“Mind shifts do not come easily, as they require
letting go of old habits, old beliefs, and old traditions .
VOL. 11*NO. 3*JAN. 2010
. .Growth and change are found in disequilibrium, not
balance. It takes some getting used to.”
~ Arthur L. Costa & Bena Kallick
A Collection of Notes and Comments from Dave Hodgdon
Changes in Schools to Ensure Student Learning in the 21st Century
The most recent book from the Association for Curriculum and Instruction (ASCD) is
entitled Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. Edited by Heidi
Hayes Jacobs, it focuses on the kinds of programs we need in education to ensure that
our students will be successful in an ever-changing world. Dr. Jacobs challenges the
reader immediately in the book. “What year are you preparing your students for?
1973? 1995? Can you honestly say that your school’s curriculum and the program you
use are preparing your students for 2015 or 2020? Are you even preparing them for
today?” Because this book is compelling, I share some of the ideas in this issue of
During the 10 ½ years since I began my tenure in SAU 38, I have reported in
Curriculum Notes on numerous proposals for change. The call for change has become
more dramatic and drastic, primarily because our society has itself changed dramatically
and because we are concerned about our competition with other industrialized
countries. The questions that Dr. Jacobs and others ask in her book and in a conference
I recently attended can’t be ignored.
Short-term Upgrades and Long-term Versions
In addition to the research that Dr. Jacobs and other experts offered in the book on
Curriculum 21, it also includes anecdotes about actual experiences of implementing
these practices for the 21st century. Some of the innovations seem futuristic, but have
demonstrated an effect on student learning. The technology is available and schools
can be transformed to meet the recommendations. It only takes the courage of us, as
educators, and the community to make the changes happen.
Our work on this significant task, however, doesn’t require us to become
overburdened with meetings. Dr. Jacobs believes we are obsessed with meetings and
suggests that we may be freed up to bypass some physical meetings because of the
possibility of virtual meetings. She supports the direction we are heading with
professional learning communities and collaboration, but also suggests that some of the
meeting time for PLCs at the schools and district levels may possibly be well served
Curriculum Notes ~1/10 1
Dr. Jacobs points out that we need to consider short-term upgrades for classroom
instruction and long-term versions of schools and their program planning. She defines
“versions” as “when a group of school leaders elect to make significant and concerted
changes to their existing school program to improve the lives of their learners in school”
(p. 61). In the short term we need to focus on upgrades – to review and replace dated
curriculum and assessment types with more vital contemporary forms. For the long
term we need new versions of the structures of programs in our schools and districts
that house curriculum and instruction.
21st Century Tools for Engaging Learners
We may initiate upgrades by the way we engage learners. There are some useful
examples of how we can accomplish this through tools that are likely more prevalent in
the society students live in than in many educational institutions. Part of our process is
locating the tools in our schools or securing them.
Some specific examples include screenplays and teleplays, podcasts, broadcasts,
documentaries, emails, SKYPE, and self publishing. Students may also be engaged
through self-publishing, Facebook pages of historical figures, text messaging as note
taking, video conferences in World Language classes, My Space as biography, web
pages, CAD blueprints, media criticism, webquests, digital portfolios, and Web 2.0 and
Interdisciplinary Curriculum Shifts (Websites for Different Purposes to Review)
Our curriculum will be more timely and pertinent for the students if we remold it for
timely interdisciplinary issues. These issues may center on recent breakthroughs,
contemporary issues, international perspectives, and modern forms of expression. I
know that I, as a curriculum person, feel compelled to determine if we need to replace
or shed dated curriculum.
Dr. Jacobs offers seven websites for interdisciplinary issues and themes. They focus
on sustainability (www.facingthefuture.org); media literacy (www.frankwbaker.org);
urban planning and new cities (www.streetseducation.org); global ambassadors
(www.oecd.org and www.asiasociety.org); lifelong fitness (www.focusedfitness.org);
financial literacy (http://fffl.councilforeconed.org ); and arts fusion
Social studies teachers and others might find useful the website, timetoast
(www.timetoast.com), which allows people to create timelines and share them on the
web. Another fascinating website is Wordle (www.wordle.net), which enables a person
to create “word clouds” from existing text. I have found it valuable with my poetry in
uncovering the dominant themes and choice of language in my poetry. Finally, I offer
the website, WolframAlpha Computational Knowledge Engine
(www.wolframalpha.com), which allows a person to “enter a question or calculation and
WolframAlpha uses its built-in algorithms and a growing collection of data to compute
the answer.” EdSteps.org is a website enabling new skills and competencies to be
developed. It includes a set of global competencies. The site is seeking writing samples
and global competency samples.
