I’ve spent much of this school year designing writing curricula with primary, elementary, and middle school teachers in different schools throughout western New York. Our process is iterative: We don’t design to deliver units to students. We are prototyping, piloting, and redesigning as we go, in response to what we learn from our clients: The young writers we serve.
There is much to be gained by rethinking our roles as curriculum designers and the way we craft a year, a unit, and a single single lesson plan. We’re learning how to lean in, listen, and let students lead their own learning in classroom. As I’ve led curriculum design initiatives in schools, I’m working hard to do the same with teachers, and all of us are working harder to access and honor student voice. They need to be collaborators in our curriculum design processes. Using an iterative process is key.
Colleagues have been asking what our process looks like, and my short response is that it’s constantly evolving. In essence, we begin by investigating our students’ needs, our own needs, and the needs of others in our system. We define our collective why, and we articulate measurable standards that align to it. This is critical work, and when we rush it or overlook it entirely, we disengage teachers and kids. We also fail to meet the unique needs of the system. Establishing local standards holds us accountable for pursuing our core values. We drop them into unit and lesson plans, and over time, we determine how we are going to measure them as well.
Of course, there is much planning around what writers will produce, when, or for which audiences. Authenticity has been a huge topic of conversation in my world this year. Teachers are eager to know how to help writers of all ages produce real work for audiences that appreciate it. This is another post for a different day, but I’ve learned a lot, and I know that the teachers I support are sensitive to this need and passionate about pursuing this ideal.
We center our writing units around meaningful catalysts, dilemmas, concepts, or (yes) even texts. We align them to other learning that students are doing, and we define the long term and supporting learning targets that we will help students meet. In addition to exploring authenticity, teachers are beginning to distinguish documentation and assessment from testing and evaluation. We’re defining what type of assessment should happen when and who the results should inform.
And when we’re done, we wonder how well these plans will serve our students. So we pilot our units, test our assessment practices, and gather feedback from colleagues and students. We use this to improve the quality of our work and develop far more precise tools for intervention.
This entire process positions us as learners and our students as our teachers. This has been incredibly rewarding work. I’ve been studying and refining this approach for the last five years. It’s evolved significantly in that short time. The chart below provides a snapshot of what this work looks like. If you’re passionate about design, curriculum, or the relationship between making and writing (including curriculum writing), I hope you’ll reach out to me here. You can find me on Twitter at @angelastockman as well, or in the WNY Young Writers’ Studio Facebook group.