Think about the last time you used a recipe to cook a meal. Perhaps you were hosting friends for dinner and wanted to make lasagna for the first time. The recipe identifies the ingredients you need, the order in which you should combine them, and the time and temperature required to cook the dish to perfection. This guidance is useful when you’re learning to cook a dish—straightforward, easy to follow, and complete with photos, all of which inspire confidence.
But most people wouldn’t want to cook every meal using a recipe. At some point, directions become restrictive, limiting your creativity. Over time, you may want to make adjustments, removing garlic for a friend who is allergic or substituting mushrooms for meat if you’re cooking for a vegetarian. The freedom and flexibility to modify that recipe keeps cooking enjoyable.
The same is true for the adopted curriculum that many teachers use. At first, it’s helpful to have a clear path to implementation; however, as you gain confidence, you will want to be creative to ensure that you meet all students’ needs.
As a coach and professional learning facilitator, I work with teachers shifting from whole group, teacher-led instruction to student-centered instruction with blended learning models. Blended learning combines active, engaged learning online and offline to give students more control over the time, place, pace, and path of their learning. There are several models under the umbrella of blended learning: station rotation, whole group rotation, flipped classroom, and playlists, all of which position students at the center of their learning.
Adopted curriculum is often written for a whole group, teacher-led model; however, that isn’t the only way to use it. Teachers are architects of learning experiences. They deserve the flexibility and freedom to make the curriculum work for their students using various models, some of which we’ll explore below.
Station rotation frees the teacher to work with small groups, differentiating instruction, guiding discussion, and providing feedback.
This model comprises a series of learning experiences that students rotate through, including teacher-led, online, and offline stations. Teachers may struggle to conceptualize linear lessons in a circular rotation. I encourage them to ask: Which part of the lesson is most challenging for students and requires significant teacher support? Which activities benefit from variable time on task? Which activities will be enhanced from peer support?
The answer to question one will determine which activity the teacher might include in a teacher-led station. The answer to question two will determine which learning activities work best as self-paced tasks. The third will identify the learning activities that work best as small group or partner tasks.
AN ELA EXAMPLE
StudySync is an ELA curriculum that includes a library of digital texts paired with audio tracks, video models of various skills, a peer feedback tool, and automated scaffolds.
Let’s take a linear, whole group lesson from StudySync and reimagine it as a station rotation. I’ll use the eighth-grade First Read lesson for A Celebration of Grandfathers, by Rudolfo Anaya.
This StudySync lesson asks students to watch and discuss a video preview and build background knowledge; engage in reading activities; practice comprehension strategies; annotate and discuss the text; engage in grammar practice; and answer “think questions.”
If we reimagine the lesson as a station rotation, it might include a teacher-led station modeling a reading strategy using gradual release; an offline station for independent or paired grammar practice and self-assessment; an online or offline station where students make vocabulary predictions, read, and annotate the text; and an online station for collaborative research to build background.
Station rotation frees the teacher from the front of the room to work alongside students, allowing the teacher to make the lesson more accessible.
A MATH EXAMPLE
Math can be challenging to design because it is linear, with concepts building sequentially. Some students get content quickly, while others need more explanation and support. If we want learning to be equitable, with all students receiving the input they need to reach a particular output, we need to get creative.
During a recent blended learning training, a teacher was in tears. She knew her current approach wasn’t working for most students but wasn’t sure how to use blended learning with the Swun Math curriculum. Challenge accepted.
We brainstormed an approach that honored the basic methodology of Swun but incorporated stations to differentiate instruction.
Like most adopted curriculum, a Swun lesson has more than a teacher can cover in a class period: a problem of the day, vocabulary, the input model, structured guided practice, a final check for understanding, student practice, challenge problems, and an extension activity.
In a reimagined lesson, the teacher could allow for student control by beginning with the whole group using Problem of the Day and Vocabulary Building as warm-ups. Then, the teacher could use Swun’s Input Model to provide direct instruction introducing the day’s topic.
Instead of having the class move as a unit through the remaining lesson elements, since students require variable time on task, the teacher can transition them into skill-level groups. That frees the teacher to provide more support to the students in the lower-level group as they work on Final Check and move to Practice Problems.
Students in the midlevel group can watch the video of the input model if they need additional instruction while the teacher is working with the lower-level group. The teacher then transitions from the lower to the midlevel group to review and support work.
The high-level group will need less teacher time and complete more lesson elements. When they finish Challenge Problems, they can decide how to use their time. They might move on to the next video lesson, complete the extension activity, or grab a “student tutor” lanyard and assist other students. Not only do students in the high-level group move at a pace that works for them, but they can choose to serve as valuable resources in the classroom.
Designing Adopted Curriculum Facilitates Tailored Learning Experiences
The purpose of an adopted curriculum is to provide a high-quality, standards-aligned learning experience for all students, but a one-size-fits-all approach rarely meets everyone’s needs. Just as a traditional meat-filled lasagna won’t work for a dinner party that includes vegetarians, a teacher-led whole group lesson won’t meet the wide spectrum of needs, abilities, and interests in a classroom.
Teachers must bring their creativity and knowledge of their student population into their work, designing and facilitating tailored learning experiences. Blended learning provides transferable instructional models that teachers can use to modify their curriculum to ensure that learning is designed to meet the needs of all students.