Like curriculum developers in other core disciplines, English Language Arts course writers should be experts in their field. They should have a strong command of the conventions of language, understand the complexities of communication, and possess sound insights regarding literature. But these skills are only the starting point for curriculum development. Exceptional course writers are able to take their knowledge base and create practical, powerful lessons and assessments that support instructors and prepare students from all educational and socioeconomic backgrounds for success beyond the classroom.
In order to raise the bar and create outstanding curriculum, here are six things every ELA course writer must know:
- Know how modern students communicate
A foundational skill of English Language Arts instruction is effective communication. In order to teach students to fully and powerfully harness the English language, ELA course writers need to know what tools students use to share their ideas. When texting became a popular medium, educators found they needed to address “text-speak” in academic writing, and sought to teach students the difference between formal and informal writing. How will current trends such as emoticons and 140-character tweets impact students’ writing capabilities? ELA course designers need to be mindful of the changes in communication styles in order to successfully teach students to use different media in powerful and appropriate ways.
- Know how to address the digital divide
Educators often comment that kids know more than adults when it comes to technology, and sometimes that is true. However, course writers must be aware of the “digital divide,” or the wide discrepancy in technical knowledge between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. An ELA course writer who includes technology within the curriculum must include assessment alternatives or learning support so that all students can fully participate in an activity, regardless of previous experience with technology.
- Know how to connect literature to students’ personal lives
We want students to compare literature to their own lives, but too often we try to force connections in ways that are inauthentic or soften the impact of the piece. For example, when we prepare students to read a story dealing with racial inequality, we might prompt them to “think of a time you were treated unfairly.” But students might not have the life experiences to adequately relate to racism. Comparing racial injustice and, say, being chosen last for a team sport could seriously undermine the power of a story. It’s okay to point out how some stories might be very different from modern students’ lives, and teach them to consider literature with a compassionate and open mind.
- Know the short-term and long-term goals
ELA course writers need to have both the small details and the big picture in mind when preparing courses. What are the overarching themes, skills, or knowledge base we are trying build within our students, and how do the reading assignments, writing tasks, and assessments we include in the curriculum support these end goals? These should be the guiding questions ELA course writers work toward while still addressing the specific needs of each standard. By keeping the core goals in mind, course developers can make sure every there are no “filler” lessons and that every task is meaningful.
- Know what teachers need in order to be successful
Course writers should keep in mind how a lesson or assessment will unfold in the classroom. The practical application should always be at the forefront of curriculum development. ELA writers need to perceive the needs of instructors to execute lessons to the fullest effect. Will teachers need rubrics for writing assignments, rationales for multiple-choice questions, or guiding questions for texts? Writers who keep the needs of instructors in mind facilitate a better learning experience for students.
- Know that students learn differently
Anyone working with students can tell you that each student learns differently; the idea that different students learn best through different types of interactions with the learning material is widely accepted in the world of education. But when it comes to creating curriculum, do we put what we know into practice? Curriculum writers should strive to provide opportunities for students to experience different media and to have access to multiple assessment techniques. ELA writers who provide multiple opportunities for students to experience a lesson or show what they learned will be building a curriculum that will better reach students with diverse learning styles.
What other things do ELA curriculum writers need to know to create exceptional curriculum?
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