Curriculum Analysis

I am student teaching in four 7th grade Language Arts classes and one 7th grade Language Arts Lab class at Bryant Middle School in the Dearborn Public Schools District. Both classes are comprised of 7th grade students. The four Language Arts classes contain approximately 30 students each. The Language Arts Lab contains fifteen students. There is a mixture of genders and cultural backgrounds in these classes. Many students are native English speakers and most of the students who are not native English speakers do speak and understand English proficiently. The majority of English Language Learner students speak Arabic as their primary language, however one student’s primary language is Spanish. This student has a paraprofessional who works with him one-on-one during class. There are a few students in each class who are special needs. Accommodations are made for tests and assignments for these students. The Language Arts Lab class is designated for students who are at a low reading level. These students are also in the Language Arts class, so Lab is used to reinforce the 7th grade Language Arts curriculum and work on specific issues the students are having.

The mission of the Dearborn Public Schools District (DPSD) is “to educate all students to high academic standards within a safe, stimulating environment and ensure they are prepared to become productive citizens” (dearbornschools.org). The vision of DPSD contains several ideas, including the creation of a school community that “supports and builds on the strengths of each student, uses instructional practices, and inspires students to think critically and creatively and practice collaborative behaviors in school and community” (dearbornpublicschools.org). Additionally, DPSD’s vision statement asserts that school, staff, families and members of the community share the responsibility of education; teaching and learning environments should be continually changing to adapt to technology and research-based practices; students should achieve beyond government mandates and standards; the district should respect and appreciate its diversity; and the school community should integrate core values of honesty, responsibility, respect for self and others, integrity, courtesy, and citizenship (dearbornpublicschools.org). According to its website, DPSD has also set forth the following goals:

100% of our students will demonstrate mastery of the skills and knowledge needed to succeed on external measures of assessment as mandated by law, used by the district, or required for post-secondary education. 100% of our students will engage in educational experiences where they will demonstrate the use of critical thinking skills, creativity skills, and collaboration skills. (dearbornpublicschools.org)

The most recent Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) for the district is from the 2011-2012 school year. The district did not meet AYP in Reading or Mathematics proficiency that year. Since Michigan no longer reports AYP, the district’s new accountability measurement, the Michigan Schools Scorecard, designates DPSD as “yellow” and a score of 74 out of a possible 106 (or 60% – 70% of possible points) for the 2013-2014 year. In an August 2014 letter to parents, Bryant Middle School Principal Shannon Peterson noted that the school’s 2013 MEAP scores increased in reading, science and mathematics, but the school also continues to have a gap between the top 30% of its highest achieving students and the bottom 30% of its lowest achieving students across all tested subject areas (mathematics, reading, science, social studies and writing) (dearbornpublicschools.org).

The Dearborn Public Schools District has a District Strategic Plan for 2013-2016 that calls for improvement in five areas: Purpose and Direction, Governance and Leadership, Teaching and Assessing for Learning, Resources and Support Systems, and Commitment to Continuous Improvement (dearbornpublicschools.org). Bryant Middle School also has a School Improvement Plan for 2014-2015 with the goal of all students becoming proficient in reading, writing and math (dearbornpublicschools.org).

According to its website, the Dearborn Public Schools District believes that:

Parents and students should have the right to request attendance at a Dearborn Public School outside their designated boundary in order to promote and protect equal educational opportunity for all students, promote and protect the advantages of a culturally diverse community, and strengthen collaborative and cooperative efforts within and among the schools. (dearbornpublicschools.org)

The website states that students living within the attendance area of a school shall have first right to attend that school, but students are eligible to exercise a “School of Choice Option” one time at each educational level (dearbornpublicschools.org).

In addition to the school choice option, Dearborn Public School District also has some options for middle school students, such as music education; middle school math and reading support; advanced math; and classes in French, Arabic and Spanish language (dearbornpublicschools.org).

 Objectives and Content

The goals and objectives of my classroom curriculum are determined by the district’s curriculum for 7th grade Language Arts and are based on the Common Core Curriculum.

The district provides a pacing guide for each card marking period, or unit, that includes the title of the unit, Essential Questions, Literacy Skills and Techniques, Formative and Summative Assessments, Anchor Texts, Linking Texts, Writing Goals, Language Goals, Speaking and Listening Goals, and a Resources and Materials list. For example, the first unit is “Launching Elements of Narrative Literature.” At Bryant Middle School, all four 7th grade Language Arts teachers work together to plan a loose curriculum around this pacing guide. This allows for some uniformity among the 7th grade Language Arts education at Bryant, while also providing the teachers with freedom to develop their own lessons.

