Too Long, Too Hard: Making Your Curriculum Work for Your Class

Textbooks are written with a variety of approaches. Some texts are too light and don’t teach enough content, while others have more information than you can teach successfully in a year. What do you do when the book is too long or too hard? Amy offers advice for guiding students through the curriculum without skipping what they need to learn.

All right. Let’s go ahead and look at some things you can do if the curriculum is too hard, seems too difficult for your class.

You can make a study guide. Some curriculum, especially if you get to content subjects, they introduce a lot of content, but what’s actually tested on is a much smaller amount. By giving them something that they can study from, that can give them the opportunity to focus in on what they actually maybe need to know.

Some of these things, whether or not you do it for your entire class, …can also be a good thing to do for your struggling student. I have some students that even in some subjects where I don’t have a study guide for the entire class, I give one to my students who struggle to narrow it down for them. It takes a little work to make it up in the first place, but once you have it, you have it. Then it works for the following years.

Skipping content. We all know if you get to the end of the year and you didn’t get done, then you didn’t get done. What happened? You didn’t pick what you’re going to skip. You simply skipped the last chapter. Here’s another time where it’s important to look at your curriculum and know what you have because some curricula is set up with the intent that you won’t finish or with the intent that you might not finish. Others intend that you will finish, so look at it carefully. Sometimes the number of lessons in your curriculum can give that hint. If they give you 180 or 185 lessons, they probably know you are not going to finish because most schools don’t even have that many days in the classroom. Sometimes it’s better to look ahead and say, “I’m not going to finish. There’s just no way we’re going to finish this.” Maybe it’s a class you run every year, and you say, “Well, I always come short one or two weeks. We just never get done. Our school has some other activities. We have field trips and things. There’s just no way I can do that. I can’t put two lessons in one because it’s already that heavy of a load for them.”

Sometimes it’s better to look ahead and say, “Well, I think this chapter would be a better one to skip,” or, “I think there’s some additional lessons over here that aren’t that necessary.” This can allow you to slow down, take some time to cement concepts that really need to be there.

We found this in our math curriculum, that there are some concepts that are in there that are very difficult, and I personally think that they are beyond the student’s developmental level anyway, but we found that they’re not on the test. And so we skip them, and it doesn’t matter. It’s okay. That’s one where you should work closely with the other teachers. Find out what they need to know in the following year. Look closely at your tests. Make sure that you’re not going to be skipping something that they now need to learn both steps [of] in the next class. I would say, do that with some careful research. I think it’s really important to have a lot of communication with the teacher before and after you in a lot of this.

Incorporating your own drill is another thing. If things seem too difficult—and this is probably more in math, maybe in a few of the lower level phonics, perhaps English and some of the parts of speech and all of that. It can also be—you get to older grades and you’re learning all the bones, all the muscles—incorporate drill into it, something that they say together and they repeat every time.

If you hand off to your middle elementary graders—sometimes even high schoolers can be this way—if you just hand off a sheet to them with a whole list of bones and muscles that they need to learn and have memorized, there are going to be some of them that come back and don’t know them very well. Whereas if you begin class every day and you go over them once, it can take a minute or two of your time, and they can be much more prepared. And you might find out that suddenly their test grades really come up and it was actually just a lack of some memorization.

With something like parts of speech or math concepts, it can really impact their entire understanding and progress. Sometimes for older students, if we’re talking math or English and they don’t know those, sometimes you need to simply put it in their lap and try to motivate them to work out them themselves. It might be beyond the stage where you’re going to do that drill in your class.

Another thing you can do is simply do an alternate section. I’m thinking of this maybe more in a content subject. I’m not sure that you’re going to want to do this in… well, I’m not sure what this would look like in math, or even in English sometimes. Although English could be true if your curriculum has creative writing or some other things thrown in with it that you could take out and simply do other activities that are a little different.

This past year, I wasn’t able to finish my history curriculum because of other things that we had done. I took a few of the chapters and we did a short project in class on that section. When we got to modern-day Africa, rather than studying the six countries that they had in entirety with the entire class, I split the class up. I had them do a little poster in pairs on that. We didn’t have a test. I think I graded them on the poster, I actually can’t quite remember. And then we moved on. It allowed us to touch on modern-day Africa, not entirely skip it, but not take the entire, I don’t know, two weeks or something that was usually allotted to it.

Sometimes your students need a break, and if you can throw something like that in for a couple of days, let them know like, “We’re skipping a chapter, and we’re going to do this instead,” and they think it’s something fun, maybe something they can do in a group, you might be able to boost their morale a little bit in that as well.

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