Align Your Curriculum and Save Your Students

Curriculum alignment fills the gaps of learning from one year to the next.

Visit your local hair salon, and you will find independent contractors renting chair space under one roof. There may be times scissors or spray bottles may be borrowed; perhaps a cutting or styling technique is shared. For the most part, what happens in one stylist’s booth does not directly affect what happens in another booth.

A comparison could be made between a hair salon and a school. Without proper curriculum alignment, the teaching taking place in a fourth-grade classroom may not directly impact the learning in a fifth-grade classroom. Teachers who prefer the idea of being an independent contractor may not see an issue, but they don’t realize the extra work they are putting on themselves or the loss of learning for their students.

Curriculum alignment versus incoherent curriculum

In the simplest terms, curriculum alignment fills the gaps of learning from one year to the next. The Glossary for Education Reform refers to an incoherent curriculum as an academic program where teachers independently decide what students will learn.

While this may sound ideal to the teacher who favors all his dinosaur-related thematic units, the result is often either repetition of introductory content over the years, nonsequential learning or missing information for students.

Horizontal alignment

Within a large high school, it would be quite feasible to have a dozen science teachers all working with the same grade level of students. Approaches to presenting material, distributing homework and developing lessons may vary among this team of teachers, but the opportunity to receive the same base education should be the same for all students regardless of the teacher.

This is why frequent collaboration is so necessary. Whether a teacher is in his or her probationary first year or is a veteran teacher nearing retirement, everyone has valuable insight to share.

Horizontal curriculum alignment allows teachers to closely align what is taught, share ideas and quite possibly develop common formative assessments, which can lead to deeper levels of knowledge for teachers in regards to how much content is being mastered by their classes.

Horizontal curriculum alignment does not have to result in a cookie-cutter model of teaching, where everyone instructs the same way. But it can:

  • Lead to more communication
  • Ensure that key concepts are emphasized in every classroom
  • Allow every student the same quality education regardless of the teacher

Vertical alignment

Vertical alignment, organizing curriculum from one grade level or content area to the next, can be more of a challenge. Bringing together the entire history department of a high school not only could be a scheduling nightmare, but it also requires a large amount of open-mindedness.

Ideally, learning objectives would flow ceaselessly from a level of introduction through mastery, with each teacher building upon the work of the previous teacher without duplication or inconsistency of what has been taught.

Because proper vertical alignment requires digging into curriculum from several levels, it can be a challenge to develop a plan that can lead to success.

Alignment the Texas way

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recognized the need for further professional development in the area of curriculum alignment and created a module for successful alignment implementation. Within this module, the board urges curriculum teams to look for areas of duplication and to focus on the ultimate goal of college and career readiness for every student.

This could save a large amount of classroom time for the previously mentioned history department. Cutting out repetition or frivolous content gives teachers what they are always looking for — more time.

Vertical alignment can often force teachers to come to terms with removing outdated lessons that have been classroom staples, which can lead to defensive feelings or self-doubt. Like students, curriculum should be viewed as a living organism that should always be changing and evolving. Educators must be willing to change and evolve as well.

Curriculum alignment does not require a district-wide initiative. Educators have the power within their own school to ensure the learning is connected from one teacher to another. The first step is to open the lines of communication with colleagues and make collaboration a regular part of the learning culture. Not only will education improve for students, but teaching also will become easier and more meaningful.

Dr. Jason Perez is the head principal at Heritage Trails Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma, as well as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.

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