October 2012 • Volume 16 • Number 2 • Page 8
Executive Director's Note
William D. Waidelich, Executive Director
A Challenging Curriculum
This month in Middle Ground I continue the question from my previous columns: "Do you believe?" By now I hope you have renewed your focus on This We Believe by dedicating yourself to becoming the best middle grades educator you can be and an active advocate for all young adolescents.
By the time you read this column, you will have been in school for several months. You have successfully delivered a successful back-to-school night, have been engaged in effective team meetings, and your relationships with your students are strong because of your advisory program. You have settled down from the "high" of the first days of the new school year and are in the routine of the first grading period. You are "covering" your curriculum by moving through each day's planned activities, but are you sure your students are learning?
This month I will explore how curriculum is challenging—one of the 16 research-based characteristics of This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents—in the Association for Middle Level Education's vision for successful schools for 10- to 15-year-olds.
A challenging curriculum is the primary vehicle for achieving the goals and objectives of a school. So what does challenging mean? Are all students in your school held to high expectations? How is the regular, integrated use of technology by students infused in your classroom experiences? Do your students have regular opportunities to participate in independent study, small group work, special interest enrichment experiences, and apprenticeships? Are all students able to participate in a variety of enrichment and exploratory activities? Are integrative learning experiences provided for all students?
A fellow educator and colleague of mine, Lowell Hedges, taught me how to create a challenging curriculum and how to translate a curriculum guide into a lesson plan that resulted in student learning. He helped me develop techniques that converted a curriculum document that seemed static and sterile to problem-solving lesson plans that engaged my students and contributed to their success. As I developed my lessons, Dr. Hedges helped me recognize that covering the content and learning the content were not synonymous. He expected learning to take place. One of his favorite expressions was, "Cats cover but teachers teach." Having students grapple with and master advanced concepts and skills requires teachers to stretch themselves, moving well beyond "covering material."
This quote from page 17 of This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents describes the unique nature of a challenging curriculum in middle level education: "In developmentally responsive middle grades schools, curriculum encompasses every planned aspect of the educational program. It includes not only the basic classes designed to advance skills and knowledge but also school-wide services and programs such as guidance, clubs and interest groups, music and drama productions, student government, service activities, and sports."
Given the developmental diversity present in every middle grades classroom, how are you gearing your curriculum to each student's level of understanding? I challenge you like Dr. Hedges challenged me. Be the best teacher you can be by adapting your curriculum to challenge and provide continuous progress for each and every student.
Again, I challenge you to make the 2012–2013 school year the year you renew your focus on This We Believe. If you believe, you will be the educator who provides a challenging curriculum rather than the educator that "covers" the material. More information can be found at www.amle.org/twb.
Copyright © 2012 Assocation for Middle Level Education