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All schools are, or should be, planning for what to do for all students when schools re-open, presumably (and hopefully) in the Fall, for the 20-21 school year. My schools are planning, and I believe that all schools should be planning, for supports that all students will need and the supports that the most vulnerable students will need.

We must plan to utilize the precious number of school days we have to address the needs that we can realistically predict in this situation. We must plan the entire year with the beginning-of-the-year remediation needs in mind. We can predict that more days at the beginning of the year will be needed to reteach and reconnect and that we will likely need more days throughout the year (buffer days within and between units) to reteach and enrich. Learning essentials is more important than attempting to cover all standards; mastery is more important than coverage. Let’s prepare calendars in advance that provide time for meeting student needs and re-prioritize, re-scope, and re-sequence standards throughout the year.

It’s not about, it’s never been about, coverage. It’s about depth of mastery, not breadth of content. We cannot continue to sacrifice the quantity of learning by unwisely favoring the quantity of topics. Time is our most precious resource

When we return for the next school year, planning and implementing a Guaranteed, Viable Curriculum will be more critical than ever.

In 2001, Robert Marzano introduced us to these critically important letters…GVC…a Guaranteed, Viable Curriculum. It’s never been more important than it is today. Marzano’s research concluded that the most significant contributor the students learning at high levels was the presence of a GVC. You could think of GVC as an excellent answer to Question 1 of a PLC at Work.

The problem, reported Marzano, was that most classrooms, teacher teams, and schools did not have a GVC. There were no guarantees that students leaving the same grade level or course would master the same standards, concepts, and skills due of a lack of collaboration and an ill-fated attempt to cover all of the standards in curricular frameworks. Marzano calculated that for teachers to ensure that students mastered all of these standards, we’d need a K-22 educational system. We weren’t guaranteeing that all students learned standards because there was not a viable (doable, possible) quantity of content to cover within the 180 days of the grade level or course.

Given that we must plan to address students’ social, emotional, behavioral, and academic needs given these very unique circumstances, re-prioritizing standards is a must.

Prioritizing standards or determine essential standards isn’t new; it’s just more important than ever. It’s that some standards are unimportant, it’s just that not all standards are equally important. We’re not saying that we’re not going to teach all standards, just that we’re not going to teach all standards as if they’re equally important.

For those who believe every standard is important, ask colleagues in the next grade or course. When asked to identify the most essential prerequisite knowledge that a student must possess to be successful in their grade level or course (from the preceding grade level or course), I’ve never heard an educator say everything. They’re typically very clear about what students should know and be able to do.

Let’s pause to address some logical realities:

  • Students with gaps in prerequisite skills will require preteaching supports. These take time.
  • Students with language needs will require scaffolded supports. These take time.
  • All students deserve a balanced set of approaches to learn (concrete, pictorial, abstract; conceptual, procedural, application; visual, auditory, kinesthetic). These take time.

All students (including students with special needs, with language needs, and with gaps in prerequisite skills) can (and must) learn essential, prioritized skills and concepts at depth. But assuming that students with and without these needs can master the same quantity of concepts at the same level of quality is illogical. It’s insulting. And what are the consequences of rushing through the curriculum? Some students get left behind, in fact they end the year farther behind than they began the year. It’s not inequitable to ensure that students master a more focused set of prioritized concepts. It’s inequitable to pretend that they can master a quantity of content determined by someone disconnected from the school, the team, the classroom. We all have the same (approximately) 180 days in a school year.

Of course, getting to a GVC is not only dependent on prioritizing and de-prioritizing standards. Exceptional teacher teams are nesting standards, teaching in more integrated and connected ways, and applying skills more deeply to a reduced amount of content. 

Which leads us to behavioral skills. If we accept that mindsets, perseverance, self-regulation, executive functioning, and other behavioral skills are as critical as academics; and if we are committed to modeling, teaching, and nurturing them; and if we already feel rushed and stressed by the quantity of academic standards; then we must redouble our commitment to prioritizing, to PLCs at Work, and to designing a GVC. Teach less, learn more.

Guaranteeing that our curriculum can be mastered by all students because the curriculum represents a viable quantity of content is beginning with the end in mind.

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