1. Teacher Life

How to Create an Adaptable Curriculum and Flexible Learning Experiences That Work in Any Environment

I am really proud that in partnership with IMPress Books, we have just released a new book by my good friend and someone who pushes my thinking continuously, AJ Juliani. The book is titled, “Adaptable: How to Create an Adaptable Curriculum and Flexible Learning Experiences That Work in Any Environment” and is now available in an EBook format for only one dollar!

I have known AJ for a long time and his ability to show appreciation for educators while pushing thinking and providing practical ideas is admirable.  He is someone I look up to and has made me a better educator, and to be honest, a better dad as well.

For the next few days, you can get his book online for one dollar on the following sites:

Once purchased, you can email AJ directly (aj@ajjuliani.com) a copy of your receipt to get FREE access to his online community “Scope & Sequence.”

Below is a snippet from the book! I hope you enjoy it!

In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop published an essay about the importance of providing young readers with diverse books that reflect the “multicultural nature of the world” in which we live.

In the essay, Dr. Bishop coined the phrase “windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors” to explain how children see themselves in books and how they can also learn about the lives of others through literature. Here is how she puts it:

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of a world that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

Creating Curriculum With Purpose

As a former middle-school and high-school teacher, instructional coach, curriculum administrator, and director of learning, I’ve been part of a number of curriculum revisions that sought to bring a variety of multicultural books and authors into the classroom. When I spoke with Erica Buddington (CEO of Langston League) on The Backwards Podcast, we chatted about some of the mistakes I made along the way, as well as the important work Erica is doing at Langston League to make curriculum (not just books) mirrors, windows, and sliding doors.

Erica Buddington founded the Langston League, a multi-consultant curriculum firm that specializes in teaching educators to design and implement culturally responsive instructional material and professional development. Their clients include Google’s Code Next, Medgar Evers College, Harlem Children’s Zone, Movers & Shakers, Achievement First Schools, Reconstruction US, and many others. Erica has been a Brave New Voices slam champion, an HBO Def Poet, and has spent a decade in the classroom. Erica is also the author of four books and has been featured on The Steve Harvey Show, Forbes, BuzzFeed, Black Enterprise, and more.

We had the chance to talk with her about curriculum, her current work at Langston League, and her Decolonized YouTube series. The focus of Erica’s current work with Langston League is to create mirrors. To be specific, a curriculum full of mirrors.

And as Dr. Bishop goes on to say in her essay, this work is for all of our students:

“Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books, but they, too, have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others. They need the books as windows onto reality, not just on imaginary worlds. They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans.”

So, how do we do that? How do we create a curriculum that goes beyond programs, textbooks, and “standards” that often lead schools right back to those same programs and textbooks that support test-prep?

As Erica Buddington mentioned on The Backwards Podcast, this is hard work. Not only is it hard work, but it also takes serious time to develop an adaptable curriculum. Buddington explains how they start the curriculum work at Langston League by getting to know the community where the curriculum is being created. They work with the community, with the students, the families, and the educators to create a curriculum with a purpose.

A Different and Relevant Curriculum

Every school should have a different curriculum because every school community is different. This doesn’t mean that resources can’t be used across schools and communities. Of course they can. But, if we want to create a curriculum with a purpose, we must first, and most importantly, define what the purpose is of the learning experiences we are crafting for K–12. This is outlined by authors McTighe and Wiggins in their Understanding by Design framework for curriculum development:

1. Identify Desired Results: These are the transfer-learning goals that drive the assessments we will use as well as the choice of resources, texts, and experiences that will guide the process.

2. Determine Acceptable Evidence: How will we know our students understand? How can they share their learning? What does this look like? What performances and products will reveal evidence of meaning-making and transfer? What additional evidence will be collected for other desired results?

3. Learning Plan: What activities, experiences, and lessons will lead to the achievement of the desired results and success at the assessments? How will the learning plan help students with acquisition, meaning-making, and transfer? How will the unit be sequenced and differentiated to optimize achievement for all learners?

The identifying desired results step is where you can take the expectations of the state standards and combine that with your goals and purpose as a community of learners. Each of these questions should have different answers depending on your purpose and community:

  • What long-term transfer goals are targeted?
  • What meanings should students make?
  • What essential questions will students explore?
  • What knowledge and skills will students acquire?

As Buddington so aptly points out, this process takes time. However, Langston League has seen tremendous success with its process of creating mirrors. More than 90 percent of the students that take part in their workshops and engage with their materials request their organization again.

So that is what we are looking for in a curriculum. One that serves as windows, mirrors, and sliding doors for all of our students. One that supports the local community and the greater global good. One that starts with a purpose and ultimately leads to authentic, meaningful, and relevant learning experiences across grade levels, subjects, and classrooms.

This is such great stuff from AJ and reminds me of this post that I shared on my “Hopes for School”:

I hope you enjoy the book and you can pick it up for one dollar in a digital format for the next few days here:

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