To cover or uncover?

frustrated teen student long hair adhd

The standards are here. They’ve been here. For many of us, the common core standards are coming, and the weight of their impact on our daily practice is overwhelming. Have you ever sat down, really, with that three-ring binder stuffed full of standards documentation, and read the content we’re expecting students to master in each content area, at each grade level? Do it. It’s staggering.

Teachers are presented with state standards, district curriculum maps, pacing guides, textbooks and long-term planning templates and charged with the task of covering the specified content in the most ideal time frame possible.

Is it good to have a plan? Yes, and pacing guides and curriculum maps can be fine tools to help us wrap our heads around content expectations. However, I don’t think any one of us assumes that every child will learn x amount of content given the same number of days or weeks of the year to learn it. Nothing irks me more than hearing teachers describe how they’re expected to teach lesson 2.3 on Monday, 2.4 on Tuesday, 2.5 on Wednesday, and following a day of brief review, test and move on. And as the content becomes more specialized, who’s to say that every child should learn each and every standard? Are we keeping the focus on individual student needs?

Karl Fisch adds his commentary on this topic in his recent post, What should students know and be able to do?

My bias, however, is that too often in schools we err too much on the side of content. I once heard Cris Tovani, a wonderful reading teacher in Colorado, say,

Yeah, as a teacher I can cover my curriculum. I can get to that finish line. But often when I get to that finish line and look around, I’m all by myself.

That’s even more true today, when we live in a rapidly changing, information abundant world. We live in exponential times. There’s just too much content out there.

So… should schools strive to cover content? Or rather to UNCOVER content? To allow our children to explore, question, and dig deeper into overarching concepts and apply skills learned in real-world, contextual situations?

Simply covering the content does not ensure mastery. It does not promote learning. It does not unleash the learner.

Uncovering content takes the learner on a journey from absolute knowledge, where the student plays a passive role, accepting knowledge as either right or wrong, taking all cues from the teacher….to contextual knowledge, where the learner’s knowledge is built upon evidence in context, and the student’s role is to think through problems and integrate/apply knowledge at a formal operational level. Uncovering content asks students to assume no knowledge is sure knowledge. It asks the student to embrace questioning, testing of ideas, reasoning, forming judgments, and interpretation.

So how can administrators encourage teachers to uncover, rather than cover, content? Here are some thoughts:

1. When writing , revising, and evaluating curriculum, make it a team effort. Include teachers from all disciplines and have them work together to build the foundations. Look for the logical opportunities for integration of disciplines to allow for students to make meaningful connections with the content.

2. Don’t dictate that teachers abide by strict pacing guides. Help teachers develop long-range plans that are comprehensive enough to ensure the curricular needs are met, but flexible enough to support student learners. This includes providing both additional time and intervention for struggling learners as well as compacting of the curriculum and enrichment for students who are capable of moving beyond proficiency in those areas.

3. Make assessments awesome. As we’re rethinking curriculum, we can’t forget about assessment (or instruction, for that matter). Help teachers develop formative, authentic, comprehensive, real-world assessments to evaluate student learning. Be sure self  and peer-evaluation components are included.

4. Stay afloat. Don’t drown in a sea of standards, anchors, and bullets. Consider the big picture, and encourage your teachers to encourage the development of collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Help them be literate. Teachers and administrators need to model for children that the process of true learning is never-ending, reflective, and powerful.

Go out and uncover something wonderful today!

Many thanks to my grad professor, Dr. Elias, who always leads us in stimulating conversations and whose words helped spark this post.

8 Replies to “To cover or uncover?”

  1. Great post Lyn! I have moved from a high school teacher to an elementary teacher/administrator and I love the way teachers at my school have the flexibility to focus on kids rather than curriculum. Very rarely are teachers stressed about getting through the curriculum – they know this is a harmful goal to have so they differentiate the standards so it works for their class. In my final year as a high school teacher, I got in a heated debate with my department head because I refused to have my classes write the school’s standardized final exam. My classes struggled in some units so we spent extra time there and never got through the curriculum – and then I was supposed to test them on stuff that was never covered? I love the concept of “uncovering”… may just use that with the staff!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Chris! I can understand the frustration you had as a teacher. High school teachers, especially, are asked to cover so much content, in so much detail… sometimes I wonder how much true learning is actually occurring in those classes as opposed to temporary knowledge acquisition and regurgitation of facts! It’s nice to hear you recognized your students had a need and provided for that.
      P.S. I’m glad my blog didn’t think you were spam. 🙂

  2. great idea! I am struggling with this. I can add the extra but it seems like I feel like I still need to include that rote on top! Therefore, wasting time???

    1. Thanks for your comments, Courtney! I agree it is a time-intensive process to incorporate more holistic, meaningful approaches to student learning than just designing lessons that address the standards. There may be value in rote memorization of multiplication facts, for example, because automaticity of the facts streamlines other mathematical processes, but we can work to design more powerful learning experiences for students to accompany acquisition of basic skills. Have you thought about ways of making “the extras” part of what you do on a daily basis in an attempt to make learning a more streamlined process?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.