by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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Curriculum mapping is a hot topic for educators these days. Curriculum mapping focuses on aligning the Common Core State Standards to teachers’ instructional practices and students’ learning experiences horizontally within grade levels and vertically across multiple grade levels. The Common Core is built to set national guidelines and expectations for students in every grade level across the nation in terms of what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. However, the Common Core is not a curriculum or a set of instructional practices, and thus it is left to each school district to decide how the Common Core standards will be addressed and implemented in their local setting. This is where curriculum mapping comes into the picture, as it is the roadmap for how the standards are implemented. However, despite many years of curriculum mapping, the process remains very confusing for educators. Of particular concern for educators is the fear that the Common Core and curriculum mapping will force all teachers to teach the same thing, on the same day, and in the same way. But this is not the case and so in our work with educators on curriculum mapping, we quell this fear through a simple analogy: curriculum mapping is like the Food Network competition show, Cake Wars.
Cake Wars is a baking competition where teams of bakers face off to win $10,000 by making a creative, whimsical, and large cake based on a particular theme. In the competition, the bakers are provided certain expectations or guidelines that they must follow in order to be qualified to win the competition. These guidelines or expectations include a particular theme they must follow (e.g. Star Wars, Willy Wonka), a particular ingredient that must be incorporated (e.g. Jelly Bellies, avocados), a time frame to finish in, and moving the finished cake from their work station to a 3’ x 3’ square table for judging. How the bakers incorporate all of these guidelines is completely up to their own creativity, skills, and interests. The creativity and innovation booms in this competition and the judges are provided outstanding and delicious cakes, each of which is creatively individualized within the competition’s guidelines.
The Cake Wars analogy is a perfect pairing for school districts’ curriculum mapping processes. Just as in the Cake Wars’ competition, while there are a set of guidelines and expectations based off the Common Core that need to be followed, the way in which educators get there is completely up to each individual. During curriculum mapping, grade levels teams create a common set of expectations or guidelines through four items:
1) Essential skills (the things students need to know and be able to do by the end of the grade)
2) Power standards (the Common Core standards that align to these essential skills)
3) Progression of skills (the implementation timeline of the essential skills during the year)
4) Unit plans of learning based on these essential skills
These common aspects of the mapping are used as expectations for all teachers within the grade level, similar to the guidelines set forth for baking teams in Cake Wars (e.g., the theme, the ingredients). After these guidelines and expectations are set across a grade level, each individual teacher is then able to ‘bake their cake’ in any manner they want! They can choose their ingredients (e.g., texts, materials, labs, resources), their baking methods (e.g., direct instruction, small groups, dialogue sessions), and their decorations (e.g. assessments, essays, projects). Each baker in Cake Wars and each teacher in a school chooses these aspects of the cakes based on their previous experiences, preferred methods, level of understanding, and best skills. So despite the set of common guidelines and expectations, the judges - or in this case the students - are provided a colorful array of creativity, innovation, individualization, and differentiation.
So while educators may fear that the Common Core and curriculum mapping will set down a blueprint that they cannot stray from, when they use the Cake Wars analogy they can see the incredible differences that will arise within the common guidelines. They will recognize that their individuality will not be lost in a blanket of absolutes, and that they can ‘bake their cake’ any way they see fit, just as long as it all fits within the guidelines. When it comes to curriculum mapping, you really can have your cake and eat it too!