Whether you're planning your curriculum over a vacation (I hope not!) or for next week, or you're just thinking about how to create a curriculum, making it your own can be tricky. It's important to respect the course of study and program planned for your specific class or grade level, but following a script without adding your own ideas can make it dry and boring for your students. Teaching is a personal profession, so here are a few guidelines on how to make a curriculum your own.
Read and Reflect
The first step in learning how to create a curriculum that suits your style is to read through the current one. You need to get an idea of the scope of the entire unit, and looking at a single lesson won't help. For example, when I was teaching 6th grade English, part of the curriculum involved teaching fiction writing. There were many resources included in the plan, such as a short story we were to read, documents for analyzing the story, and exercises to help students to understand fiction and fiction writing. I felt it was a comprehensive program, but after reading it, I challenged myself with these questions:
- What can I add to this to make it better?
- How can I tailor this to my group of kids by addressing their needs or making it more relevant to their lives?
- What is a personal touch I can add to enrich this program and make it more interesting to teach?
- What might be potentially boring to teach?
- How can I add a creative art project into this lesson?
- What mistakes have I made in the past when interpreting curriculum and how can I avoid repeating them?
By reflecting on these questions, I came up with some great ways to make the lessons unique, such as showing movie trailers to help exemplify the aspect of conflict in fiction and discussing a novel we read earlier in the year that had resonated with my students.
These changes made the curriculum more relevant to my students, and I was using a tool I knew would help them understand the content—and it worked! But I wouldn't have known how to enhance the curriculum if I hadn't read the program of study and made sure I understood it.
Become a Master Thief
We tell our students not to steal. But for my classroom practice, I steal all the time! My teaching style is a patchwork quilt of all the teachers I've observed over the years—it's what makes me a better teacher. So I do the same thing with curriculum by stealing good ideas from other teachers' curricula and making it mine.
For example, when teaching a unit, I often observe colleagues to see how they do it. While we're required to teach the same thing, no two teachers go about it the same way. Once I watched a colleague teach a unit on fractions, and I saw an amazing lesson introducing adding fractions with unlike denominators. She used the curriculum as a starting point but then added in other ideas, a video, and a chart that was unique to her class, using a separate resource to gather ideas that helped her teach it more clearly. She still followed the curriculum's basic structure, but she built on it to make it more fun for her students.
I went back over my own lesson and thought, "Man, that was booooring!" So I took some of her ideas and put them to use. Not only was it a more effective lesson, but it felt more fun. I enjoyed more of what I was teaching. It freed up my thinking about fractions and I ended up developing a couple lessons that I was able to share with the teacher I had stolen from!
Make Sure You're on Track
While it's important to make sure your lessons are unique, you shouldn't stray too far from the beaten path. If everyone in your grade level is teaching something entirely different from you, your students will progress to the next grade unprepared. Stick to the curriculum expectations and check in with your grade level or department colleagues, instructional coaches, or administrators to ensure you're on track. Adding to the curriculum is important and can be fun, but be sure to keep in mind what is required.
Get Personal to Inspire Students
The most important piece of advice I can give is to add a dash of "you." Part of what makes you a good teacher is that you live an interesting life. You have passions, hobbies, and other interests, or even another career outside of the classroom that you can use in lessons.
If you're teaching the American Revolution, include some facts you read about in your free time. When studying estuaries in science class, bring up an article from The New York Times about a new discovery about saltwater and freshwater that you found fascinating. Bring your passion, excitement, and enjoyment of the world into your lessons. By making the curriculum more of a personal expression, you'll capture the attention and interest of your students more effectively.
You don't need to feel shackled if you've just read over the next section of the language arts curriculum and feel it's unimaginative and stale. Now that you know how to create a curriculum that's tailored to your class and style, instead of dragging your students through a dreary, dreadful unit, you can add in something you know will make it fun and compelling for everyone.