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Colorado's District Sample Curriculum Project Background

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Origins of Colorado's District Sample Curriculum Project

In March of 2012, the Colorado Department of Education hosted a one-day summit on the new Colorado Academic Standards (CAS) that garnered feedback from participants regarding the “next steps” for successful standards implementation. Participants expressed a strong desire for the state to assist districts in developing sample standards-based curriculum resources. At the same time, the state received a letter from the leadership of CASSA (Colorado Association of School Superintendents and Senior Administrators) requesting the state’s assistance in developing sample curriculum that districts could choose to use.

These grass-roots requests supplied the initial foundation and support for CDE to begin working with educators to create sample course-at-a-glance and unit overview templates; optional tools that districts can use when developing their curriculum. The templates are customizable and designed to allow users the flexibility to adapt for local contexts and needs. CDE content specialists will support educator’s use of these tools to develop curriculum samples. All samples will be available on this website for voluntary usage by Colorado districts. The aim is to build district capacity to engage in quality instructional design and to work with educators to create an array of samples available to support districts and standards implementation.

Requirements for Colorado’s district curriculum “samples”

Responding to these requests for curriculum support required we frame the creation of materials within the unique context of Colorado schools and standards. Colorado’s sample curriculum template honors the local-control nature of Colorado’s districts by providing the same level of flexibility for districts with no curricula as it does for districts utilizing the work of Wiggins and McTighe, Robert Marzano, Larry Ainsworth, etc. Likewise, the template communicates equally well the concepts and content of all ten content areas within the CAS by focusing attention on the intellectual depth, the transfer of knowledge, and the 21st century skills required by the new standards.

Creation of Colorado’s curriculum overview template

To create the curriculum overview template, the content specialist team in the Office of Standards and Instructional Support initially consulted internationally respected concept-based curriculum developer Dr. Lynn Erickson. Working with Dr. Erickson, the team produced a template designed to address the requirements of the CAS and the needs of Colorado’s districts/schools. Here is the template with explanations of its course-at-a-glance and unit overview sections. We also have a crosswalk document that compares template vocabulary with other popular curriculum frameworks. Refinement of the template occurred throughout the summer and fall of 2012, with over one thousand Colorado educators having the opportunity to discuss and offer feedback. The template was then used to create more than 700 curriculum overviews.

Creation of Colorado’s instructional unit template

As voluntary resources, the curriculum overviews represent:

  • Translations of the Colorado Academic Standards into unit overviews for all (10) content areas
  • Possibilities for sequencing grade-level and content-specific standards across courses/years
  • Foundations for exploring standards-based unit and lesson-plan development

This final bullet indicated the next phase of the Project and the next step in curriculum support: the creation of (full) instructional units based on the curriculum overviews. Following the same development process as the overview template, the team of content specialists gathered feedback from educators across the state regarding the necessary components and desired design elements of a unit template. Initial drafts of the template were taken to the annual CASE (Colorado Association of School Executives) meeting and to educator-gatherings across the state. Refinement of the template occurred throughout the summer and early fall of 2013. The template was then used to create more than 100 instructional unit samples.

Project Phases

Phase I - Curriculum Overview Samples (Fall 2012)

During the 1st phase of the Project, Colorado educators worked together in grade level and content area teams to engage in process of translating Colorado Academic Standards (CAS) into curriculum overview samples. Highlights of the 1st phase:

  • 500+ educators participated in curriculum-creation workshops
  • 47 of 64 Colorado counties represented
  • 70+ of 178 Colorado school districts represented
  • 700+ curriculum overviews produced in all content areas (k-12)

Process Guide for translating CAS into curriculum overviews released to help districts replicate workshop processes

Phase II - (Area) Refining Workshops (Spring 2013)

During the 2nd phase of the Project, the Standards and Instructional Support (SIS) team conducted area workshops across the state to get feedback on the Project, the curriculum overview samples, and the curriculum support tools still needed in the state. Highlights of the 2nd phase:

  • Hundreds of educators (in 5 BOCES across the state) participated in two-day workshops to help refine and provide feedback on the 700+ unit overview samples
  • Area-workshop participants engaged in process of modifying existing samples and creating new unit overviews for district/school use

