“Curriculum” is a word that comes up a lot, both in our schools, and in our national conversations about education. But what, exactly, does it mean?
The textbooks, novels, essays, and primary documents that students read are all part of the curriculum. The math problems that students do on the board are part of the curriculum. The social lessons that students learn in the school community, and how they handle emotional responses are part of the curriculum. In short, the curriculum describes everything that the student learns, both directly and indirectly, in our schools.
In the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, we use a wide range of materials to create our curriculum. We both purchase curricula from a variety of publishers and develop our own materials in-house. Our overall curriculum is a constant work-in-progress. Instructors and administrators are constantly engaging with what we teach to make sure it is appropriate, effective, and inspiring for both our students and staff.
The Big Picture
There are numerous details about curriculum discussed below, and all are important. However, it is important to remember our overall goals for students as we design and implement curriculum. As we think about a student’s day, we commit to the following goals:
- Students will develop a love of learning.
- Students will become critical thinkers and problem solvers.
- Students will be creative, innovative, and resilient.
- Students will be empathetic, understanding, and respectful of others.
- Students will be self-reflective.
- Student voice will be at the center of our curriculum.
Part of the process of developing and delivering curriculum is making sure that it is aligned with state standards. The Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks outline the concepts, skills, and knowledge that each student is expected to master at each grade level. Our curriculum uses these standards as a starting point and a guide to help us craft the learning experience for our students. Click here to visit the Massachusetts Department of Education website to learn more about Massachusetts Standards.
There are a few key things to remember when looking at standards:
They cover what is considered most essential for each student, but not everything there is to learn in any given subject. Although our teachers must align to these standards, they are not limited by them.
Standards do not dictate how a teacher should teach.
When used appropriately, grade-level standards act as benchmarks and signposts for where an average student should be. However, every student is unique and has different needs. Some students will be “below grade-level” according to certain standards. That does not mean those students are less intelligent, capable, or creative than their peers. Instead, the standards help us focus on where a student might need extra support or a different approach.
Understanding By Design Framework
Curriculum needs to be organized. To do this, we use a curriculum framework called Understanding by Design (UbD). UbD uses the concept of “backward design” to create and define curriculum. In essence, backward design starts by looking at the end result. Rather than starting with the question, “What are my students going to do in this unit?” we begin with the question, “What are my students going to understand when this unit is finished?”
UbD has three main elements:
Stage 1: Identify desired results.
What are the big goals that this unit will address? What are the big ideas and understandings that students will gain? What are the essential questions that need to be answered? What will students be able to do when this is complete?
Stage 2: Determine acceptable evidence.
How will we know that students have learned these things? What work will show that students have gained deep and lasting understanding? What evidence will help teachers see where students have persistent misunderstandings?
Stage 3: Plan learning experiences and instruction.
What activities will students do to gain these understandings? What knowledge and skills must students master to demonstrate learning? What will need to be taught, and how should it be taught, to achieve desired results?
This process is used to clarify and streamline the curricula that our teachers are using in their classrooms. Teachers, departments, and grade-level teams also use this process to develop and refine new curriculum to be integrated into the schools.
Click here to learn more about the Understanding by Design Frameworks.
Curriculum in action in our schools
The information above gives a broad overview of how curriculum works in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. These overall concepts allow us to align our curriculum, Kindergarten to 12th grade.
Alignment means that each student is having a complete and cohesive experience. As they move from one grade to the next, and from one school to the next, their knowledge, skills, and understanding grows in a logical way. Alignment does not mean that every teacher is doing the exact same thing in the exact same way. Our goal is to have our teachers working together as a team while maintaining their creative freedom, passion, and individual voice.
To learn more about the specific curriculum at each of our three schools, click on the links below:
Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School Curriculum
Monument Valley Regional Middle School Curriculum
Monument Mountain Regional High School Curriculum