The goals and objectives of the classroom curriculum do align with the Common Core Curriculum, as the Common Core Standards are included in the pacing guide as well as the textbook used in class. In the classroom I am student teaching in, we post daily learning targets and literacy targets for students that are based on the Common Core Curriculum. We also post the appropriate Common Core Standards themselves, which helps ensure that our classroom curriculum stays aligned with these standards.

The DPSD curriculum and my classroom curriculum accommodate diverse learners in a few ways. The text that is used in class has adapted versions for English Language Learners. We also use a variety of adapted texts in class for students with reading difficulties. The text also offers a variety of additional resources for the unit. Some of these resources include vocabulary sheets, reviews, extra worksheets and links to audio files and video clips. These additional resources can be used by teachers to provide extra support to students with disabilities or ELL students. For example, some of the worksheets can be used as guided reading lessons to help a student with a learning disability better follow along while reading the text. These resources can also be used to create lesson plans and activities that incorporate the multiple intelligences. For example, by incorporating the audio or visual resources into a lesson, a teacher can promote the learning of students with visual or audio intelligences. The district’s pacing guide also incorporates some strategies that accommodate diverse learners, such as think-pair-share and literature circles.

As mentioned, the district Language Arts curriculum is organized into units, but all units contain the same Common Core-aligned strands: Reading Literature, Reading Information, Writing, Language, and Speaking/Listening. Reading Literature consists of fiction readings from the textbook (typically short stories, poems or plays). Reading Information consists of non-fiction readings from the textbook (such as persuasive or informative essays). Writing consists of a large writing assignment per unit (for example, the assignment for the first unit is a memoir). Language consists of vocabulary, spelling, and specific grammar lessons per unit. Lastly, Speaking/Listening consists of literature circles and think-pair-share activities.

Classroom Activities

The three main classroom activities that I have observed and led are reading literature, writing a memoir, and creating a vocabulary “Word Wall.”

Activity 1

At this early point in the semester, my students have read one short story, the memoir “Dirk the Protector” by Gary Paulsen. The students were given a two-page excerpt of the story and asked to read it to themselves and “talk to the text” (i.e., annotate the text). Next, students listened to an audio recording of Paulsen reading the entire story as they followed along in their textbooks. Students finally read the story to themselves a third time and wrote a short summary of what they read. Students in the Language Arts Lab encountered the story a fourth time, as they broke off into pairs and took turns reading the story aloud to each other.

This activity aligns with many of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts: Reading: Literature: Grade 7. It aligns specifically with the following standards:

CCSS ELA-Literacy RL.7.2: “Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of text; provide an objective summary of the text.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy RL.7.3: “ Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the character or plot.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy RL.7.4: “Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy RL.7.10: “By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in grades 6-8 complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.”

This activity does align with the Dearborn Public Schools District curriculum, as one goal of the first unit/card marking is to meet the four CCSS standards listed above. The curriculum also states that during the first unit/card marking, students will practice the skills of close reading, recognizing text features, summarizing, analyzing a piece of writing, building reading stamina, and identifying and supporting theme.

This activity aligns with current research, as it has students encounter the text several times, asks students to engage with the text by annotating it, and provides a multimodal experience as students listen and read the text both silently and aloud. This activity also meets the needs of diverse learners as it provides various ways to understand the text (through listening, reading, and speaking). An adapted version of the text (with some of the vocabulary changed to accommodate students with reading difficulties) was available for some students who needed it.

Lastly, technology was used in this activity with the audio recording of the story. Because the textbook has an online component with quizzes and extension materials, this could also be used to promote more technology use.

Activity 2

The second activity I have observed and led in my classroom is the writing of a memoir. Prior to reading “Dirk the Protector,” students watched a short video on memoirs. After reading the short memoir and completing a series of lessons on plot elements and story elements, students were asked to complete a creative pre-writing activity to identify people, experiences, and places that are significant to them. Next, students completed a graphic organizer to identify three events or experiences from their lives that might be appropriate for a memoir. Students selected one event from the three and completed a graphic organizer, identifying the story elements of their memoir idea. With this information from the graphic organizer, students wrote a rough draft and, with peer editing and the help of teachers, revised, edited and rewrote their memoirs.

