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154. Pacing Calendars: How to Develop or Adapt Curriculum

by Lindsay Lyons
March 12th 2024
In today's solo episode, Lindsay is sharing how to develop or adapt educational curriculum with pacing calendars. Hope... More
Educational justice coach, Lindsay Lyons, and here on the time for Teacher podcast, we learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling, and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings if you're a principal assistant superintendent, curriculum director, instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nering out about core curriculum of students. I made this show for you. Here we go. Welcome to an episode of time for teacher shift. This is episode 154. We are talking about pacing calendars that enable student voice and personalized learning. So whether your teachers are developing their own curriculum, their own units or they're adapting to an off the shelf, so to speak curriculum. Every teacher needs to figure out what it's gonna look like to actually implement the curriculum that's on the paper.

In addition to factoring in holidays, field trips, other school events. If you're supporting teachers to create classroom cultures that actually prioritize student voices and personalized learning, you're gonna wanna help teachers consider how to embed flexibility and co creation with students into their pacing calendars and that can be a hard thing to do. So that's what we're talking about in this episode. In this episode, we're talking about pacing calendars that enable student voice and personalized learning. So first, let's talk about why pacing guides are important and specifically why it is important to develop pacing guides that are realistic. So without considering casing, that it creates really intentional space for student voice and personalized learning and all the places those priorities can take a class, right? There's like 100 different directions that we could go into if we consider all the ways that we enable student voice. And now the student says this thing in a discussion where the classes they want to learn about this thing, right? And now we're going to go in a totally different direction that is a little scary at times, especially if you're new to student voice and personalized learning, we need to make sure that teachers are set up to feel that they're, they're able to cover all the things that they wanna cover and more than cover because cover is a touchy word for me, something, right?

We don't want the idea of like, oh I'm pressured to cover the content in a rushed way because my piece and calendar just isn't realistic and I'm never gonna get it done. So I need to like cut things I need to, you know, all the things that go through a teacher's mind. Right. So, without considering that intentional idea of like, from making space for the student voice for the co operation for the things that go either way we didn't expect or for those unexpected interruptions. Like, hey, we're actually doing a field day this day or something. Right. So we want to make sure that we actually are deeply committed to the un underlying intention and purpose of our curriculum, whether we made it ourselves or we are taking something off the shelf and making it fit our particular class space. So that brings up for me the thought about fidelity. And so when we strive for fidelity, what I often see us do is actually rigidity, right? And that doesn't serve personalized learning or co creation at all.

So while thinking about, yeah, maybe we can, you know, use a curriculum that's already out there. Totally fine. Yes, of course. We want to adapt it to our own context, to our own teaching styles, to what our students want and need. We don't want to lose sight of why we chose the curriculum in the first place, which I'm guessing if we're listening to this podcast was because it did center student voices, it did center meaningful engagement and recognized personalized learning and scaffolding and all the good things that are involved in strong curriculum. If we strive for fidelity, but get rigidity and we sacrifice all those underlying purposes like there was no point right to go very briefly into the research on fidelity in the off the shelf curriculum implementation. What we find is there is an optimal approach to curriculum implementation and that is a scaffolded one. Ideally, teachers first focus on implementing a curriculum with fidelity as written before they actually adapt it and personalize it. I have some thoughts but, but this is what the research has found has been, has been good. So I do think always just a quick note about my thoughts.

Do you think we do wanna be mindful of our students at all times? And if something is just not connecting with them, I think teachers should reserve the right to make those connections a little bit clearer for them. Uh If there is something I was recently working with someone who has um like there is a project at the end where they're selecting artifacts and like creating captions. If you want to do that as an Instagram series of posts, go ahead and do it the spirit of the project of the task itself. You're still assessing the same skills, you're still kind of doing the same thing. If you're putting a spin on it that makes your students excited and motivated to do it like heck yes, do that. Absolutely. But I think what this research is getting at is that fidelity to again those core principles and really making sure that like we do it for the most part, the same. So if you're gonna change a final project, for example, make sure it still assesses the same skills or uh you know, recognizes the same content needs to be brought into it.

