Notes From the Board Table: Wilton’s four-step curriculum process
A month or so ago I commented on a new math course, Accelerated Math 6, that the Board of Education (BOE) approved for addition to the Middlebrook curriculum. Last week, the Board approved another new course — this one for the high school, Mathematical Modeling –I, that will fill a gap which has existed for students who take Algebra-II, but may not be ready to move on to the next step in the sequence, Analysis-2.
In each case, course proposals came to the board after months of careful planning and analysis by a team of teachers, administrators, students, external experts and BOE members. The same is true with other course proposals that have been approved by the board in recent months, including AP Spanish Literature, IT Help Desk, Web Design, Culinary Arts, and STEM courses at Middlebrook and the high school.
But how is the need for a new course identified? And what is the process for ensuring the recommended course and curriculum modification are the right solutions to address that need?
During last Thursday’s board meeting, the community got a peek behind the curriculum development curtain, when Assistant Superintendent Chuck Smith and Gina Dignon, K-8 curriculum coordinator for English Language Arts and Humanities, presented a detailed overview of the review process. The administrators laid out the process and schedule for ensuring our curriculum not only meets the high standards of the Wilton community and serves our students well but that it also aligns with Common Core requirements, and that courses are effective and follow a logical sequential order.
When Dr. Smith joined our district three years ago, one of the first things he did was develop a timeline for a “systematic and thoughtful” review of all curriculum areas.
“We can’t work on everything at once,” he noted, so each year a different subject is tackled. This approach began in 2014-15 with a review of our English language arts curriculum, followed by science, social studies, world language, and math.
For each curriculum area, a four-step process is followed:
- Steering Committee. A committee is formed with representation from all areas of the district — teachers, students, administrators. In some instances, an external consultant may be enlisted to offer “best practices” guidance. The steering committee begins its work by dissecting current curriculum practices and identifying strengths and weaknesses. The committee examines current trends and innovations in professional development that might be appropriate for our district. Sometimes the steering committee commissions surveys to gauge student, teacher and parent attitudes about how learning is currently being delivered. After this work is completed, which can take several months, the steering committee develops a “program philosophy,” which serves as the roadmap for developing and refining the curriculum.
For example, our English language arts philosophy cites eight literacy goals for students:
- They demonstrate independence.
- They build strong content knowledge.
- They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose and discipline.
- They comprehend.
- They critique.
- They value evidence.
- They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
- They come to understand other perspectives and cultures.
These goals, which you will note are not necessarily specific to the study of English language arts, are at the heart of review process. We have posted the program philosophy for each curriculum area on our website. I would encourage you to spend a few minutes reviewing each document, since it details the “why,” “what” and “how” of curriculum development in the Wilton public schools.
- Articulation and Development. The next step is for the committee to define K-12 program goals that align with the program philosophy. Grade level objectives are set. Courses are put in proper sequential order. Assessments are developed and resource materials are reviewed and selected.
- Implementation. With all these important issues addressed, it’s time to implement the revised curriculum strategy. This generally includes developing pilot programs to test new concepts and approaches before widespread implementation.
- Evaluation. This of course is a critical step. Teachers are provided with ongoing coaching and assessment to ensure curriculum concepts are being delivered in a highly effective manner. Student achievement is also assessed, usually via test performance.
What I find most compelling about this process is the obvious enthusiasm our teachers and administrators have when discussing curriculum issues. The process allows us to develop a truly “Wilton-based” curriculum, meaning we can customize our classroom learning to ensure a rigorous and individualized experience for each student.
We spend so much time dealing with our budget and whatever the issue du jour might be, that it’s incredibly rewarding to delve into the critical area of curriculum development. It’s how learning happens in our district, and at the end of the day, it’s what makes Wilton Public Schools and the great kids we turn out so amazing.