Over the several years, I’ve had the opportunity to begin designing emergent curriculum with several different groups of writing teachers. Last week, our journey continued as we began to embrace the opportunities and confront the challenges inherent in co-designing curriculum with young writers. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do: Design with kids, rather than ahead of them.

It’s not uncommon for people to assume that emergent curriculum is purely student-driven. It’s also not uncommon to assume that such curriculum is built on the interests of children and completely controlled by their whims, rather than evidence of their strengths and needs and a keen understanding of our shared learning targets.

These are reasonable assumptions for writing teachers to make in the age of standardized curriculum. They’re also inaccurate.

Designing emergent curriculum is not quite as simple as tossing our prefabricated maps or plans and just letting kids do whatever they want to do. As Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE explains, it’s not a free for all: “Emergent curriculum is not child directed. Rather it is child originated and teacher framed.”

Frames are different from maps or standardized programs, which promote linear planning and assessment. Frames allow teachers to control for quality learning inside of an environment that is responsive to the strengths, needs, and curiosities of the learner. Emergent curriculum is flexible, collaborative, and cyclical rather than linear. The decisions that teachers make are based on evidence gathered from pedagogical documentation: The study of how learning happens. This is very different than traditional curriculum planning, which prioritizes content, the mastery of discrete skills, and the achievement of outcomes, many of which are defined prior to learning and often based on outdated evidence.

Emergent learning is socially constructed. While teachers may define what lives at the center of a shared exploration, including the mode or genre under investigation and the essential questions and learning targets that writers will pursue. These elements are defined by practicing empathy, though. We begin by immersing ourselves in the lives of our students and not simply the standards we’re mandated to follow. We observe kids at work and play inside of carefully constructed environments, and we interview them about how their thinking, learning, and work is changing. We invite them to share the theories that are emerging as a result.

The visual above captures the cyclical nature of the emergent curriculum design process that I’ve been testing in some of the schools that I support. I plan to spend much of the next month unpacking it here every Tuesday and Thursday. I’ll share the tools I’ve designed, my stories from the road, and all of the stones I’ve caught in my shoes along the way. This is experimental work. I’m still learning, and so are the teachers that I support. I’m excited to share progress with you, though. I hope you’ll challenge the ideas I share and add your own as well.

If you’re looking for more information and inspiration, know that I plan to link out to every emergent curriculum thought leader I’ve been stalking for the last several years as well. We Americans have much to learn from educators in other countries. I’m grateful that technology gives us the means to try.



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