Co-Creating Curriculum: How do we grow students capacity to do interesting work?

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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Before we launch into the theme of this newsletter, based on the automatic replies that shared you were away on vacation, here is the link to the previous newsletter: Reflecting Forward As We Head Back to School. This was devoted to starting the year signaling that we are committed to growing a culture with your students and your faculty. From an interview with Mike Anderson to a homework assignment for leader to a get to know you survey that might inspire your thinking, it was chock full of practical examples and ideas.

One additional suggestion shared from a Learning Personalized community member was this post by George Couros on how to demonstrate a sense of connectedness right from the first day. Please keep those ideas coming — as a community, we grow together because of your engagement, suggestions, and designs.

Focus for this newsletter: Co-Creating Curriculum
How do we grow students capacity to do interesting work? By giving them a seat at the design table to craft the focus in the first place. This newsletter is all about how to get students in the mix in shaping the “what” and the “how.”

What inspires me are posts like this one, “I let my seventh graders design my curriculum and they’re pretty good at it” where a seventh grade teacher describes how she decided to step away from creating a predictable experience for the students and instead have students immerse themselves in various options and then vote for what they find to be most intriguing.

Or this New York Times featured list of winning essays on how teenagers are making powerful connections to topics/texts the are given and the contemporary world. Contemporary topics such as xenophobia, climate change, extreme partisan divides, affirmative action, and masculinity.

Or this article from Getting Smart that offers 5 important questions when shaping a project that is designed to move beyond the walls of the classroom. A sneak peak into the article content:

Ask Brian Delgado, the lead teacher from High Tech High, ahead of time where he thought the project would lead, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be on a launch site in the middle of the Mojave Desert. But that’s where the project took him, because that’s where the students wanted to go. Along the way, his students reflected, self/peer assessed, reiterated, gained insight from community experts, and consulted additional resources to fulfill their initial challenge. “It’s real work that leads to real dialogue…which is real assessment.”

This newsletter features Sam Nelson, a middle school teacher in Vermont who has been prototyping with his students to co-create social studies curriculum. He is now in Year 3 of this endeavor and the play-by-play strategy is even clearer in his mind because of the feedback and results from his students. This video narrated by Sam describes how he created  a design and student community that shaped units together for the class.

Sam and I have been going back and forth to shape this experience so that it can be launched at the start of the year. Check out this blog post describing the launch for 2019-2020 written so that you can do a design launch inspired by this with your students! If you do, would love to see and hear how it worked.

Another important addition is his new Humanities partner Jeff who is totally on board with this approach to further the interdisciplinary connections, core content, and dispositions. I am thrilled that Sam, Jeff, and their students will check in with us throughout the year to talk about deep engagement as they work to build a unit design as well as implement it with others. Stay tuned!

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