Katharine Greene is a teacher at Arkansas Virtual Academy. Follow along as she “dukes it out” with herself in a 12-part series to demonstrate the differences of teaching at a brick and mortar school versus a virtual school using her own personal experiences in each setting to determine which is the “teacher champion” and which gets KO’d. You can read Round Two: Student Interactions and Relationships.
Welcome back to the ring! This round we duke out the battle of curriculum. This is an area of debate for many teachers, virtual and brick-and-mortar alike. Curriculum is vital! It does not matter how good of a teacher you are; without a strong curriculum to support your teaching, it is difficult to produce student success. When most teachers think about curriculum I can almost guarantee this word crosses their mind at some point: rigor. It is almost a dirty word in some teaching circles. The truth of the matter is we want to make sure our curriculum is challenging enough to push students but not so hard that they become accustomed to only meeting failure. That is a tall order, so this one may be close.
Brick and mortar takes the first punch! With required curriculum professional development, facilitators, weekly meetings, and district-chosen/designed curriculum guides it is hard to question the fact that brick-and-mortar me was on top of curriculum. I can make curriculum maps in my sleep at this point from my work at my previous district! With that being said, I was able to work with the curriculum I was given, but what was the quality of that curriculum? Personally, I feel that is was average. There were books, work books, AP lessons, intervention lessons, etc., and they all seemed to go along with the ebb and flow of the average class. I always felt like I was teaching to the middle or the bottom half of the class. The curriculum was rigorous, but because I had such a variety of students in my class I had to make a choice – leave half the class behind going at the pace the curriculum is designed to go or find ways to engage my higher level kids while I worked at crawl pace. Sadly, the latter happened most often.
So, regardless of how amazing the curriculum could have been, I felt like it never fit any one class. Sometimes I felt like the people designing my curriculum had never actually been in a real classroom. This is something I battled with every year, finding middle ground. Oftentimes it was like herding cats trying to create a lesson for all my diverse learners. Individualizing my students’ learning was only a chuckle of an idea back then – that is until I came to the virtual world.
In the virtual world, curriculum is vital. My curriculum is not only designed by teachers, but it is tailored to the student. In virtual education, learners carry a lot of the weight of their education and therefore it has to be broken down for their benefit. I am no longer herding cats. Now, students work at their pace, with a curriculum that works with them. The curriculum that I am currently using digs deeper into the content than any I have ever used. My college curriculum was not this good! This curriculum has tutorials, built-in practices and assessments, links to videos and defines words as they go. In certain subjects, it is a smart curriculum setting students onto certain paths as they progress through the curriculum.
You may be asking at this point, “What do you do?” Well, I am there specifically to STAND IN THE GAP. I am there to ensure the students are retaining the information, clarify misconceptions, fill in any gaps they had before they came to us, teach strategies for success, offer intervention when I see students struggling, and offer enrichment to students who are working well above their level. Students who are advanced can work at higher levels without missing out on their peer interactions. Students in the same homeroom can be at 30 different levels and no one is the wiser. They are all working through the curriculum suited best for THEM. In the brick-and-mortar setting, my school harped on and on about how we are supposed to be facilitators and that we should let students “discover” the learning. I did not understand that until I came to the virtual world. The biggest punch virtual education can throw is this: my curriculum is truly, genuinely individualized. *BOOM*
As much as I love my curriculum, let me say this; it is not for everyone. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Anyone who says otherwise is not being honest. This curriculum is successful for many, but it is most successful for students who are self-motivated and ready to take ownership in their learning or students who have families that can offer support and work with the teacher to tailor their education.
This brings us to our next topic, parental responsibility.