaranteed and Viable CurriculumFour Questions

Research concludes that implementation of a guaranteed and viable curriculum plays a critical role in the improvement of student achievement. Guaranteed means that every child in every school receives essential instruction every day; viable means that the curriculum can be taught in the amount of time provided. This curriculum development and implementation guide outlines our positions, processes, formats and protocols to ensure that we will provide a guaranteed and viable curriculum that will define the essential knowledge that all students must learn at each grade level and in each course of study.

Excellence and Equity

All students have equitable access to the core curriculum and all the offerings which extend and enrich it. 

1. All students will have equitable access to a rigorous curriculum.

2. There will be no academic tracking of students.

3. All students have the right to enroll in any course or program provided that they meet the conditions necessary to succeed. Admittance to some programs is governed by outside regulations.

4. All students have the right to accommodations, interventions and any assistance needed to succeed.

5. For those cases in which a series of courses require a necessary sequence, it is legitimate to require the earlier part of the series prior to the latter unless students demonstrate they have met conditions necessary to succeed.

6. Students within a class may be temporarily clustered through flexible grouping to enhance their achievement of the intended outcomes of the curriculum or to enrich or extend their learning. 

All students should be afforded access to a rigorous curriculum. In order to access such a curriculum, some students will need additional instructional supports. These instructional supports will vary depending on the different needs of the students. A student learning English as a second language might need focused support from staff to achieve academic language proficiency. A particularly able learner may require differentiated lessons which extend and enrich the curriculum to ensure appropriate academic challenge. 

Tracking refers to the practice of placing students into classes throughout their school careers based on a fixed judgment of their potential or motivation. Flexible grouping / clustering refers to the flexible organization of students into smaller groups within the same classroom or shared with another classroom. Flexible grouping / clustering should be temporary, flexible, and for a specific instructional purpose.   

Conditions necessary to succeed are measures of demonstrated achievement. Conditions necessary for success are not mere opinions of a student's potential or motivation.  Local screening data, grade point average, marks in previous courses, student's performance from multiple sources should be considered but not be exclusionary (e.g., advanced placement). 

Combining students of all achievement levels enhances student learning. Conversely, tracking and permanent ability grouping compound the disadvantages of lower achieving students and sometimes adversely affect higher achieving students. We are committed to a curriculum which ensures that all students have an equitable opportunity to learn and which does not provide any student or group of students an advantage at the expense of others.  

We recognize that all students do not learn at the same rate or may have a variety of learning styles. Diversity among students in their ability or motivation to achieve the intended outcomes of the curriculum cannot be accommodated by rigidly separating students. Short term and flexible groupings within heterogeneous classes, however, offer an equitable and effective means to promote achievement. Achievement for groups or individuals can also be advanced by enrichment or extension of curriculum and by implementing differentiated instruction.

Professional Learning Communities (PLC)

The essence of a Professional Learning Community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of each student. Educators within this learning community embrace high levels of learning for ALL students. In order to achieve this purpose, the members of a PLC create and are guided by a clear and compelling vision of what the organization must become in order to help all students learn. Staff work together to clarify exactly what each student must learn, monitor each student’s learning on a timely basis, provide systematic interventions that ensure students receive additional time and support for learning when they struggle, and extend and enrich learning when students have already mastered the intended outcomes. PLCs are dedicated to ensure that all students learn essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions. 

Four questions that sum up the work of the PLC are:

1. What do we want students to know and do? (outcomes)

2. How do we know if they have achieved what we want them to know and do (assessment)?

3. What do we do if they do not achieve what we want them to know and do (re-teaching)?

4.  What do we do for students who need to move beyond (enrichment)?

 Components Necessary to Build Successful PLCs

• Collaborative culture with a focus on learning for all

• Collective inquiry into best practice and current reality

• Action orientation: Learning by Doing

• A commitment to continuous improvement

• Results orientation

 Collaborative Culture With a Focus on Learning for All: A PLC is composed of collaborative teams whose members work interdependently to achieve common goals linked to the purpose of learning for all. The team is the engine that drives the PLC effort and the fundamental building block of the organization. It is difficult to overstate the importance of collaborative teams in the improvement process. Collaboration is a means to an end, not the end itself. In many schools, staff members are willing to collaborate on a variety of topics as long as the focus of the conversation stops at their classroom door. In a PLC, collaboration represents a systematic process in which teachers work together interdependently in order to impact their classroom practice in ways that will lead to better results for their students, for their team, and for their school. Therefore, their collaboration centers around certain critical questions:

1. What knowledge, skills, and disposition must each student acquire as a result of this course, grade level, and/or unit of instruction?