Standards and Instructional Support content specialists finalized and posted website support tools to help educators better understand and use curriculum overview samples

Phase III - Instructional Unit Samples (Fall 2013-Winter 2015)

During the 3rd phase of the Project, the Standards and Instructional Support (SIS) team traveled across Colorado to work with educators to build units based on select curriculum overview samples. In three-day workshops, district-teams of general education, special education, ELL, and gifted and talented educators/specialists worked together to plan for the instruction of all students. Highlights of the 3rd phase:

  • 100 + units produced-one unit in each grade k-12 for mathematics, reading, writing, and communicating, science, social studies, comprehensive health, visual arts, drama/theatre, dance, and music
  • Each unit includes learning experiences, resource suggestions, differentiation options, and assessment ideas
  • 68 districts represented

Phase IV - Instructional Strategies Focus (Summer 2016-Present)

To launch the 4th phase of the Project, the Standards and Instructional Support (SIS) team reconvened past project participants and invited new participants to attend the All Students, All Standards Instructional Strategies Institute in June of 2016. The overall purpose of this institute was focused on creating and delivering engaging lessons illustrating the instructional shifts necessary to meet the requirements of mastery-based standards. Participants served as:

  • Activators by using reflective feedback processes to inform decisions around instructional planning 

  • Collaborators by working within disciplines and across disciplines to determine and develop examples of high impact instructional practice unique to each discipline

  • Experts by providing feedback on tools and resources under development and using the resources with students to refine before inclusion in the Phase IV resource bank

True to the intent and goals of the DSCP, this work developed for teachers, by teachers will be finalized and shared across the state beginning in late Fall of the 2016-2017 school year. Once these resources are published, there will be an announcement on the main Standards and Instructional Support team webpage.

Colorado Teachers and District Participation

Unprecedented Voluntary Participation

To date, educators from 116 Colorado school districts have been involved in all three phases of Colorado’s District Sample Curriculum Project; authoring and/or refining the curriculum overviews and instructional unit samples. Across the state, thousands of Colorado educators have voluntarily given their time and offered their expertise in service to a project designed to support all teachers in the transition to the new Colorado Academic Standards. Representing the full cross-section and diversity of the state, teachers from districts with less than one hundred students worked alongside teachers from Colorado’s largest metropolitan-area districts to produce the curriculum overviews in the first phase of the Project. Then, in the Project’s third phase, districts assembled 6-teacher teams comprised of general education, special education, ELL, and gifted and talented educators/specialists to create full instructional units based on the overviews. Again, the response was overwhelming, with rural, urban, mountain, and suburban districts all putting together curriculum-writing teams.

Participant Feedback

As we progress through the phases of the Project, we are also collecting feedback from the curriculum authors and educators across the state. Here’s a sample of what people are saying…

About the Project and the Colorado Academic Standards…

  • My perceptions of the standards are completely different after the curriculum project.
  • Through my participation in the workshops for Colorado's District Sample Curriculum Project I gained a much deeper level of familiarity with both my grade level standards and the larger conceptual themes that run through the standards.
  • The standards promote good teaching. I'm excited to have more in depth in my curriculum.

About the Project and standards implementation

  • This work helped me to see how the standards could be interwoven to strengthen the developed units so that the units become tighter and more cohesive instead of just a batch of standards thrown together with some similarities. Making these connections for teachers and students is very important. This work reinforced the idea that standards are not just a list of concepts or skills to be checked off as they are taught.
  • I think many of my colleagues see the new standards in groups that work independent of each other rather than overlapping and interconnected standards. This was helpful to show others how the standards can be linked together in an instructional unit.

About the Project and working with fellow Colorado educators...

  • I got to work with wonderful colleagues, people who love teaching like I do. Being a teacher is lonely sometimes, especially at a small school, and I was put with these two ladies who are, like, curriculum geniuses. It was one of the most intellectually challenging and engaging experiences I have had since the beginning of my career.
  • I am so thankful for this opportunity. It was so nice to connect with other teachers to create meaningful work and to feel that teachers’ voices do matter.

Next Steps

The content specialist team in the Standards and Instructional Support office are currently beginning Phase IV of the project as stated above.  Additional information will be available late Fall of the 2016-2017 school-year.