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Developing a Mindset for Coordinating a Curriculum

Nearly halfway through my first year as curriculum coordinator at an intensive English program (IEP) in Southern Illinois, I've had the opportunity to view English language curriculum and instruction from multiple angles.  My first year requires me to teach through most of the levels of curriculum from beginners to advanced language learners.  I've been absorbing the ideas and opinions of my faculty colleagues, my administrative colleagues, and my students.  These viewpoints have helped me gain a better understanding of what the current curriculum is and what the current curriculum should be.

Positive Teacher-Learner Relationships 

A positive relationship between a teacher and a learner is more important than any curriculum.  This idea is definitely reinforced at where I work, and it is the key component for learner success.  I want my colleagues to know that I value this more than any adherence to the curriculum.  Besides, the curriculum should be designed for the students anyway.  It serves them.

Building positive relationships is more important in an English language learning environment because teachers face a more diverse student body (that can be quite different from them through age, ethnicity, gender, culture, ability, and expectations) compared to teachers in other disciplines.  There are many resources that discuss how to establish and develop these relationships.

A necessary component to building positive relationships is having and maintaining high expectations for students.  Once a teacher has low expectations for a student, it will negatively impact efforts towards successful learning.

Finally, if a teacher is unable to foster positive relationships, then the curriculum will more likely fail because it is the teacher's job to make the curriculum meaningful for each student. 

Outcomes and Assessment

There is a lot of apprehension about the changes I intend to make, but most if not all of these changes will make the teacher's job easier.  Firstly, I am in the process of reducing the amount of (primary) outcomes for each course to make it easier for students to understand the course goals and to make it easier for teachers to design instruction to help students achieve those goals. 

Following the backward design approach, student learning outcomes indirectly affect instruction.  However, they directly affect assessment.  The purpose of instruction is to help students perform well on their assessments, which in our case are exams and projects.

Figure from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/d6/Backward_Design_Model.gif

From what I have observed so far, it appears that testing will change more than instruction.  Most of the issues we have at my current job are good problems:  excellent teachers with an overabundance of student learning outcomes.  Revising the outcomes and our approach towards assessment will help the teachers and students understand the curriculum more clearly.  With the exception of a few people, the curriculum is bit of a haze.

Conclusion

Learners first!  To elaborate, the curriculum should attend to the learners' needs and the instructors should make sure that the curriculum is serving their needs and that the students understand the purpose of the curriculum, including the assessments and learning activities.  If it doesn't make sense to the students, then the program is just serving itself.  If the curriculum doesn't make sense to the teachers, then it is useless.



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