Before this course, I was familiar with key components needed in a well designed curriculum such as Standards, Learning Targets, formative and summative assessments, engaging lessons, differentiation plans, and community engagement plans. Although in some ways I was already following Ainsworth’s guidelines to design a rigorous unit, I had never looked so in depth. When beginning to design or evaluate a rigorous curriculum that meets the needs of all learners, there are a variety of steps that must be systematically addressed. This was meaningful and helpful to see these steps so clearly delineated, and it also raised many questions and concerns for me about our current District Spanish Curriculum. This process of designing units and a whole curriculum is best when completed collaboratively. According to Larry Ainsworth, author of Rigorous Curriculum Design, these steps include:
- Prioritizing the state academic content standards
- “Unwrapping” the standards to pinpoint the concepts students need to know and the skills they need to be able to do
- Determining the foundational understandings or “Big Ideas” that students need to discover on their own (these should be posed as statements or answers to the Essential Questions)
- Creating Essential Questions to focus instruction and assessment and to spark students’ interest in what they were about to learn
From here we can look at assessment, both formative and summative, creating engaging lessons for our learners and differentiating lessons and assessment for diverse learners.
In this course I produced a unit plan that can be found here En la escuela_Unit Plan_FINAL and a student tracking sheet for students to self-assess and track their progress on formative and summative assessments as we progress through the unit: Learning Target Progress Tracker.
One of the big take-aways for me from this course was that all we do should stem from Standards. This raised many challenges for me as I worked through the course, as our current District’s Spanish Power Standards are general and unmeasurable. They are the same for Spanish 1, 2, 3 and 4! I ask myself and my colleagues, how do we know if students are improving from one year to the next, and how do we know what to teach from one year to the next, if the standards remain the same all 4 years (side note, there are not any official standards for Spanish 4)?!
According to Ainsworth, Priority Standards must meet the three criteria of endurance (lasting beyond one course, life concepts and skills), leverage (interdisciplinary connections), and readiness for the next level of learning (prerequisite concepts and skills students need to enter a new grade level or course of study). These defining criteria further allowed me to evaluate LWSD’s Standards for Spanish and make specific criticisms and suggestions for improvement.
My main concern with the current Spanish Power Standards is that they do not provide specific verbage that defines to what degree students must be able to do or what they must know to move on to the next level of learning. They do not meet the readiness for next level of learning criteria set forth by Ainsworth because they do not show, in measurable language what “students must know and be able to do by the end of each school year in order to be prepared to enter the next grade level or course.” (p. 40) For example, Standard 1: Student engages in conversations, provides and obtains information, expresses feelings and emotions and exchanges opinions does not define to what level students must be able to do all these things. Students in Spanish 1 can do all these things, but on a more basic level, using single words, lists, memorized phrases and chunks of language, where Spanish 2 and 3 students can express these things in full sentences and begin to create original ideas and thoughts. Thus, more specificity of skill needs to be defined in the Standards to make them useful to teachers.
Due to weak standards, teachers in our district do not seem to follow much of what is considered by researchers to be sound practice for designing units and implementing curriculum. As Douglas Reeves states due to “the limitations of time and the extraordinary variety in learning backgrounds of students, teachers and leaders need focus and clarity in order to prepare their students for success. Power Standards help to provide that focus and clarity.” (p.45) However, I argue that often, it is not the standards that drive teaching in this country. Here our curricula is so strongly driven by publishers, and mostly school districts adopt curricula based on one textbook series and associated resources, as has happened in LWSD for the new Spanish Curriculum, Asi se Dice, adopted 4 years ago. In our case, the textbook drives what we teach, not the Standards. This is problematic for many reasons.
The first major problem with a curriculum driven by a textbook is that you are relying on one perspective to teach students. This limits the ability to address the needs of students with diverse learning styles, preferences, interests and cultures. We know from our studies in Multicultural Education and Moral Issues for a Democratic Society that textbooks often leave out essential perspectives of diverse groups, fail to engage learners, and impersonal and often lack real-world connections. Due to obvious financial constraints, school districts are only able to adopt new textbook series/curricula ever 7+ years or so, and often this gap is much wider and will always be lagging behind society’s trends and developments. Ainsworth is right to point out that a rigorous curriculum cannot depend solely on textbook resources. Even worse, many underfunded districts have no funding to purchase textbooks and have no set curricula. I can not count the number of times I have heard language teachers tell me that they have no set curricula off of which to work. They are simply responsible for making something up, based on their professional discretion.
I felt frustrated as I worked through this course because, without a strong foundation, how are we supposed to know where to go in our planning? Due to our District’s reliance on the textbook as a curriculum, instead of standards, we do not meet most of the components of a rigorous, comprehensive curriculum Ainsworth mentions on page 5. He says we must “raise the level of teaching so that students are prepared for the 21st century with skills that ‘drive knowledge economies: innovation, creativity, teamwork, problem solving, flexibility, adaptability, and a commitment to continuous learning.” Items on his list that I feel we have yet to achieve in our Spanish curriculum include:
- Specific learning outcomes students are to achieve from Spanish 1 through Spanish 4
- Vertical representation of those learning outcomes
- Emphasis on standards-based skills and content knowledge
- Explicit linkages to college and career readiness (especially conversation around proficiency level measured on a nationally recognized scale)
- Higher-level thinking skills (pure textbook focus mainly asks students to recall, identify and sometimes apply)
- Authentic, student-centered performance tasks that engage learners in applying concepts and skills to the real world (This one is key. Relying primarily, if not solely, on textbook resources is not authentic, nor student centered. Teaching a world language presents daily opportunities to put students at the center of the curriculum and draw on their personal expereinces to teach vocabulary and grammatical structures necessary to communicate about those expereinces.)
- Research-based effective teaching strategies
- Differentiation (There is a real push to delay students beginning world languages because they are “developmentally not ready,” however, research shows that time is the key factor in acquiring a new language-the earlier you begin and the longer your study, the better your chances are to reach a high proficiency and really use the language outside the classroom. However, teachers push for this because their current methodologies aren’t working for these students. Instead of adapting to meet the needs of these students, many teachers and trying to push struggling students out of the course. This is a significant concern for accessibility.
It became very clear to me that we need to do work in our District around the Spanish Power Standards, and as a Teacher Leader I decided it was time to step up, as this is one of those issues that won’t be addressed until we, the Spanish teachers, push for it. As of the time I am writing this reflection, I have emailed the District Curriculum Coordinator raising my concerns, but have yet to hear back. I am open and willing to forming a committee to look at the Standards and the Curriculum based on Ainsworth’s model. It is exciting to thing of the possibility of bringing teachers together in our district that for this specific course, seems fairly divided still.
This course has given me the specific knowledge and corresponding confidence to hopefully move forward as a Teacher Leader in my district to help refine our current Power Standards and thus curriculum and collaborative practices. I hope that I will find the opportunity to work will colleagues to address these issues and bring our Spanish classes closer to modern expectations for teaching and learning a rigorous curriculum.