To cover or uncover?

The standards are here. They've been here. For many of us, the common core standards are coming, and the weight of their impact on our daily practice is overwhelming. Have you ever sat down, really, with that three-ring binder stuffed full of standards documentation, and read the content we're expecting students to master in each content area, at each grade level? Do it. It's staggering.

Teachers are presented with state standards, district curriculum maps, pacing guides, textbooks and long-term planning templates and charged with the task of covering the specified content in the most ideal time frame possible.

Is it good to have a plan? Yes, and pacing guides and curriculum maps can be fine tools to help us wrap our heads around content expectations. However, I don't think any one of us assumes that every child will learn x amount of content given the same number of days or weeks of the year to learn it. Nothing irks me more than hearing teachers describe how they're expected to teach lesson 2.3 on Monday, 2.4 on Tuesday, 2.5 on Wednesday, and following a day of brief review, test and move on. And as the content becomes more specialized, who's to say that every child should learn each and every standard? Are we keeping the focus on individual student needs?

Karl Fisch adds his commentary on this topic in his recent post, What should students know and be able to do?

My bias, however, is that too often in schools we err too much on the side of content. I once heard Cris Tovani, a wonderful reading teacher in Colorado, say,

Yeah, as a teacher I can cover my curriculum. I can get to that finish line. But often when I get to that finish line and look around, I'm all by myself.

That's even more true today, when we live in a rapidly changing, information abundant world. We live in exponential times. There's just too much content out there.

So… should schools strive to cover content? Or rather to UNCOVER content? To allow our children to explore,

question, and dig deeper into overarching concepts and apply skills learned in real-world, contextual situations?

Simply covering the content does not ensure mastery. It does not promote learning. It does not unleash the learner.

Uncovering content takes the learner on a journey from absolute knowledge, where the student plays a passive role, accepting knowledge as either right or wrong, taking all cues from the teacher….to contextual knowledge, where the learner's knowledge is built upon evidence in context, and the student's role is to think through problems and integrate/apply knowledge at a formal operational level. Uncovering content asks students to assume no knowledge is sure knowledge. It asks the student to embrace questioning, testing of ideas, reasoning, forming judgments, and interpretation.

So how can administrators encourage teachers to uncover, rather than cover, content? Here are some thoughts:

1. When writing , revising, and evaluating curriculum, make it a team effort. Include teachers from all disciplines and have them work together to build the foundations. Look for the logical opportunities for integration of disciplines to allow for students to make meaningful connections with the content.

2. Don't dictate that teachers abide by strict pacing guides. Help teachers develop long-range plans that are comprehensive enough to ensure the curricular needs are met, but flexible enough to support student learners. This includes providing both additional time and intervention for struggling learners as well as compacting of the curriculum and enrichment for students who are capable of moving beyond proficiency in those areas.

3. Make assessments awesome. As we're rethinking curriculum, we can't forget about assessment (or instruction, for that matter). Help teachers develop formative, authentic, comprehensive, real-world assessments to evaluate student learning. Be sure self  and peer-evaluation components are included.

4. Stay afloat. Don't drown in a sea of standards, anchors, and bullets. Consider the big picture, and encourage your teachers to encourage the development of collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Help them be literate. Teachers and administrators need to model for children that the process of true learning is never-ending, reflective, and powerful.

Go out and uncover something wonderful today!

Many thanks to my grad professor, Dr. Elias, who always leads us in stimulating conversations and whose words helped spark this post.

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13 Comments

  1. Lyn,
    Great post.
    I love the points you make. I totally agree that we need to uncover our curriculum. What is point of covering lesson 2.1 on Monday and lesson 2.2 on Tuesday if the students haven’t learned lesson 2.1 or we could expand and enhance their learning by doing more. After all our driving question needs to be “what are our students learning”
    Thanks for sharing
    Akevy

    October 13, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Right, Akevy, and what’s the point of teaching lesson 2.1 to some students if a) they already know the content or b) their learning time would be spent more worthwhile on another topic/concept? Thanks for posting!

      October 13, 2010
  2. Love this post! Was in a workshop this morning where they asked about ‘covering’ vs. ‘uncovering.’ I was surprised that some people felt ‘covering’ was the job of the teacher, and ‘uncovering’ was the job of the student. Ack! Completely missing the point!

    I’m lucky that my curriculum for district music (K-5) is set through a framework and objectives for each grade level. We have textbooks, but they are to supplement the curriculum. In too many areas, the textbook is viewed AS the curriculum. It’s unfortunate that many schools/districts follow that belief.

    Quite often, I receive push back about this… along the lines of, “well, you’re a music teacher. Your curriculum isn’t considered core, so you obviously have more freedom.” Even though my area isn’t tested at the state level (thankful for that!), it’s still a state requirement as a core subject. AND- why does the fact that I teach music make any difference? Shouldn’t there be essential questions and target objectives for ALL areas? Shouldn’t teachers have the freedom and trust to ensure their students know and are able to demonstrate understanding at a deeper level without textbooks? (don’t even get me started on pacing guides.)

    Or… is it just easier to agree on a textbook series where all that work is already done?

