Dedication: Making Any Curriculum Work in Your Classroom

by Deana Swanson

Dedicated teachers should be able to make just about any curriculum work well for their students. It may be challenging, frustrating, and take some extra time, but the rewards are well worth it. Your students will be able to comprehend the material in a more meaningful way, their grades will improve, and you will feel more effective as a teacher.

The first and probably most common problem is that the material is too complex and over the students’ heads. Their earlier years haven’t prepared them for it, or perhaps it’s just a very progressive curriculum. Sometimes the concepts in the curriculum aren’t that advanced, but the examples in the book are complicated or confusing to students. Because it is still your job to help them to comprehend the material, you do have a few options in this case.

  1. Read the teacher’s guide and see if there are suggested chapters you may omit as the publisher has deemed them “optional.” I’ve used pre-algebra textbooks that recommend alternatives such as skipping the chapters on base ten numbers, computer programming basics, and beginning calculus concepts.
  2. Teach the concepts as clearly as you can and find alternative ways of presenting them. I’ve developed and used my own examples of material in my lessons, found more basic worksheets for recognizing and diagramming verbals, typed out worksheets, and made study guides or slideshows to help students understand the textbook material in a more palatable way.

The second issue is often that the concepts presented in the texts are within the students’ grasps, but the homework assignments are too tedious and repetitive. In this case, students get bogged down. The first page or so of the exercises or homework they do well, but then they get brain fatigue and begin to get careless. If several of your students are spending hours on homework, that is probably the case. I asked a more experienced teacher a question about this once, and got some great advice: just have students do the odd numbered problems.

A third issue may be that students lack the ability to sift through major concepts, details, and effects. They aren’t sure exactly what the important facts are, and what are just supporting facts or information. Often just focusing on main concepts can really help students comprehend the material in a more organized way. Study guides, outlines, and writing primary concepts on the board will help those students, although they should be encouraged to be able to do this on their own over time as they follow your modeling.

The last issue is that sometimes the material is just too easy for the students (or for some of the students), and they tend to not try as hard because an A is almost effortlessly achieved. In these cases, the material needs to be supplemented, and students need to be challenged. There are several ways to do this.

  1. Find the weak spots in the curriculum or textbooks and add to it. If an English curriculum is strong on grammar content but weak in other areas, assign short daily writing or journaling assignments, focusing on a variety of styles. If it’s weak in literature, find additional short stories, trade books, or anthologies you could use to supplement it.
  2. If you finish an entire book and have time left over the last month or so of school, find a unit study and delve into a more specific topic. You can add science experiments, a building or writing project, or anything else that you or your students want to learn more about.
  3. Challenge students to do more. If students are required to have three variables for a science fair project, challenge them to have five.

If the textbook requires a four-page written report and forty notecards, challenge them to have five or more pages and fifty notecards. I once had an eighth grader turn in an eighteen-page research paper after I issued this challenge.

Teachers have the responsibility to teach their students the chosen material, even in situations where it might not be ideal. Dedicated teachers will work diligently to find ways to adapt the textbook contents to better fit the needs of their students, whether it be breaking it down into manageable portions, presenting the material in different ways, or challenging students to achieve more. It can be done, and your students will benefit greatly from it!

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CONTRIBUTOR: Deana Swanson

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