When I first started teaching high school chemistry all I had was a textbook and a mentor. I was instructed to follow my mentor’s lesson plans and just do what he did. We used the textbook as gospel. We taught exactly what was in the textbook, in the exact order it was written, with very few exceptions. We labored the students with worksheets and problems from the textbook. Even our tests were copied straight from the resources provided. After a few years of textbook adoptions and curriculum changes as a result it became clear to me that the textbook was almighty and whatever it says, goes.
At the time I began teaching in Kirkwood I was enrolled in a class called Curriculum Analysis and Design. This is where I learned about “Backwards Design” by Wiggins and McTighe. This helped me begin to write learning goals for each of my units. These goals were my way of informing students of what they were going to learn, how they were going to learn it, and exactly how they were going to be evaluated. After many years of revising, our sixth-grade science curriculum is now sound, created through backwards design and supported by various textbooks and resources.
We use our GLEs to write learning goals and accompanying scoring guides. We evaluate students using these scoring guides in a standards based environment. We use the learning goals to write our assessments. Our assessments drove us to adopt resources and textbooks. These resources and textbooks led us to develop daily laboratories and activities to support student learning. The process of developing, revising, and communicating the curriculum never ends for us. With the support of our science facilitator and compassionate sixth grade science teachers we have created an excellent curriculum and have impacted student learning and achievement.
Every day I use the learning goals we created as a “look for” in my classroom. A look for is a guiding statement that focuses my attention on what students are learning each day. I carry a class roster with the unit’s learning goals at the top with me every day. I take diagnostic data on my students, give feedback, and document that information into an un-weighted category in my grade book. This way I can keep track of student progress, help students who need it, and challenge those who have already met the standard. I evaluate each student using the scoring guide designed for that goal. This allows me to ensure that each student is achieving the learning goals set forth by our curriculum and by the state of Missouri. Since this data correlates with the GLEs, we can also correlate performance to our end-of-unit exams, and further onto the MAP assessment.
As Stephen Covey wrote in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “to begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.” The learning goals are my destination and my students know that. The design of the curriculum has made me a better teacher by allowing me to ensure that every day my lesson has a goal. Students are being evaluated and are receiving feedback every class based on their performance on a measurable objective. Learning goals are a great way to keep me organized and to keep students focused on achievement each day. I’m happy to say that the students in my classroom are better off today because of these changes and I’m excited about where we are headed as a 6th grade science department.
Check out my website to see what we do (http://www.kirkwoodschools.org/faculty/mcgeech/), and soon you can check out our 6th grade science Moodle page to see all of our curriculum materials.