As educators have come to realize that differentiation is an essential component of effective instruction, it’s become increasingly difficult for districts to settle upon a fixed curriculum that’s both engaging and leveled to each student’s individual needs.
Rather than relying on a static curricula built on textbooks and worksheets, many districts are taking a more dynamic approach to teaching students math and reading standards and essential real world skills. At eSpark, we’ve found that students learn best when they’re engaged, challenged, and given the tools they need to direct their own learning. No single tool or fixed curricula can accomplish these goals for every student. Thankfully, the vast ecosystem of teacher, expert, and developer-made digital content means that districts can continuously refresh their curriculum to reflect a variety of perspectives and learning styles.
Dynamic vs. Static Curriculum
Imagine a second grade curriculum at two different schools. School A uses a dynamic, curated curriculum. School B uses a standard, packaged curriculum that is augmented with a few teacher created resources. Students at both schools study life in other countries and are currently focused on Haiti. On the day the teacher in School A introduces the unit, she invites students to take out their iPads and explore the app “My Haiti: Valdo, A Child's Story.” Students tap around the app, and learn how Valdo’s life in Haiti is different and similar to theirs. They have the opportunity to learn words in Creole and see pictures of a typical village near Port-au-Prince. As the unit progresses, students are exposed to different perspectives of Haiti through different types of resources. Students watch videos of Creole dancers and listen to audio books of popular Haitian stories. When the unit is over, students have nuanced understanding of Haitian life and culture.
Students in School B also learn about Haiti. They read in their textbooks about the capital and the official languages of the country. They discuss with each other what life might be like in a country that is unfamiliar to them. Halfway through the unit, many students have disengaged from their learning. High performing students are bored by the low reading level of their textbook, while English language learners are frustrated by the worksheets their teacher asks the whole class to complete. The students at School B are being taught the same facts and figures as students at School A, but they aren’t absorbing nearly as much as their peers. The static curricula at School B pales in comparison to the digital resources used by School A. While School A can quickly update the apps and videos deployed to student devices to reflect current events or new research about Haitian history, school B might be stuck with out of date textbooks for at least a few years.
Students in today’s classrooms can have the world at their fingertips. At home, some students can learn about their interests at lighting fast speeds. Within minutes, they can pull up a blog about their favorite hockey team, watch a movie trailer, and chat with a friend across the world. While this freedom of information can broaden student perspectives, worksheets and textbooks can seem obsolete and unnecessary when all the information a student needs to answer a question is just a click away.
Meeting the Needs of Every Type of Learner
A curated curriculum means that every student is given the resources they need to direct his or her own learning and master a new standard. Recent changes to state and federal legislation mean that in order to master key math and ELA standards, students must be able to explain their thinking when solving a problem or answering a question.
Metacognition and critical thinking can’t be taught through worksheets or with a single instructional strategy. Acknowledging that their students must learn that there are a variety of ways to arrive at the same conclusion, many educators using a static curriculum struggle to find the time and resources to demonstrate every way of approaching a problem. The nature of the curated curriculum means that students are exposed to content created by a number of experts, educators, and app developers and therefore learn from multiple perspectives within one lesson. When students are met on their level with a variety of engaging resources, they’re more likely to have strong academic outcomes and develop a long standing love of learning.