The same content understandings are assessed. Ok. With that note, let's do more research. So to ensure adaptations are still effective to any off the shelf curriculum, teachers should have deep knowledge of the theory or theories behind the curriculum. OK. Similar to what we were just saying. And this is more likely if quote, the fidelity phase is framed as an opportunity for teachers to learn the program before adapting it as opposed to being framed as the end goal, end quote. That's from Quinn 2016. And you can link to the full research in the blog post for this episode at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/blog/one 54. So interesting. So the fidelity phase really should be like here's how you learn it. You just need to internalize it for a year or whatever, then you can adapt it. And that is ultimately our end goal is that it best fits you. So that's a really interesting thing that I don't think we say when we're encouraging folks to adopt curriculum off shop. So an additional curriculum from the research, same researcher is that curricula may be more likely to be used over time when teachers are able to adapt the curricula to their specific context so it actually is going to last longer.

Like teachers are gonna keep using the same units and curriculum if they're able to adapt it. Ok. So we definitely want that. I mean, if you went through the time to choose a curriculum and all of the, you know, conversations that, that entails and all of the research that, that entails, like you chose it for a reason, you wanna keep using it, you want that investment to be like not thrown out the window in two years when they're like, I'm done with this, right? That's also really important. So, and we went off on a little tangent here about fidelity. But I do think if you are taking curriculum off the shelf, fidelity yes, is important. And also we don't want it to turn into rigidity. We want the end goal to be that beautiful adaptation. So when we think about all that beautiful adaptation to me that includes embedding space for student voice and personalization, and we do that best when we have a very clear pacing guide. So for the purpose of this episode, that's where I'm focusing. How do we realistically pace a curriculum, whether you wrote it yourself or you're implementing an existing one. So first thing I would do if I am creating my flexible pacing calendar or I'm coaching a teacher to do so, I'm gonna block my non instructional days first.

So I am going to literally have teachers open paper or a digital calendar, whatever they use. I like using like a Google sheet or I used to use a table of Google Docs before I realized Google sheets are amazing and you can like move things, but that has all the school days written on it. So if you don't have like an agenda that you buy your teachers or something and they plan in, in physical paper, maybe create like a template or something. I think as a leader, this would be a lovely gift to save them the time of entering all the dates in themselves, then get out the school or district calendar. If you haven't done this as a leader already, they can do this themselves and block off any holidays, any field trips or other reason that students would be out of instructional time. These might be grade specific school specific, district specific. So if they are kind of those grade level pieces, of course, you're gonna have the teachers go in and do that. But if you have like the district level stuff or the school level stuff already done for them, that would be really, really nice. And then I think this is a, a nice to have, but I I would do it anyways because again, the goal is a realistic pacing calendar that's not going to result in teachers feeling pressed for time and then rushing to surface level cover content instead of staying true to the purpose.

And like the deep learning I would block each day before a long break. So if you're about to go on like a two day break or something, or you, especially like those week long vacations that are usually like December, February, April, you know, somewhere in there for sure, the day before, like my experience as a teacher, those are not always super meaningful in terms of adherence to or fidelity to a curriculum. Right? Not gonna implement that in the same way as written. So I'm either going to kind of do a deeper dive to wrap up like the day before I might go outside of the planned curriculum to do something fun. I might do like just a team building a circle where we share our feelings about the upcoming brick, whatever it is, but it's probably not going to be one you can count on for like a curriculum implementation fidelity piece, right? So the next thing I would do after that, you've blocked off all of the holidays, events, days before long holidays, then I would block off class culture building days.

Now, some schools and districts have a community wide set of days that are allocated to building relationships and community agreements at the start of the year. So district wide, you may say the first two weeks of school we are doing SCL work, whatever that looks like you can decide, but you're not expected to start your typical curriculum for 10 days, instructional days, whatever. That's an example. Right. But it could be like our school, I worked at a school once that had like, the first two whole days were blocked off for like school wide relationship building activities. And so that was what we did for two days. Like no one had a typical schedule. The schedule is all different, whatever it is. If there are days like that block them off if within your grade or within your department were just within you, right? You want to as an individual teacher have some culture building days. I highly recommend it. I think it's a great idea. Lo those days off next then number three, I would open with a hook day for each unit or content arc so day one of unit one, I would mark in my pacing calendar that we're going to have what I would call a hook lesson.

You can call it whatever you want. And that's gonna be inviting students to consider the essential question of the unit or project question or whatever you call it in relation to their own lives. And you can do this in any way. I love using circle here. Make sure that students leave this class. The whole purpose of this hook day is that they leave the class with an understanding of why the unit or at least the essential question for the unit matters like in their lives. Why is it relevant? They need some sort of personal connection to this. So often I hear teachers who are disillusioned with a curriculum they've written or adopted and they're just like I am sensing that my students just don't care. There's no motivation there. We need to build in the motivation and, you know, your students better than any curriculum writer. Even if you wrote this curriculum, you probably wrote it before you met your students on day one of the next year. Now, as you learn about them, right? You've done your culture building days to lead up into your day one of unit one. Now let's use that relationship building as a launching pad to actually get into.

