Saturday, May 28, 2011

Negotiating Curriculum with High School Students

A few nights ago, I was reading a started draft of an AP Govt and Politics course by Chris Kenny (@chriskenny233). Chris plans to teach the course next year and had placed the started curriculum document on line via Google Docs. As the dir. of curriculum,  I find it helpful to work with curriculum in a method that allows cor conversation about the work as it is being designed and written.  Google docs allows us that access. Where Chris and I work, we have been talking (along with lots of others) about negotiating curriculum with students. Chris's immediate supervisor, Scott Klepesch (@shklepesch) has been encouraging teachers to open the first month of school, not with a rush into content, but rather to take time to work with students in designing aspects of the course.   I also have been surfacing the idea with administrators, teachers, and Board members  that curriculum is not the printed document, but rather complicated conversation

While reading and responding to the document, I raised a question about why Chris had decided to  weigh certain aspects of students' products (class discussion, test response, essay, projects) as he had and asked would it not be possible for students to weigh in on this and perhaps have different options for assessment values depending on the student, context, etc.  When I posed the question I did not know that 13601579 was a high school student who had signed up for the course next year.  So it was thrilling to see Chris pose a related question to the student who had been chatting with him alongside the curriculum document (chat is a function inside google docs). 

Here's part of the chat (reprinted with permission):
kenny.christopher: Guys, what do you think about grading policy? What would you like to see?
13601579: I like the grading policy I think.
kenny.christopher: Why's that?
13601579: It's similar to history this year.
12602454 has left.
kenny.christopher: Well, I guess part of me feels like you will be getting that kind of conditioning with (name of a teacher) AND you got it with me this year... so would it make feel comfortable to move away from it? Or maybe just deemphasize it?
13601579: with history I feel like the tests are a big part so its important to work towards those which is good studying tactic
hmmm possibly
maybe increase the amount that quizzes and projects count for
kenny.christopher: I don't disagree, but I feel like there's a different quality to the kind of content we're learning... the baseline information is there, but so much of it is going to be student-directed as far as assigned topics and whatnot
13601579: like 50 30 20
yes I like the 20% class discussion thing
kenny.christopher: Yeah, I was thinking that... 50% seems fair. I just want them to count enough that there's incentive.
13601579: we do that with (name of teacher) and its a helpful review
the class discussion online I mean
kenny.christopher: Yeah, I was going to say the blog will function on that level.
13601579: good review and summary. But also good analysis when youre discussing with people who are into it
kenny.christopher: Yeah, it's almost liek you're writing an FRQ more regularly, though informally...
13601579: yes. the FRQs are shorter for AP gov than for history right?
I'm asking I don't know at all
kenny.christopher: I'll be honest, I'm not sure. I have to do some research on that. I'm positive there is no DBQ...
13601579: yea because you can see the questions online but what you can't see are sample student responses which can be helpful
kenny.christopher: College Board has to have some of that...
I know they float around for US History all the time
13601579: yes but you have to get it as a teacher I think
I can't get it is what I mean
kenny.christopher: Yeah, I know, I'm thinking I'll get a hold of it this summer and then give it to you guys next year...
I feel like I don't have to beat writing over your heads so much next year, esp. kids who just came off having (name of a teacher) all year
13601579: for sure. I still want a summer assignment though
kenny.christopher: You'll be getting a lot of that from him as we move along too... he told me he thinks that kids who are taking both are going to do really well on the history exam... i have to agree...
Haha, I dunno, man.
13601579: yea I know your stance
During the next couple of days, I mentioned to a few other high school teachers what Chris was doing and they started brainstorming how they might do similar work with students prior to class beginning.  Another history teacher said, "Just think of how the kids will enter the class in September if they have had a say it what we will be doing!"  I shared a few ways other teachers negotiate curriculum throughout the year with students using in class time to discuss options, using social media to surface ideas and serve as a place for commentary and also reminded them that Scott had indicated this was a good way to start the year.

All of this negotiating has me thinking not from the distance of a curriculum director lodged in central office, but more so as a teacher.  I have committed to co-teaching a senior year English course with another teacher/instructional coach, John Madden for next year.  I know that the richness of conversations John and I will be having as we try to figure how to do an "unschool" course inside a traditional high school is something that will need to be informed by student and parent voices.

Hmm.  Time to get thinking about how to connect.

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