    Kids and teachers are drowning in seas of curriculum that are miles wide, but inches deep. I’m not sure how that prepares children for learning.

    Thanks for your insightful post!

    October 13, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      I feel your frustration in recognizing that a textbook or program series is NOT curriculum. I think I *finally* have gotten this message across to my teachers in year 3. They felt as though since we use Houghton Mifflin to deliver reading content, we had to teach every story, every theme, involve kids in every activity…. made no sense, no wonder they felt as though they couldn’t get everything done! We’re taking a much more streamlined, child-centered approach to reading instruction now. No program or textbook correlates 100% (barely 60%) for that matter with a state’s core curriculum. Supplementation is necessary, and more importantly, common sense and teacher ingenuity shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of program implementation! Thanks for your comments, Michelle!

      October 13, 2010
  3. Jen Von Iderstein said:

    Lyn,

    I agree with your comments on pacing guides. As a teacher, I found myself struggling with the pressure to move on, instead of focusing on the skill. I was told, move on, they’ll get it. What if they don’t get it? Why should we move on to the next topic, if the students haven’t learned the one before it properly. I wish Education would give the students the chance to master it and learn to affectively apply it, rather than race them through because they need to be exposed to all this information before the state test.

    One of my graduate professors described the education field as being based upon the auto industry, being a top down hierarchy. When is everyone at the top, going to start listening to those at the bottom of education, the teachers? They are the ones who are trying to make a difference, and everyone at the top keeps pushing more and more mandates on them, which makes it impossible.

    Now, as a student finishing up my administration degree, I take all the advice people in your position share. It are these ideas that are helping me to form my view of myself as a Principal sometime in the future.

    October 13, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Jen,
      Thanks for posting your thoughts! I can understand the frustration of being told you need to stick to a pacing guide when you can see that your students are struggling with a concept. How can it not break your heart to move on and leave them hanging?!
      A flaw in our system of learning that could possibly address this issue is the whole idea that we have to present material sequentially. Before students learn A, they must learn B. In some cases, that may be preferred, but how about we explore ways of learning that involve children posing questions about a problem, working out various solutions, and cooperating with peers and teachers to arrive at understandings about the concepts. I am glad there are dedicated educators like yourself entering the field of administration. Please let us know how we can support you in your endeavors! Thanks again for posting!

      October 13, 2010
  4. David Truss said:

    Great Lyn,
    You reminded me of a talk I heard and wrote about a while back:

    It was refreshing to hear Maureen Dockendorf, our staff development co-ordinator, (Director of Instruction), speak at our Building Leadership Capacity (BLC*) series introduction.

    She encouraged us to become ‘intellectual companions’ that enter into ‘learning conversations’. The part I liked most about her talk was the direction of the conversation. She spoke of:

    Not the Knowing, but the Process of Inquiry.
    Not covering the curriculum, but ‘uncovering’ the curriculum.
    A focus in innovation and creativity… how do we model this… every day?

    http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/learning-conversations/

    Your post is about the ‘uncovering’, but it guides us, it helps us answer the question, “How do we model this… every day?”

    Thank you.

    October 15, 2010
  5. Lyn Hilt said:

    David,
    Thank you for your comment and also for sharing your post with me. The ideas that we need to look at “big ideas” and help our children actively construct knowledge in meaningful ways are so important.
    By the way, I love your Daily Ink. 🙂
    Thanks for all you share with us!

    October 15, 2010
  6. James Bosco said:

    Lyn,

    Just had to respond to your blog. You are right on target. The simple minded approach which comes from far too many national, state, and even local politicians and others speaking on what we need to do to have better schools sees the problem as bad teachers and low standards. This leads to a clear solution. Get rid of bad teachers and raise standards. It is easy to raise standards by fiat and we can find the bad teachers by seeing how their students performed on standardized achievement tests. Is not any teacher or administrator who is opposed to this just incompetent and merely trying to maintain mediocrity? That may be so in some cases but I hear more voices – such as yours – of teachers and administrators who believe that the task is really to be agents for learning. Such requires more from teachers and students than passing tests, It requires that students really “get it!” And I think, even more, it requires that we work to reduce the numbers of students who leave this subject or that one with a sense that they really wish never to encounter it again. So you are swimming against the current but when it comes to the point where there are no longer strong and clear voices such as yours coming from those to whom we entrust the education of kids – then we surely would be doomed!!

    October 15, 2010
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      James,
      I really appreciate your comments! I think it’s very difficult for any politician to truly understand what educators face on a daily basis when working so hard to do what’s best for kids. Standards aren’t a bad thing, in theory, after all, we all want our children to strive to achieve great things, but once you start applying the “this is what everyone needs to know and be able to do” mentality (and mandates), you lose sight of the importance of educating the individual child. I am fortunate to be able to connect with so many educators who really “get” that and who work so hard to make that happen in their own schools and beyond. Thanks again for posting!

      October 15, 2010
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  9. @kevcreutz said:

    Lyn,
    An oldie here, but a good post. Point #1 stuck with me the most. Conversations among our colleagues are SO important.

    January 30, 2013

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