Curriculum Notes ~1/10 2
Key Structures to Transform in our Schools
Looking more long term for a new version that better meets the needs of 21 st
century students requires focusing on four key structures in our schools – our schedules,
student grouping patterns, teacher configurations, and physical and virtual space. I
believe these structures are also important at any time, but must be changed more
dramatically if we hope to accomplish what we need to accomplish for the changing
demands of our society. The remainder of this issue of Curriculum Notes emphasizes
these key structures.
From a professional perspective, we need to consider different options for
structuring our own work and conversations. Dr. Jacobs proposes eight options, which
may work for different needs. The vertical k-12, strategic grouping might be regarded as
extended departmental meetings. Other groupings of the adults might be targeted
vertical (for example, k-1, 3- 6, 7-11, or 10-12), across grade levels (all third grade
teachers or all teachers of sophomores), and targeted, cross-grade-level groups that are
more interdisciplinary in nature.
Other team patterns might also include extended teams (such as special education
staff); feeder patterns (for example, following student groups); expanded local teams
with virtual groupings online, parents, communities, or internships; and global teams,
where people get feedback and collaborate with meaningful worldwide educators and
Dr. Jacobs emphasizes five types of alignment that we need to be aware of as we
work in these strategic groups. They focus on curriculum maps featuring 1) a consensus
on the elements throughout the district; 2) the building of class to class from
kindergarten through grade 12; 3) alignment of curriculum and assessment with
external standards; 4) the design to match the needs of specific learners in specific
locations; and 5) aims and actions of our school curriculum and programs to help our
learners connect to global communities.
As we work to align our curriculum, as we have done in our districts, we must attend
to curriculum design that requires us to make choices about what is essential now to
help our learners for their future. The essential elements, with which all of us are
familiar, must focus on content, skills and assessment. The content, in particular, should
follow the criteria described above under the Interdisciplinary curriculum shifts. The
questions we must ask as we focus on curriculum design are the following: what do we
cut? What do we keep? What do we create? The problem for us is to establish a
curriculum that isn’t so huge and forbidding that it overwhelms our students and us and
thus leads to paralysis, but not so limited that we and our students are underwhelmed
Curriculum Notes ~1/10 3
Dr. Jacobs proposes focusing on geo-politics and geo-economics in geography;
history and anthropology strands in social studies; and the elevation of composition in
the arts. In rethinking math, we should eliminate snapshot mathematics in pre-K
through grade 3; use both speech and writing to describe procedures and concepts;
focus on translation strategies with post-its on math pages; and take advantage of self-
tutorials using computers for homework and practice.
Science, of course, has a number of separate disciplines within the subject. The
recommendation in this area is that all of the science areas teach for timeliness and in
an interdisciplinary way. There should be a freedom of scientific expression; an upgrade
of science in early childhood; and literacy instruction primarily through non-fiction (an
increase in science and social studies).
Schools/districts would benefit students through an international science
requirement; physics linked with math at the elementary level; and astronomy in terms
of future directions. There should also be an emphasis on bioethics; bio-chemical
abuses/weapons; disease and pandemics; prevention; and a research focus.
We can update English language arts by expanding genre studies K-12, focusing on
both classics and new voices in literature, studying screenplays and teleplays, engaging
students in poetry SLAMS, and critiquing electronic media. Closely tied to this area is an
expansion of literacy to incorporate media criticism, media invasion, and media making.
This literacy instruction might include the effects of TV on students; formal media
criticism beginning in grade 4; television and film writing and production; documentary
studies; web-based national/international anthologies of children’s stories and
observations; the teaching of students to conduct video conferences; and the critiquing
of TV from preK to grade 3.
For grades 4 to 12, we need to consider every teacher a language teacher. Language
skills need to be upgraded across the curriculum areas, with the interdependence of the
four language skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Speaking and listening
should be formally assessed as students are engaged in ongoing interaction via video-
conferencing and/or telephone with students abroad and issue-based forums regularly
planned for grades 4 to 12.
Although our society currently has vested a great deal in standardized tests to assess
our success, we need to be cautious about using them solely to assess students’ mastery
of a new version of curriculum and instruction. Assessment must be a demonstration of
learning with a focus on feedback. It should be designed to help the learner to revise –
to improve - his or her performance independently. These should be cumulative
Dr. Jacobs suggests that our professional development focus should be on unpacking
assessment data through drill and practice, rehearsal, and authentic performance. The
digital portfolio, required by the state’s minimum standards, is an example of an
authentic approach to assessment. She proposes that we try making one assessment
change a semester in order not to be overwhelmed by the change process.
