Thursday, December 17, 2015

Rocking & Rolling, Scoping & Sequencing

I'm all for introspection--I wouldn't keep up this blog if I didn't believe it was important--but teachers (especially high school teachers) need to be careful not to use introspection to justify a navel-gazing attitude.

Unfortunately, the system itself tends to promote self-absorption: the high school classroom is often regarded as the teacher's personal fiefdom, a domain dedicated to whatever subject and grade the teacher happens to be responsible for... and nothing more.

This is the 11th Grade English classroom--Your 10th Grade English currency is no good in here!

As ridiculous as this kind of attitude sounds, not even small Christian schools are immune to such a mentality.  I cringe when I think about the fact that both my 11th and 12th grade English teachers had The Great Gatsby in their curriculum, and yet nowhere along the way did I receive instruction on how to write a thesis statement.  Such overlaps and gaps are the result of a hyper-focus on one's own curriculum, to the exclusion of what's happening in other classrooms.  The fact is, even if an individual teacher's curriculum is brilliant, and that teacher a master educator, foundational learning goals are being compromised in the long-run if that teacher has not worked with his colleagues to ensure continuity and connection within the school's broader curriculum.  An education made up of standalone classes, no matter how amazing each class may be, is disjointed at best, and severely limiting at worst.  Some students may connect the dots themselves, transferring learning effortlessly, but it would be irresponsible to assume that students will just "get it."  We as teachers need to do our part in communicating with each other.

In this sense, CAJ's small campus is a tremendous blessing: due to limited classroom space, we share our classrooms.  At some point, we will have a prep period while a colleague is using our classroom.  Because of such scheduling quirks that have brought colleagues' classes into my classroom during my prep period, I have essentially audited English 9, English 10, Bible 11 and Psychology--four classes with which I now have an in-depth familiarity.

Moreover, we talk to each other.  Between divisional meetings and PLC meetings, we have a fairly good idea of what is happening in one another's classes.  Nobody is completely out of the loop and so our gaps and overlaps are not quite so egregious as repeating the same book in two different English classes, or missing a foundational skill entirely.
The task before us now is to formalize this--to record what we are doing in an intuitive way so that someone from the outside can easily see how each class builds on the ones before, prepares for the ones ahead, and complements the classes alongside in the process of achieving our mission statement.  This may be a new teacher stepping in to teach a class and trying to get a sense of what their kids have already learned, and what they need to learn, or it may be accreditors trying to ascertain how cohesive our overall curriculum is.  In any case, the process is vitally important, as it will expose any gaps and overlaps that are present, however small, and encourage us to think more deeply about how we can organically fit our classes together.

This process is known as "Scoping and Sequencing", and it has been a focus of the Research & Development Team (a committee composed of department heads and principals), and PLCs this year.  It has pretty much been in the back of my mind, constantly, since the start of the school-year.

Charting Scope & Sequence for English at CAJ has been a slow process, but immensely valuable and interesting.  Our English PLC spent two meetings deciding on the broad categories that we felt we needed to chart from elementary school all the way up through high school.  With the input of our Kindergarten teacher and 5th grade teacher (who joined us for one meeting, representing both ends of the elementary school spectrum), we settled on four categories: Reading, Writing, Speaking /Listening, and Language.  Since then, we have dedicated several meetings to creating sub-categories under each of these.
While we have not yet begun to fill in our chart, the process of setting up the categories has forced us to revisit and more clearly articulate our goals (which, in some cases, have differed from what is written in our curriculum maps), and to adopt common vocabulary as we refer to our goals.  Along the way, we have had lively conversations and even some constructive debate as to what is truly important for students to learn as they develop reading skills and writing skills, or how language instruction should happen.  Even just having these conversations has helped to focus us as a department, and unite us around a common goal.

It's a reminder that we do not--that we cannot--succeed on our own as teachers, that we are each a piece of a bigger puzzle.  I am excited to continue to develop our Scope & Sequence when we come back from Christmas vacation!

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