NCTM President Matt Larson wrote an essay last week titled “Curricular Coherence in the Age of Open Educational Resources.” As I read them, the big takeaways are:
- Coherence in curriculum is important.
- A curriculum is more than just a sequence of activities.
- Activities that are downloaded from the Internet vary in quality and often undermine curriculum coherence.
- If you’re going to download activities anyway, then download them from NCTM’s lesson site or download them in learning communities where there might be more accountability for coherence.
I’ll co-sign all of the above. I hadn’t thought about collaborative lesson planning as insurance against incoherence. That’s clever. All of that said, I’m disappointed at how much of the essay obliges teachers and how little of it obliges publishers.
It reminds me of desire paths.
Desire paths occurs when people walk off the path you pre-determined and create their own. They create another route because it satisfies their needs better than yours did. In that situation, you have options. You can post signs directing people to stay on the path. You can hire security to make sure people stay on the path. Or you can admit that you messed it up on your first try and pave the desire path.
NCTM is putting up a sign.
Aside from a brief mention of sympathy for teachers who “lack highly engaging, high-cognitive demand tasks or lessons,” the essay doesn’t acknowledge the desire that leads to online activities.
It isn’t as if many teachers are eager to spend nights and weekends cobbling together a curriculum from scratch. What gives? I asked teachers about their desire. Most prominently they want materials a) that are engaging, b) that are scaffolded appropriately, and c) that create high cognitive demand. A large number of them don’t think their core curriculum is particularly coherent.
I appreciate Larson’s leadership and support NCTM’s interest in coherent mathematical experiences for kids. But if teachers – especially at secondary levels – had access to resources that offered those features above, I suspect the desire lines, and consequently NCTM’s sign, would be unnecessary.
So an open question: What would it mean to pave the desire path here? Now that we’re at the point where people are tromping across the lawn, marching towards online activities, what would it look like to say, “Okay,” and then pave that path for teachers.
Recommended. Tyler Auer’s analysis.
Also recommended. The comments of the essay, where Larson is taking questions and adding commentary, including what appears to be an answer to my open question above.
Please read Matt Larson’s comment.
While Matt’s piece didn’t rub me the wrong way, it does seem to me that treating this as a challenge for people who want to influence what teachers do is going to be a better framing than trying to convince teachers to change their online patterns.
One of the projects that the Math Forum at NCTM is beginning to plan within NCTM concerns the idea of an online collaboration space and supporting repository through which the community can move along the continuum from sharing good tasks to identifying and playing with sequences and instructional practices that lead to the engagement, depth of understanding, rigor, and competence we all seek for our students.
Curricula coherence is my biggest struggle. I work in a small charter high school and we have not purchased a commercial math curriculum. Instead of only 20% of my time spent planning, I am lucky to have the freedom to spend lots of time attempting to develop a cohesive unit by vetting online materials. This autonomy is both wonderful and terrifying.
One way NCTM might help with both coherence and quality is to offer a really-core curricular framework (as opposed to the much-too-massive CCSSM), and within that offer curated links to high-quality online materials. A positive contribution along those lines would be a lot more useful than anxiety-provoking warnings about coherence.
One last deep thought — I sure am getting tired of being blamed for the incoherence of standards and curricula that are way above my pay grade. Unfortunately, the way all of this has been set up (or not set up), everything rolls downhill into my yard.
Perhaps the “next big opportunity” for NCTM is in connecting members online around its quality content. NCTM’s average member age is 55 years and fewer teachers are buying memberships, opting instead for free online connectivity with other teachers that is still quite good overall.