This activity aligns with many of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts: Writing: Grade 7. It aligns specifically with the following standards:

CCSS ELA-Literacy W.7.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

CCSS ELA-Literacy W.7.3.A: “Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy W.7.3.B: “Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy W.7.3.C: “Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy W.7.3.D: “Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy W.7.3.E: “Prepare a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events.

CCSS ELA-Literacy W.7.4: “Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy W.7.5: “With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a news approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy W.7.10: “Write routinely over extended time frames (item for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

This activity does align with the Dearborn Public Schools District curriculum, as the focus of the first unit/card marking is on narrative literature and one of the curriculum goals is for students to meet many of the CCSS standards listed above. The district curriculum also explicitly states that during the first unit/card marking, 7th grade students will write a personal narrative, such as a memoir.

This activity aligns with current research as it focuses on the process of writing over the product. It also provides students with strategies for the writing process and focuses on collaboration. This activity also meets the needs of diverse learners as it allows students to work at their own pace and at their own level. The process-based approach to writing helped organize some of the students who have difficulty with writing and seemed to help bring them up to the level of more advanced writers. Writing a memoir also seemed to empower students, as they were the experts and sources of knowledge for their writing. Lastly, this activity employed some technology, as students used computers and paper for writing. I think technology could also be used to “publish” the memoirs on a class website or blog to further implement technology in the curriculum.

Activity 3

The last activity I observed was the creation of a vocabulary “Word Wall.” For each reading, the class identifies ten words that they do not know or whose meaning they are not sure of. The class is split into groups and each group is assigned a word. The group must define the word, create a sentence that uses the word in context, find a synonym for the word, and draw an image to illustrate the word. Each group writes their work on large slips of paper and puts these up on the “Word Wall.” The groups share their work and the “Word Wall” stays up for a week or two so that students can learn the vocabulary.

This activity aligns with many of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts: Language: Grade 7. It aligns specifically with the following standards:

CCSS ELA-Literacy: L.7.4: “Determine of clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 7 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy: L.7.4.A: “Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word’s position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy: L.7.4.C: “Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g.,dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.”

CCSS ELA-Literacy: L.7.6: “Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.”

This activity does align with the Dearborn Public Schools District curriculum, as a goal of the first unit/card marking curriculum is for students to build vocabulary and to meet the CCSS standards listed above.

This activity aligns with current research and also meets the needs of diverse learners as it allows students to work with their hands to create their “Word Wall” pieces. The illustration aspect of the activity appeals to visual learners and the group set-up promotes collaboration and the opportunity for students to teach each other. While this activity does not employ technology, I do see some potential opportunities to use technology for this assignment. My students used print reference books to find definitions and synonyms, but online sources could also be used. A digital “Word Wall” could also be created on the classroom blog, but might take away from the “hands on” appeal of the activity.

Assessment

The Dearborn Public Schools District curriculum provides for a variety of assessment strategies. The district’s curriculum guide offers a variety of formative and summative assessment strategy ideas for teachers for each card marking period. The formative assessments are: reading logs (a weekly log of extracurricular reading and a comprehension question), essay drafts, conferring with individual students, exit tickets, and quizzes. The summative assessments are: final draft of the essay/writing and end of unit assessment (typically a piece of writing).

My cooperating teacher has, so far, used exit tickets, reading logs, quizzes, conferring with individual students, and final draft of an essay to assess students. Because the State of Michigan uses the Common Core State Standards and because Dearborn Public Schools District bases their curriculum on CCSS, my cooperating teacher’s assessments are fully aligned with state standards.

Conclusion

This analysis of the state, district and classroom curriculum has been interesting and eye opening for me. After becoming more familiar with the Common Core State Standards for 7th grade English Language Arts, I better understand why my cooperating teacher sets up her own classroom curriculum in the way she does. She clearly has created her classroom curriculum so that she is accountable to both the state and district standards. Everything she does in her classroom aligns with these standards, including the assessment projects and activities that she has created on her own. This analysis has helped me to see how to go about creating a classroom curriculum that is both accountable to standards and is also true to one’s own teaching philosophy. Going forward, I will be sure to investigate the standards and curriculum of any school or district in which I work, using this analysis as my guide.