Keep Calm and Plan: 4 Tips To Help You Keep Your Cool When Creating Curriculum
The summer before I started teaching, I spoke with my new principal. Who was also my old principal, as he was my principal in high school. This at least made me feel slightly more comfortable asking him what he wanted me to teach in a course called On Your Own. He thought a moment, and then said: “You know what you do to live on your own? Teach them to do that.” Considering I still called my dad to explain basic financial things to me and I had eaten hummus and crackers for dinner the night before, I didn’t feel confident about my ability to teach anyone to live independently.
I wish I could tell you I had some awe-inspiring epiphany moments and created a brilliant class where everyone learned SO MUCH. What happened is that I cried a lot, I limped through two years teaching that class, and then happily passed it off to a colleague who has molded it into something spectacular. This is all to say designing a course from scratch is hard. Looking back, I have a lot of empathy for my first-year self. It wasn’t only On Your Own I had to design - it was every class I taught. I started teaching without any curriculum materials, and for two classes I still don't have any. I’ve made it up along the way.
This allows me to be responsive but it also allows me to be disorganized and lazy. I am embarrassed by how awful yoga felt this past semester. I relied heavily on pre-existing skills, my relationships with the kids, and guided meditations. It was haphazard at best and chaotic at worst. Anyways, it’s due for a refresh.
I am going to make my thinking visible as I redesign yoga. Hopefully, this saves you some work. Or just makes you feel less alone. I have my Google Drive folders set up so that I have a specific folder for yoga curriculum planning. I can go into more detail on that setup later, but I recommend you check out Pocketful of Primary - her tutorial on how to organize your Google Drive is excellent.
1. Give yourself time
When I started teaching, a mentor told me that it would take about 5 years to feel somewhat comfortable with what I was teaching. Not only have I found this to be true, but it also gave me a lot of comfort when things felt really hard. So now I pass this on to you - whatever you are doing, give yourself plenty of time.
2. Don't recreate the wheel
Don’t recreate the wheel is a cliche for a reason - it’s true. Depending on what subject you’re teaching, there are probably a lot of FREE curricular resources available. Find them and put them somewhere you won’t forget about them. For health and PE specifically, check out SHAPE America, Slow Chat Health, Catch.org, etc. If you have some money to work with, I HIGHLY recommend purchasing the Michigan Model for Health (MMH). Having access to MMH has been a game-changer for me.
3. Use multi-level planning to help you stay calm and in control
There are so many resources for curriculum planning out there. You can employ Universal Design for Learning (UDL), or you can use backward design or the formal Understanding by Design. There are probably lots more. Here’s what I am going to suggest - you figure out what works for you so that you have a long-term, medium-term, and short-term idea of where your course is going.
I do this by formulating semester goals (by the end of this class, students will be able to…) and then I roughly form some units, count the number of weeks in the semester and divide the number of weeks by the number of units. I create a Google Doc to keep track of all of this information. This gives me a rough idea of how the semester could play out. From there, I can create a weekly plan or theme and then get down to what this looks like day by day. I keep track of daily plans in a Google slide and share them with the students.
There are infinite ways to plan and organize, but this is something that’s worked for me in terms of very general course planning. We can get into the nitty gritty of it later. In the meantime, if you’re into organizing, check out Pocketful of Primary and Cal Newport for inspiration.
4. Have the students do the work
You are probably working too hard. There, I said it. Sometimes when I am planning a class, I have a moment where I realize that I am doing all the work learning the topic and I am not asking my students to learn, I am asking them to listen to me. Should you always be learning? Absolutely. But so should your kids, and your job is to teach them how to learn your subject area. One thing I am going to work much harder on this year is having my students prove to me that they have mastered whatever standard we are working on. They are going to give me evidence and justify WHY they have mastered it, much like I have to do every couple of years for my teacher evaluation.
What are your tips and tricks for creating a class from scratch?