NRC/GT: Assessing Instructional and Curricular Strategies

Fall 2003 Masthead


E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT

Designing instructional and curricular strategies requires thoughtful preparation and reflection. The ultimate goal remains prominent: Enhance and extend the learning and understanding of teachers and their students. This goal cannot be reached unless there is a judicious approach to reviewing curricula in response to questions such as:

  1. What do children need to know, understand, and do as a result of their involvement with curricula?
  2. To what extent are curricular objectives matched to the students’ academic diversity?
  3. Which instructional and curricular strategies will ratchet up the challenge level of curricula?

Modifying, differentiating, and enriching the curricula are three approaches to preparing responses to the questions above. Essentially, the first step in trying to differentiate curricula to meet students’ needs is to analyze its quality. Curriculum modification “involves the analysis, evaluation, and improvement of existing curriculum units and lesson plans. Modified units increase challenge, authenticity, and active learning to improve learning and achievement” (Burns et al., 2003, p. 18). To what extent do you practice curriculum modification? Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Modification

 

 
Agree
Disagree
 
1
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I modify units to increase challenge, authenticity, and active learning.
2
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I analyze objectives and determine if they focus on facts, concepts, or principles.
3
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I review my curriculum objectives and determine the extent to which they represent powerful objectives and big ideas.
4
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I analyze lessons or curriculum units and make decisions to eliminate or change teaching and learning activities.

 

If you already implement the modification strategies, then you should also consider employing curriculum differentiation strategies. Curriculum Differentiation is a

process teachers use to enhance learning to improve the match between the learner’s unique characteristics and various curriculum components. Differentiation involves making changes in the depth or breadth of student learning. Differentiation is enhanced with the use of appropriate classroom management, varied pedagogy, pretesting, flexible small groups, access to support personnel, and the availability of appropriate resources. (Burns et al., 2003, p. 33)

 
There are many ways to differentiate curriculum to ensure its relevance and complexity to students with varying needs. Four strategies are good starting points. Do you agree or disagree that the following are part of your instructional and curriculum repertoires?

Differentiation

 

 
Agree
Disagree
 
1
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I add breadth to the curriculum by providing different alternatives and choices.
2
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I use flexible grouping to meet the academic needs of all students.
3
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I use tiered assignments (i.e., multiple assignments) for the same objective and vary the complexity.
4
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I vary the depth, complexity, format, and nature of resources, activities, and assignments.

 

Enrichment consists of exposing students to a wide variety of topics, issues, and activities beyond the existing curriculum; using methods and materials to promote critical and creative thinking and investigative skills; and promoting investigative activities and artistic productions in which the learner assumes the role of a first-hand inquirer and a practicing professional. Do you agree or disagree with the use of the following?

Enrichment

 

 
Agree
Disagree
 
1
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I use interest groups in which students pursue individual or small group projects.
2
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I use real world problems as one way of making learning more meaningful.
3
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I assess students’ knowledge about a topic before beginning a new unit.
4
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I have students use advanced methodological skills (e.g., computer searches, survey techniques).

 

Self-Report Using the Implementation Strategies Questionnaire for Teachers

For purposes of this article, selected items from the Implementation Strategies Questionnaire for Teachers (Gubbins et al., 2002) followed the definitions of modification, differentiation, and enrichment. Selected items represent strategies that require the careful critique of existing curricular materials and resources; the adaptation of curricula in response to students’ needs, strengths, motivation, and learning styles; and the enhancement of learning opportunities or the replacement of mastered content.

Review your responses to the various instructional and curricular practices. If you agreed with several items related to modification, differentiation, and enrichment, perhaps you just need to continue your current approaches to teaching and learning if they have served you and your students well. If you disagreed with several strategies, think about different ways to incorporate the strategies in your curricula. Monitor your progress in using the strategies and reflect on the extent to which your learning and that of your students improves. How will practicing one or more strategies help you recognize and nurture the varied strengths and abilities of students? Assessing instructional and curricular strategies provides opportunities for all educators to revisit lessons, units, and curriculum materials. Think about strategies that are appropriate for you and your students and choose one or more to add to your repertoire.

Reference
Burns, D. E., Gubbins, E. J., Reis, S. M., Westberg, K. L., Dinnocenti, S. T., & Tieso, C. L. (2003). Applying gifted education classroom: Professional development module (PDM0209). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Gubbins, E. J., Westberg, K. L., Reis, S. M., Dinnocenti, S. T., Tieso, C. L., Muller, L. M., Park, S., Emerick, L. J., Maxfield, L. R., & Burns, D. E. (2002). Implementing a professional development model using gifted education strategies with all students (RM02172). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

 

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