Well, how do you think about this essential question in your life? And of course, this requires that the essential question is good. So you may have to modify it a little bit if it's just really not getting the students hearts, they really can't connect with it. Ok? Like let's play with it. Maybe students kind of forming a little inquiry lesson here, generate some questions around the essential question or similar to the essential question that they can connect with. But here the whole purpose of this is we are building that motivation. We wanna make sure that it connects in terms of like motivation, research, right? We wanna make sure that it connects to their prior knowledge, their lived realities and experiences, the things they care about, right? All of these pieces um need to kind of be in place. And again, our goal is to build relationships prior to this day so that we can do that well. Right. This is the, the one of the essences of culturally responsive and sustaining teaching. Number four, once you have done the first three steps, you're gonna start filling in the lessons. So literally how many lessons or days we're gonna be in each unit, fill those in on the calendar.

So you might have like a little numerical guide. So you don't have to like write out like the title of each lesson or whatever that might be like you 1.1 or something, right? Unit one day one. Then the fifth step is any time that you have a class that is going to feature a class discussion the next day, make that an opportunity to debrief the discussion. So there's a couple of things that you can do with that day. It can be used to discuss how well the discussion agreements were followed. So more of like a process day like, hey, we co created these discussion agreements. Here's what went well here. What didn't, here's what we wanna do differently as a class next time. Maybe we need to add this discussion agreement. Maybe we need to edit this one, right? Oh This one didn't work well. OK. Well, what, how might that look next time or this is usually when I have found that I needed the day for it can be used to continue the conversation if the conversation was cut short. Like, oh, the bell rang the period over, ah, we're running out the door.

Ok. Conversation is not over bad management of the time on my part usually. But sometimes we just have a really bubbly discussion. That's like, yeah, this is like, why I became a teacher. This stuff is amazing. I want this to continue. Kids are doing great. I'm just sitting here and listening and taking it all in. That is amazing if it's great and there's more discussion to be had. Let's let it bubble over into the next day without feeling that unrealistic pace and calendar push to cut the discussion short and then just follow the as written pasting calendar with zero flexibility, right? That's the kind of stuff that's like, oh, that's hard. Now, another thing that I found to be very useful for like a day to debrief discussion day is to use that second day to interrogate any comments or claims that may not be true. So I would often call this like a fact checkers lesson. So if we are in a discussion class wide and some student throws out like a statistic. That's just like, hm Wow, about that. If I write that sentence down like this is what the student said was a fact with like a question mark or whatever kind of annotation device that I have.

I am going to collect things like that throughout the discussion. And I might have, you know, 3 to 5 by the end of the discussion. And I'm like, oh, we need to interrogate these statements, whether they were statements of presumed fact. And I think they might be inaccurate or they are like, jumping to conclusions that I think are, like, wildly problematic. Right? Or, I mean, if they were wildly problematic I would interrupt immediately. But if there were things that are just like, oh there's a lot of context missing there and we need to do a deeper dive on the research and to dig into that. I wanna make space for the next day to do the digging into. So I might say at the end of lesson one, you know, we had a few things today that I wanna like unpack tomorrow. So tomorrow I'll get ready to put your fact Checker hat on or whatever. And then the next day, you know, I've, I've done, I think a podcast episode about this, but like in short, put those up on the board have groups of students kind of tackle them, interrogate them, do some research around them. And then at the end of the day, you basically come away with like this was true, this was false, this was in between and here's why and what the context is and then talk about like source bias and stuff in terms of where they get that information.

So debrief day following a, a class discussion day. Now, when I think class discussion day, I mean, like a big one. So if you did like, I don't know, like a class discussion of like, what did you like about this reading? And I'm just gonna like popcorn a couple of hands at the end of the day. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about like, student led takes most of the class time. We're talking about a big question, maybe like a Socratic seminar or like a circle discussion or we're really getting into it. And majority of the day is a discussion. Like it's a big discussion on a big topic. You're pulling together and synthesizing lots of different information from different sources that we've learned throughout the unit so far to get. It's a big thing, right? Then we want to have a debrief day for that. If it's like a short, I asked the class a question and like we had a couple people answer like that's not what I'm talking about or even like a circle that was like a check in circle. Like, hey, how are you feeling today or what do you want to go differently in the group work project that you're doing? Like everyone, every single student might answer that in a circle.

