Monday, August 24, 2009

Curriculum? I barely knew 'um!

As always, there's so much to write about: Chapters 6 and 7 of Never work harder than your students (which I finished reading on the 2nd week of summer vacation); summer PD courses (of which there were several, none of them in Spanish, I'm afraid); metablogging; how to fix public education and pay for the changes in one fell swoop; beginning-of-year preparations; developments in SW-PBS; a new professional learning team at our school which I'm super-excited about. (Excited enough, apparently, to channel my inner 14-year-old girl. "Super-excited?") And as always, my time would be better spent doing these things than writing about doing them. But I'm actually working on curriculum today, so it's on my mind.

I'm on year 4 of my project to revamp the elementary and middle school curriculum. Thus far my efforts have largely been confined to actual classroom activities--trying to find the kind of activities that younger students like to do, engage well with, and learn lots from. There have been a lot of experiments with songs, TPR storytelling, word-picture matching, and the ubiquitous color-the-picture handouts. The first 2 have had great success; the third, limited success, and the less said about the last, the better.

But one of the things I'm learning as I go to professional development and read books and think really hard about what's supposed to be happening in classes is that, more important than individual activities, is a sort of road map of activities, a curriculum guide. "Know where your students are going," Robyn Jackson might gently admonish me. In fact, I can hear her saying it in my head, right now.

So I've been trying to puzzle that out. Where are my elementary students going? I wrote one blog post on this recently, which sort of shaped out some of the outer limits. The conclusion was that my elementary program should have students interested in Spanish, excited about learning more Spanish, aware of the ways that Spanish class can tie into what they're learning in their core classes, and a little more linguistically aware. (Okay, so it doesn't say all of that. Not in so many words.) But within the context of having an exploratory program, each year the students should be more aware of the Spanish-speaking world and their growing place in it. They should be able to pick up a new linguistic context, a few more communicative tasks, maybe a new song. They maybe should learn a little bit about Spanish in the US, and a little bit about other Spanish-speaking countries. By the time they middle school, maybe they should know something about Spanish artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, the movers and shakers of the mundo hispano.

Today I'm going to try and define these things concretely--at least at the "content expectations" level. I have some unit plans which need revisiting--in fact, since the NNELL conference last May, I know I need to revisit all of my unit plans, and working in a lot more culture a lot more explicitly is definitely on the to-do list, too. By the end of today (tomorrow, at the latest--the day is getting on), I'd like to have the following: Content Expectations K-2, Content Expectations 3-4, Content Expectations 5-7. (8th Grade Content Expectations will be the same as High School Spanish I content expectations; this year, I understand, it will be the same class.) I would also like to have 2 or 3 unit outlines begun for each level, at the "big ideas / learning objectives" level.

About the CE's themselves: I've been working with a set of EXTREMELY outdated content expectations. The Spanish instructor before me (and remember: in my school, there's only one of us at a time. We're like half a Sith order, only a good deal less evil. (For those of you who got the reference without clicking on the link: welcome to the Dark Side!)) had to make up some expectations before the State released the draft version of their standards, so she was working blind. As a result, the existing expectations are 1.) few in number; 2.) generic in all the wrong places; 3.) specific in ways that limit learning; 4.) focused too much on unquantifiable student behaviors. So I'm taking the state Standards and Benchmarks document and keeping all the standards that mesh with what I know about K-7 learning behavior. (Not a lot, but more every year.) After that, the task will be to make sure they all get taught and learned and assessed in 30-35 class sessions of 1 hour.

My prediction is this: in June of next year, I will have taught elementary and middle school students more Spanish than last year. I will have come nowhere close to teaching and assessing all the expectations on my list.

UPDATE: As I begin actually working on them, I notice myself actively de-emphasizing writing-based communication, both presentational and conversational. This is because a.) I thing spoken communication comes before written / read communication, and reading comes before writing and b.) I only get 30 hours a year with these students; and have no real mechanism for giving homework. These may ultimately prove to be faulty assumptions.

UPDATE 2:  As I continue to work on it, and have advanced far enough into the process that I can start looking at articulation concerns, I'm deciding this:  The main difference between kindergarten Spanish and 3rd grade Spanish is going to be less about the standards and benchmarks applied.  It's mostly going to be about the different contexts.  We're going to be doing most of the same things, but the higher grades are going to be doing MORE of it.

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