Less Is More: 4 Strategies To Streamline Your Curriculum

What Are The Best Strategies For Streamlining Your Curriculum?

contributed by Renee Rubin, Ed.D.

Educators often wonder how they are going to meet all the demands of modern academic standards.

One important point is that the standards require more depth and less breadth. Meeting these standards can be done by doing less, not more. In this post, we’ll look at three effective ways to do this: integrating curriculum, combining test prep into daily learning, and cutting topics.

First, let’s look at what the standards mean by more ‘depth.’ For example, fifth graders need to “conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.” This means that students need to be able to find and read with comprehension several sources on the same topic. They need to evaluate those sources for relevance and validity. Finally, the learners need to demonstrate that they have built knowledge about different aspects of the topic.

This is just one example of how the Common Core requires teachers and students to spend extended amounts of time on one topic. The problem is there simply is not enough time to spend days or weeks studying one topic unless changes are made. In our recent book, Less is More in Elementary School: Strategies for Thriving in a High-Stakes Environment, we suggest a variety of ways to find the time required for the in-depth teaching and learning needed for the Common Core Standards. Here, we’ll focus on three major strategies; integrating, combining, and cutting.

If we want to prepare students for lifelong learning, we can’t keep adding to the curriculum. One response is to integrate, combine, and cut. Less is more.

Less Is More: 4 Strategies For A More Efficient Curriculum

1. Integrate subjects

This effectively meets the requirements of standards and saves time by removing duplication in different subject areas. For example, students may learn to compare and contrast two habitats and then apply similar skills to literature or social studies with the guidance of the teacher. With integrated curriculum, elementary school teachers no longer need to carve out specific times for reading, social studies, and science.

If students are studying a theme, such as cooperation, they may read realistic fiction about cooperation one week and social studies texts about historical or current examples of cooperation the next week during the same time of day. Integrated curriculum also is a good way of finding time to read more non-fiction texts as required by the standards and assessments.

2. Combine Assessment Prep Into Daily Learning

Although students need some practice with the format of high-stakes tests, we believe that most assessment should be integrated with daily learning to save time and improve student achievement. Extensive benchmark testinging and test-preparation materials take time away from the in-depth learning required by the Common Core.

Assessment that is part of instruction allows teachers to provide effective feedback to students during the learning process so they can improve their work. For example, the math standards may call for students to “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.”

As students are working on math problems, the teacher can circulate through the room asking them to explain their reasoning. Thus, the teacher can informally assess the progress of the students and provide immediate feedback to encourage improvement. Students may do fewer, problems but their reasoning skills should improve.

3. Use Power Standards

According to edglossary.org, Power Standards refer to “a subset of learning standards that educators have determined to be the highest priority or most important for students to learn.” The big idea? They explain that “it is often impossible for teachers to cover every academic standard over the course of a school year, given the depth and breadth of state learning standards. Power standards, therefore, are the prioritized academic expectations that educators determine to be the most critical and essential for students to learn…”

Educators and authors Larry Ainsworth and Douglas Reeves “propose three criteria for selecting power standards:

  • Endurance: Standards that focus on knowledge and skills that will be relevant throughout a student’s lifetime (such as learning how to read or how to interpret a map).
  • Leverage: Standards that focus on knowledge and skills used in multiple academic disciplines (such as writing grammatically and persuasively or interpreting and analyzing data).
  • Essentiality: Standards that focus on the knowledge and skills necessary for students to succeed in the next grade level or the next sequential course in an academic subject (such as understanding algebraic functions before taking geometry or calculus, which require the use of algebra).”

In short, establishing Power Standards, and then designing curriculum and instruction around this critical and anchoring content, can be a powerful–and learned-centered–strategy to create a sense of priority in what you teach, and what students learn.

Note, the 40/40/40 Rule can be useful here as well.

4. Revisit Old Work With New Thinking

If we want to prepare students for lifelong learning, we can’t keep adding to the curriculum. We need to integrate, combine, and cut. Less is more. What’s most important in your curriculum?

Cut topics: Even with the above measures, educators probably need to make cuts, which can be tough to do since we all have our favorite activities or topics. Perhaps the easiest type of cutting to do is in quantity; fewer math problems or fewer integrated units. For example, students need to be given opportunities to revise and edit their writing and do peer editing. This may mean that they write fewer texts, but they will have a better understanding of the writing process.

Renee Rubin, Michelle H. Abrego, and John A. Sutterby areis co-authors of Less is More in Elementary School: Strategies for Thriving in a High-Stakes Environment. She is also an educational consultant at Education Momentum; Co-authors are Michelle H. Abrego and John A. Sutterby; Less Is More: 4 Strategies To Streamline Your Curriculum; image attribution flicr user jirkamatusek