So it's like a class discussion, but it's not something that needs to be debriefed afterwards. It's not like really rooted in the content. We're probably not gonna need to have an an extra day for like bubbling over conversation. You can use your own discretion, but that's kind of my thought there. Ok. Then the final step. So to recap, you have blocked your non instructional days. You have blocked your class culture building days. At the start of the year, you have put an opening hook day for each unit. You have filled in your lessons done a debrief day, the day after each discussion. The final step is to determine how often you want to have days where students can work on specific skills. They either need extra practice with or like catch up time with or whatever you call it or where they're just like crushing things and they just need some extensions that are gonna like really stretch their skills. So I would call these usually like workshop days or win days, like whatever I need, um I might call them conference days, what, whatever it is for you to meet with a few students or students to be working on whatever it is that they need.

Personally, I like to do these once a week. So this might be a nice Friday activity, for example, but they can definitely be integrated into each day of a student project week or, or some other sort of thing. So like if you're like, OK, we've done a lot of learning, we're gonna just like press pause on the new learning and we're gonna do a lot of Synthesis Monday through Friday this week. So students are actively working on their projects and I might say like, OK, every single day you determine if you wanna move forward with that project or something is kind of a sticking point for you and you need a little bit of review, you need to meet with me, you need to talk to your group and, and practice like group decision making or you need some reading support. So here's like a strategy or the project is about writing. So here is, you know, some writing tips and a mini writing workshop that you can attend for 10 minutes virtually or like come and sit at my desk, right? Whatever that is, that's the personalized learning coming to life. That's the time where you're like, well, my students really didn't get the last two weeks of instructions.

So I feel like I shouldn't move forward, but I have to move forward because the pacing calendar says to move forward, right? So that's where we want that flexibility embedded where you're not feeling the rush, you're able to pause again regularly, make it once a week, make it so that it's integrated into every day of like a week of, of project days, right? I think as long as you build it in and you encourage your teachers to build it in there is less and less pressure put on moving fast and more and more awareness that we can take the time to invite, allow, encourage students to leave the conversation, leave their learning and to support and scaffold any sort of extension or remediation that students may need in specific target skill areas. Right? That's what good teaching is. That's what good personalized learning is. That's what co creation is, but we need the space for it and we need that space to be written on the pacing calendar, which means that we may have less like quote unquote, you know, curriculum has for days.

So the final tip, I would suggest to account for the unexpected, which always happens. I would build in even more blank space days. Now, you can name them. I used to call them flex days or you could just designate them as more workshop days, right? The idea is these days are I, you know, either skippable or you can use them as placeholders for a particular like, right, that was written and die in this way. Again, the whole goal is we're decreasing the pressure to cover everything, concentrating on doing fewer things better while preserving a culture of student voice and co creation. So to help you effectively support your teacher's curriculum planning. In addition to this episode, with all the tips and you can find the tips written out in the blog post version of this episode located at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/blog/one 54. I'm also sharing two resources with you for free. So if your teachers are internalizing an off the shelf curriculum. You can check out my new curriculum training agenda for how you would help them do that. Internalization.

Some of the activities are in there, check them out, pick and choose what you'd like if your teachers are designing their own curriculum and they need help writing out what some of those are thinking through the unit arcs. Placing the things on the, on the pacing calendar, right? The days. What is each day gonna be that kind of thing? You're gonna look for my classic curriculum planner. This is the one I use in my curriculum boot camp programs. All of these resources as well as the blog post again are at the blog Lindsay, Beth lions.com/blog/one 54. Until next time. If you like this episode, I bet you'll be just as jazz as I am about my coaching program for increasing student led discussions in your school, Shane, Sapir and Jamila Dugan. Talk about a pedagogy of student voice in their book street data. They say students should be talking for 75% of class time. Do students in your school talk for 75% of each class period. I would love for you to walk into any classroom in your community and see this in action. If you're smiling to yourself as you listen right now, grab 20 minutes on my calendar to brainstorm. How I can help you make this big dream a reality. I'll help you build a comprehensive plan from full day trainings and discussion protocols like circle and Socratic seminar to follow up classroom visits where I can plan witness and debrief discussion based lessons with your teachers.

Sign up for a nerdy no strings attached to brainstorm. Call at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/contact. Until next time, leaders think big act brave and be your best self. This podcast is a proud member of the Teach Better podcast network better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better.com/podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode.

154. Pacing Calendars: How to Develop or Adapt Curriculum
154. Pacing Calendars: How to Develop or Adapt Curriculum
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