Monthly Archives: March 2018

How Do We Write Curriculum?

This month, we decided to discuss a bit about the very core of our programs – our curriculum. When designing the curriculum for a given program, we focus on specific objectives, usually within subject areas. At the same time, we work to include a bit of fun and interest-learning in our materials!

Here’s some information about our process as told by Sahar, our Program and Marketing Coordinator:

Based on your experience so far, could you give me a brief overview of how T4A writes curriculum?

I can definitely speak to how we’ve written the curriculum for the 10th Grade MCAS tutorial and for the 9th Grade Humanities tutorial; those are the programs and subjects where Lena and I have had the most influence in shaping curriculum.

All of the Tutors for All curriculum packets—which consist of a student packet (where the student does their own work) and a tutor packet (which contains an answer key)—are accompanied by a lesson plan, which tutors either fill out on their own or have filled out for them beforehand. They are also part of a larger unit, which consists of anywhere between three and five lessons. For instance, the 10th Grade ELA curriculum is broken down into four major units—Poetry, Expository Nonfiction, Narrative, and Drama & Mythology—which correspond to the four major genres of literature that appear on the ELA MCAS test, and which students work on for about three or four weeks each.

Structurally speaking, besides our standard Do Now and Exit Ticket practices, we incorporate an Intro to New Material, Guided Practice questions and Independent Practice questions for the 10th grade curriculum. This allows students to have an even balance of instruction and independent work, and gradually give them more agency and mastery over the material as the session goes on. We based this structure on the worksheets provided by our JumpMath curriculum–the one we use for math tutorial in students between grades 5 and 9.

For 9th Grade Humanities, the structure is a little different. Each lesson comprises two parts: Independent Reading, where students read from a book of their choosing and choose a couple of questions from a list to write reader responses, and Direct Instruction, where students directly hone their skills in word recognition, vocabulary-building, and their ability to think comprehensively and critically about a given text.

How has this year’s curriculum changed from last year? Do you tailor it each semester depending on current students’ needs?

Rather than tailoring the entire curriculum each semester based on current student needs, we updated the 10th grade curriculum instead to match the types of questions they’re more likely to see on their upcoming MCAS test. Before Spring 2017, 10th grade students were working with a huge list of questions that reached back as early as the 2000s. (Actually, some of the questions from the MCAS I took, in 2007, were there!)  We also gave more structure to the lessons based on feedback we directly fielded from our Lead Tutors, so rather than having a long packet of questions, we decided to structure our packets into three major parts.

Thanks to the work I’ve done with Codman Academy’s 9th Grade Team, I’ve been able to match the texts that students work with in Direct Instruction to the units that they’re studying in their Humanities class. While our first unit is simply getting students used to tutorial and loving reading (again), our other three units work with the history of the Haitian Revolution, South African Apartheid, and Colonialism in Puerto Rico, with an overall theme of Justice vs. Injustice. So it’s not so much that we’ve tailored each lesson to individual student need in these cases, but more that we want to give them a comprehensive understanding of the things they need to know both for their classes and for the tests they’ll need to take in order to graduate.

Both Lin Manuel-Miranda and Trevor Noah were mentioned as important parts of the curriculum. Could you tell me about how you’ve integrated them and their work into the program?

Yes!! This is my favorite. As I mentioned earlier, two of the major topics our students are working with in Humanities tutorial are South African Apartheid and Colonialism in Puerto Rico. Based on some previous work and current suggestions that Mark put on the table, we were able to incorporate Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime into our Apartheid unit, as well as a couple of scenes from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and the song “Almost Like Praying” into our Puerto Rico unit. I think the students really enjoy getting to have music in their lessons (which is almost a staple for anything Puerto Rican), and also getting a little surprised to read such honest and contemporary accounts of the materials they’re studying.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I highly doubt either of them is going to read this, but on the off chance that they do—I just wanted to personally thank Lin-Manuel and Trevor for expressing their work, their ideas, and their personalities in a way that is artful and worth using in the classroom. It’s particularly fun for me as someone who is both mixed-race and Puerto Rican to get to see some of the issues I’ve grappled with in our lessons, and to give students the space to think about them, and relate to them, as real, lived experiences. Lena and I have been having a blast coming up with questions for this material, but we wouldn’t be able to do it if they hadn’t written it in the first place.