2. What evidence will we gather to monitor student learning on a timely basis?

3. How will we provide students with additional time and support in a timely, directive, and systematic way when they experience difficulty in their learning?

4. How will we enrich the learning of students who are already proficient?

5. How can we use S.M.A.R.T. goals and evidence of student learning to inform and improve our practice? 

Collective Inquiry Into Best Practice and Current Reality: The staff will engage in collective inquiry into both best practices in teaching and best practices in learning. They also inquire about their current reality—including their present practices and the levels of achievement of their students. Through collaborative discussion, teachers attempt to arrive at consensus on vital questions by building shared knowledge rather than pooling opinions. Teachers develop an acute sense of curiosity and openness to new possibilities. Collective inquiry enables team members to develop new skills and capabilities that in turn lead to new experiences and awareness. Gradually, this heightened awareness transforms into fundamental shifts in attitudes, beliefs and habits, which over time, transform the culture of the school. 

Working together to build shared knowledge on the best way to achieve goals and meet the needs of clients is exactly what professionals in any field are expected to do, whether it is curing the patient, winning the lawsuit, or helping all students learn. Members of a professional learning community are expected to work and learn together. 

Action Orientation: Learning by Doing: Teachers participating in PLCs become action oriented; they move quickly to turn aspirations into actions and visions into reality. They understand that the most powerful learning always occurs in a context of taking action, and they value engagement and experience as the most effective teachers. In fact, the very reason that teachers work together in teams and engage in collective inquiry is to serve as catalysts for action.

Members of PLCs recognize that learning by doing develops a deeper and more profound knowledge and greater commitment than learning by reading, listening, planning or thinking. Traditional schools have developed a variety of strategies to resist taking meaningful actions, preferring the comfort of the familiar. Professional learning communities recognize that until members of the organization “act” differently, there is no reason to anticipate different results. They avoid paralysis by analysis and overcome inertia with action.

 A Commitment to Continuous Improvement: Inherent to a PLC are a persistent anxiety with the status quo and a constant search for a better way to achieve goals that accomplish the purpose of the organization. Systematic processes engage each member of the organization in an ongoing cycle of:

• Gathering evidence of current levels of student learning

• Developing strategies and ideas to build on strengths and address weaknesses in that learning

• Implementing those strategies and ideas

• Analyzing the impact of the changes to discover what was effective and what was not

• Applying new knowledge in the next cycle of continuous improvement

The goal is not simply to learn a new strategy, but instead to create conditions for perpetual learning—an environment in which innovation and experimentation are viewed not as tasks to be accomplished or projects to be completed but as ways of conducting day-to-day business—forever.

 Results Orientation. Finally, teachers working in a PLC realize that all of their efforts in these areas—a focus on learning, collaborative teams, collective inquiry, action orientation, and continuous improvement—must be assessed on the basis of results rather than intentions. Unless initiatives are subjected to ongoing assessment on the basis of tangible results, they do not represent purposeful improvement.  

This focus on results leads each team to develop and pursue measurable improvement goals that are aligned to school and district goals for learning. This goal-oriented focus will drive teams to create a series of common formative assessments that are administered to students multiple times throughout the year to gather ongoing evidence of student learning. Teams of teachers will review the results from these assessments in an effort to identify and address program concerns (areas of learning where many students are experiencing difficulty). Assessment results will also assist teachers to discover strengths and weaknesses in their individual teaching in order to learn from one another. Most importantly, the assessments are used to identify students who need additional time and support for learning. Frequent common formative assessments represent one of the most powerful tools in teaching and learning (DuFour, 2004).
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