Curriculum Notes ~1/10 4
In the 21st century, the approach to professional development needs to be
transformed as much as the approach to engaging students in their own learning. Staff
development must be differentiated, since adult learners have various needs for
different types of work. The adult learning community is as important as the children’s
environment – involving cumulative, non-random learning and communicating through
mapping to allow us to monitor our mutual success through professional development.
Various venues will help us to accomplish such professional development. They
include different groupings, labs, workshops, work sessions, online courses, staff
development days based on data, observations, coaching, and video conferencing.
21st century professional development will allow staff members to learn through
visual and organizational tools to make meaning in concrete ways with immediate
access. They also offer different kinds of thinking tools, strengthening engagement that
can transfer into other aspects of curriculum and increasing classroom teaching and
learning time as well as the likelihood of completion of academic work out of the school
We shouldn’t be reluctant to draw upon those who are experts among our own
staff. There are probably few teachers better trained to address how students learn
than special education teachers, for example. Similarly, we can learn about
performance assessment from art, music, and physical education teachers.
The commitment we should have is to an integrated use of technology to enhance
content and applications to specific units of study, the evidence of effectiveness
revealed through student products and performances. The commitment is not limited
and immediate uses of technological tools, such as an LCD projector vs. an overhead,
the computer vs. the typewriter, or the Smart Board vs. an LCD projector. Dr. Jacobs
identifies teacher and administrator commitments, which are progressive and focus on
the revision of units initially to use technological tools with feedback, support, and
availability of resources from the administrators.
Reshaping School Structures - The Schedule
The schedule – one of the reshaping school structures – is the schedule, which is
curricular destiny. In the future we need to embrace changes in long-term schedules,
daily instructional time, extended day patterns, and daily time. The length of the year
needs to be extended (similar to schools in other industrialized countries). We need to
rethink grade 12 as the magical end of public schooling, allowing for extended time in
school or early graduation and replacing seat time with task completion.
Although we have begun to rethink daily use of time (such as adjusting start times,
offering ongoing study groups, providing for rotational blocks with set blocks, staggering
the length of the day, sponsoring night classes, and managing online experiences), we
must consider more substantial adjustments, since the time limits are capacity to
change . We should also enable students to engage in off-campus time. Teachers as
Curriculum Notes ~1/10 5
well should have daily planning time that includes cross-grade level work and vertical
Reshaping School Structures - Grouping Practices
It is not surprising that one of the elements for reshaping school structures for the
21 century is the need to address grouping practices – an age-old and ever-present
issue. Dr. Jacobs believes that we should replace ability groups, which focus on child
labels, with skills grouping. Primary grades should consider developmental grouping
around age spans rather than strict grade-level grouping; long-term grouping/looping
clusters; and formal work with children and parent groups to support literacy.
The middle school should include team models with small group academic
advisories; vertical teams; affective grouping; and independent, long-term projects
outside of the school. High schools should consider grouping around fundamental
literacy skills needs and independent study skills; curricular options for pre-adult
learners based on motivation, aspiration, and post-secondary next steps and a writing
mentor model. Other options include science research labs, off-campus requirements,
early graduation and an additional year, and dignity for school to work.
Reshaping School Structures – Teacher Configurations
The final area for restructuring is teacher configurations. These configurations
include multiple affiliations, visiting teacher programs, partners between buildings, and
task forces grouped to solve specific problems. Vertical teams are promoted (such as k-
5 or k-12), requiring new teacher teams to embrace learning communities and meet
virtually via curriculum mapping technology, an area of which Dr. Jacobs has been at the
forefront. Middle school configurations should feature middle school personnel being
members of several teams, while the high school needs to consider cross-disciplinary,
focusing on language capacity building, serving as mentors to senior interns and
community project groups, being advisors to students employing online courses,
facilitating video conferencing tools, and teaching evening community issues
presentations by students.
The essential questions that Dr. Jacobs attempts are the following:
What school structures will best support 21st century learning?
What current practices need revisions to support 21st century learning?
These questions are explored more deeply in Dr. Jacobs’ book. She is also quite
engaging, if you have the chance to attend one of her conference presentations. Please
let me know if you’d like to discuss some of her ideas and their implications.
Curriculum Notes ~1/10 6