Every new teacher is given the same challenge: Do the best you can to cover the material in the most engaging way all year. Sounds simple, right? Don’t worry—many of your fellow first-year teachers agree that it’s not at all simple or straightforward.
But curriculum mapping doesn’t have to be a beast—it can help make your life easier in many ways, by helping you to set realistic expectations for your students and manage teaching a complex subject over an extended time.
Components of a Well-Planned Classroom
Before you put pen to paper—or finger to keyboard—there are several things to consider. Without a solid idea of your own expectations, you’ll never be able to develop the most engaging and developmentally appropriate curriculum for your students. I’d advise you to consider the following points before you map out your curriculum.
Student abilities: It’s imperative that you have an understanding of your students’ capabilities before you plan a curriculum for them to engage with. If you’ll be starting in August with no idea what the needs of your learners may be, setting up a few assessments and conferencing with those students at the beginning of the year can be helpful.
You’re seeking to determine things such as whether your students are on grade level—or ahead of or behind grade level—for the skills that are relevant to your class, and any special needs your students may have.
Building and district initiatives: Having a conversation with your principal before the school year begins can help you to clarify the expectations they have for you as a professional. Every administrator has their own focus and concerns about the culture of the building. Your administrator may want to focus on helping learners to develop reading and phonics skills across the curriculum, or on creating higher order thinking tasks in lessons. An honest conversation about their concerns can help to inform decisions about your curriculum in a critical way.
You can also use this conversation to ask about the building or district initiatives that need to be priorities for you in the classroom. Your district may want you to focus on assigning nonfiction passages, building math and logical thinking exercises into your lessons, or focusing on vocabulary acquisition in each subject.
Textbooks and materials: Textbook is not always a bad word. Especially for a new teacher, the textbook can provide you with a solid idea of expectations for learning, essential content vocabulary, and a host of other resources that are at least research-driven.
The textbook is only a starting point and a resource, however. Be flexible and don’t forget to put your own spin on things in the classroom. The textbook is not aware of your individual students’ needs, and there’s a reason you were hired to teach your class in person.
Pacing: My best advice about pacing? Be bold and then be flexible. I find that setting high expectations from the start is the best way to not only challenge students but also find out what content they’re struggling with and how to best modify classroom management and instructional strategies to meet their needs. It’s OK if you don’t get it right in your first month of teaching—not many of us do.
Setting Expectations for Learning
During the planning process, consider your expectations for your students. I like to start planning my curriculum by having a conversation with my intervention specialists about any of my students who have special needs. These are typically the students who require the most work in terms of differentiation and the most attention both when you’re planning and when you’re teaching. Consider their specific learning needs and what you feel they are capable of achieving in your class.
Differentiation of materials for a variety of learners is most likely going to be your biggest challenge in your first couple years of teaching. Since differentiation relies on the premise that there will be a diverse group of learning needs within your classroom, it’s essential to both identify and plan for these needs as specifically as possible. Some students may need extra time to process difficult vocabulary in an upcoming passage. Others may need a graphic organizer to visually organize and represent their thoughts before a formal class discussion. When designing learning goals, make sure to consider ways to give struggling learners as much access to the content as possible.
Planning For Regular Assessment
One of the most valuable skills to develop as a new teacher is the ability to determine the most natural informal assessments and the most purposeful summative assessments for your unit or lesson.
Consider the following when planning for assessment:
- How to spread out formative assessments (which measure in-progress learning) and summative assessments (which measure end-result learning) so that they give you a complete picture of each student’s progress.
- What activities will best show you each student’s learning.
- How you will provide real-time feedback for students throughout a unit instead of only after it ends.
Making Room for Flexibility
Another important aspect of curriculum is flexibility. It’s difficult to spend a lot of your valuable time planning instruction for the year only to get three weeks into September and realize it’s not working. First, realize that happens to even veteran teachers almost constantly. It’s essential that you remain flexible and open to change.
Lesson plans that aren’t working should be scrapped and replaced. If it appears that your students aren’t understanding something, go over it again. Remember the teacher curriculum creed: “Do the best you can to cover the material in the most engaging way all year.” Sometimes that means trying again and again until your students grasp an important concept.